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Salma & Sabina - Toba Toba (Mamma Mia)03:34

Salma & Sabina - Toba Toba (Mamma Mia)

"This is a programme that likes a good cover version.” (John Peel, 23 April 2002)

Unusual cover versions are among the best-remembered features of Peel’s programmes, from ABBA hits sung in Hindi by Pakistani sisters Salma & Sabina and Elvis Presley covers by Eilert Pilarm (the “Swedish Elvis”) to full sessions of covers by artists including Cat Power, Chumbawamba, Cuban Boys, Delgados, The French, FSK, Lance Gambit Trio, Hefner, Mangrove Steel Band, Nirvana, Samurai Seven, Sex Clark Five, Sonic Youth, Stars Of Heaven, June Tabor & The Oyster Band, Teenagers In Trouble and Toques.[1]

In 1991, the DJ devoted four consecutive shows to alternative takes on other artists’ songs (see Cover Version Specials). During the third of these, Peel cited a God Bullies demolition of 'Tie A Yellow Ribbon' as a “demonstration of the near-perfect cover version – one that leaves the original lying bruised and tattered in the gutter.”[2]

Throughout Peel's career on Radio One, many of the artists played on his shows wrote their own material, a trend which began in the post-Beatles era of the late 1960s and continued into the singer-songwriter boom of the early 1970s. Yet even in these times, a few performers, like Fairport Convention, were primarily known for their cover versions, while many folk and blues artists covered songs by their contemporaries, or did versions of material dating from earlier decades. Pre-1970 Peel shows also include plenty of British covers of American songs, illustrating a long tradition in British pop.[2] Moreover, The Nice's arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's 'America' and Love Sculpture's version of Aram Khachaturian's 'Sabre Dance' were two classical-pop covers which Peel admired (both made the charts in 1968).[3] [4]

Peel was especially happy to air new versions of songs that were personal favourites, including at least a dozen covers of Teenage Kicks. In spring 1982, the DJ asked all session guests to attempt Liverpool anthem You'll Never Walk Alone for a proposed album project,[3] although this was eventually abandoned because many bands were unwilling to play the song.[4]

Between 1991 and 1993, Peel undertook a long and ultimately successful trawl through his singles to track down a much-loved cover of Little Richard’s ‘Tutti Frutti’, treating listeners to unexpected gems he unearthed along the way (see Little Richard Cover Search). The version in question eventually turned out to be by American singer Mickey Lee Lane. The record was later found stored safely among his most precious 45s in John Peel's Record Box.

Other favourite covers in the same collection included a reggae version of the ‘Coronation Street’ theme by Izzy Royal and the Galactic Symposium double-header ‘Y.M.C.A.’ / ‘Money’ (covers of Village People and Pink Floyd), as well as a version of ‘Dancin’ Queen’ (ABBA) by Cheeze, described by JP on 08 March 1992 as "infinitely better than the original".

Talking to BBC World Service in 2004, the DJ commented:

“I don't like cover versions when they're just a faithful replica of the original - you get an awful lot of that and it seems to me to be utterly pointless. But when somebody comes along and does something original that you wouldn't have expected, then that is particularly welcome.”[5]

Peel himself performed a cover with Tony Blackburn of 'You Don't Bring Me Flowers' by Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand. Recorded sometime in the 80s, it was played during a BBC Radio One tribute show to JP on 28 October 2004.

Covers Played

The following list was compiled only from the database of this site, Lorcan's Tracklistings Archive and Ken Garner's The Peel Sessions, and is far from complete. Please add further details if known. To search for particular songs or covered artists, use the search function of your browser (click CTRL-F).

Performing Artist | Song | Covered Artist | First Known Play

A

B

Bad Livers - Lust For Life (Iggy Pop Cover)01:55

Bad Livers - Lust For Life (Iggy Pop Cover)

The Better Beatles - "I'm Down" (1981)02:27

The Better Beatles - "I'm Down" (1981)

C

Cat Power - Free Bird00:40

Cat Power - Free Bird

Cheeze TM - Dancin' Queen03:46

Cheeze TM - Dancin' Queen

CUD - YOU SEXY THING (1987)03:46

CUD - YOU SEXY THING (1987)

D

D. J03:32

D. J. Lebowitz - Holiday In Cambodia

E

F

The Fall - Kimble03:57

The Fall - Kimble

Flying Lizards - Summertime Blues03:34

Flying Lizards - Summertime Blues

G

H

I Love Paris - Screamin' Jay Hawkins02:24

I Love Paris - Screamin' Jay Hawkins

HYBRID KIDS d'ya think i'm sexy 197901:57

HYBRID KIDS d'ya think i'm sexy 1979

I

J

K

The Kingswoods - Purty Vacant02:41

The Kingswoods - Purty Vacant

L

M

Maloko - in the midnight hour04:03

Maloko - in the midnight hour

Wencke Myhre - Du kommst jetzt mit nach Hause, John Peel03:56

Wencke Myhre - Du kommst jetzt mit nach Hause, John Peel

N

O

P

Eilert Pilarm - Jailhouse Rock04:15

Eilert Pilarm - Jailhouse Rock

Q

R

The Raincoats - Lola04:03

The Raincoats - Lola

Rondellus - Verres Militares (War Pigs)03:28

Rondellus - Verres Militares (War Pigs)

S

William Shatner - Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds03:02

William Shatner - Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds

T

U

The Ukrainians - Batyar (Bigmouth Strikes Again)03:37

The Ukrainians - Batyar (Bigmouth Strikes Again)

V

W

The Wedding Present Make me Smile (Come up and See me)03:44

The Wedding Present Make me Smile (Come up and See me)

Jolene - The White Stripes03:15

Jolene - The White Stripes

X

Y

Z

0-9

References

  1. Camera Obscura also did a session of Robbie Burns poems set to music for Burns Night in 2004. Sessions of seasonal songs were a tradition that went back to the original Carol Concert of 1970. (See Christmas.)
  2. As Peel himself pointed out, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who and Kinks were among those who had started their careers doing lots of covers.[1] His own favourite Stones LP remained their debut, which was full of covers.
  3. See Ken Garner's In Session Tonight, pg 311.
  4. As admitted by Peel on 13 July 1982.
  5. Based on Wham!!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go".
  6. See comment on 22 October 1979.
  7. Instrumental version of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.
  8. Object of the Little Richard Cover Search.
  9. See comment on 22 October 1979.
  10. See comment on 22 October 1979.
  11. This is not a female singer but an all male indie band, whose name comes from Latin and translates as 'Star of the Sea'.
  12. See comment on 22 October 1979.

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