Five Classic Moments From the Peel Sessions

Liverpool born BBC Radio 1 disc jockey and pioneer of alternative music John Peel at Reading Pop Festival in Berkshire, circa 1970. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

BBC Radio institution John Peel, who passed away in 2004, was the most respected DJ in the UK. From 1967 until the DJ’s death, Peel’s programming presented the music he was passionate about, and as rock evolved from psychedelia to punk and beyond, the tastemaker displayed an uncanny ability to stay attuned to the zeitgeist, always zeroing in on the gems of each generation and frequently finding them before almost everyone else. Through the decades, the Peel Sessions recorded live at the BBC by an astonishing array of artists — and occasionally released on record — provided an ongoing document of rock’s constant state of flux. This week, the first phase in the online archiving of Peel’s legendary record collection began allowing the world to wander interactively through the expert aesthetician’s record shelves (for now, only the A’s to begin with). To celebrate the sharing of this important cultural cache, we’re serving up a strategic sampling of some of the coolest cuts from the storied Peel Sessions.

1. Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

This version of the post-punk pioneers’ signature song exemplifies a particular Peel Sessions phenomenon — even though every nuance of the “official” version is forever ingrained in fan’s heads, an abundance of hardcore aficionados prefer the less polished sound achieved under the aegis of BBC Radio. The most tuneful track to emerge from the Manchester masters of melancholy, this evanescent cry of unease gains urgency from the feeling that one could almost reach out and touch the makers of this music as though they were flesh-and-blood humans who existed outside of Factory Records producer Martin Hannett’s sonic dream factory.

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