Classics from John Peel’s All-Time Festive Fifty
eel’s Festive Fifty touched four decades, featured around 2,000* different tracks (roughly 1,500 of which were performed by The Wedding Present, The Fall, or some kind of alarming hybrid of both fronted by Morrissey) and kept indie fans off the streets during the brightly-colored Christmas period. Before his death, the process was fearsomely democratic—if you liked a song written by anyone on the planet, you could vote for it. If it received enough votes, it would be in the list. Alas, like many other things touched by the withering hand of Radio One, this process is now naught but ashes and disgrace. Only songs played on “One Music” are now eligible for votes. Which is a bit like saying you can vote for whomever you want, as long as they were born in Plymouth between the hours of 9 PM and 3 AM.
Radio One being hopeless industry shills is hardly news, but with the Festive Fifty now devalued as a concept and probably in danger of being quietly retired, the time could be ripe for a stunning overview of the glory years. The possibilities and variations would be near-limitless. Perhaps it could be a collection of every first-placed tune from 1976 onwards. Maybe somebody could lovingly comb through each list and compile a cumulative Top 50 comprised of the bands which featured most frequently throughout the years. Then, the highest-ranking song (using discretion in the case of a tie) from each group could be determined and the results spread across a couple of CDs.
Or, someone could look at the most recent “All-Time” list (compiled in 2000), look at the pen lying conspiratorially on their desk, look back at the list ... and formulate a devious plan linking the two. Consequently, the tracklist for Classics From John Peel’s All-Time Festive Fifty (CFJPA-TFF, say it with me) is haphazard to say the least. Yes, “Teenage Kicks” is there. As are representatives from The Smiths, The Damned, New Order, and all the stalwarts. How confusing was the selection process, though? Joy Division’s entrant is “New Dawn Fades.” A fine track indeed, but one that finished behind both “Atmosphere” (which was top, for heaven’s sake) and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” in the 2000 list.
Ahh, you say, perhaps they were trying to avoid the more obvious choices for each artist. In which case, why base inclusions on an “All-Time” list (by definition, a populist distillation) and why dub the record “Classics,” rather than “The Ones Which Are Quite Classic But Maybe Not The Ones You First Thought Of.” It could just about be considered an attempt to entice people by steering clear of things they would likely already own—but this line of thinking merely compounds the mystery of who this album is actually trying to cater to in the first place.
Nineteen tracks (and why nineteen; this whole thing is about anal music lists—lists that would never, ever end at nineteen) will not satisfy a devotee of the format. Indeed, such a character will already own, if not everything on here, large chunks of it. Their revenue is clearly not being sought. Yet who else is this aimed at, if not Festive Fifty fans? It’s far too superficial to be of much interest to them, but also seems fairly unlikely to attract casual purchasers in great numbers. All rather perplexing.
Alongside the largely excellent slew of Peel Sessions being released at present, this feels too much like an ill-conceived afterthought. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with any of the material included, the scope of the project is so limited that the result is hugely underwhelming. There’s a magnificent Festive Fifty collection waiting to be painstakingly compiled across a number of CDs; one that is meticulously assembled, tinged with love and agony as arguments rage for days over which tracks must be ditched and which must surely be saved. Sadly, CFJPA-TFF is not that collection.
* Extremely rudimentary mathematics at work here.