If you were listening to a radio on most of the Leap Days between 1968 and 2004, you wouldn't have heard John Peel on many of them. If they fell on a weekday, he was usually on at the weekend or it was one of the nights he didn't broadcast. If it fell on a weekend, he was broadcasting during the week. The John Peel wiki throws up some interesting details though, including the fact that Peel kicked off his Leap Day 1972 programme with a record by Rodriguez, later the subject of the Oscar winning documentary, Searching For Sugar Man. The show on 29 February 2000, which won't feature on this blog as I wasn't rehearsing anything at that time, saw a session from The Samurai Seven in which they covered tunes by ABBA, Freddie and the Dreamers and Elton John & Kiki Dee.
No record currently allows us to see what Peel broadcast on Leap Day 1988, but while browsing a tracklisting from a show broadcast on 15 August 1988, while I was on a French holiday, Peel's endless capacity to surprise showed with a track by Queen Latifah. This 1992 show though, is the only Leap Day show that will feature on this blog.
For a special day, I was blessed with a special recording, running to 2 and a half hours. Perhaps as a treat to mark Leap Day, the programme started with the increasingly rare Pickin' the Blues theme tune, possibly in its last appearance. Change was afoot on the Peel show with his transmission dates set to move to Fridays and Saturdays as of Friday 13 March 1992. "That's a great omen, isn't it. I shall probably spontaneously combust and then somebody shall leap to the microphone and say something like, 'John Peel died as he would have wished - at the microphone."
He played a track from what he described as "the first essential album of 1992". This was Slim Whitman's, Chime Bells from a compilation album called Yodelling Crazy, which had held him and Andy Kershaw spellbound on the previous weekend. A lot of this had to do with Whitman holding a note for 40 seconds towards the end of the song.
As always, there are some tracks, I'd love to include which can't be with us today:
Dashing Marbles - On My Couch - or On My Cou Cou as someone had written it on Peel's running order. Recorded over 2 years previous for a 4 track EP at, in the record's words, "some frigging hole in the ground, Chicago". Sounds like a grungy version of Suzi Quatro.
Mantis - Regaliar - the title is given as Peel spelt it, but as the Discogs link shows, he might have confused the exclamation mark in Regalia! for a letter r. The font on the label didn't make the matter clear. As for the track itself, it's a bit like a chaotic rewrite of Desire by U2.
Daniel Johnston - The Dream is Over - this may have ended up as a borderline case, because listening back to it, I found the performance falling into tweeness at points. It sounded like the whole song had based itself around the brass break in Down In The Churchyard by The Flying Burrito Brothers. On the flipside of that, the song's lyrics do a brilliant job of conveying that moment when you know your romantic hopes - whether they be to start a relationship or rekindle an old one - are over, purely by the body language of the object of your intentions. I've never heard the description of the journey home on the first night of realising that your hopes and dreams have all been for naught, bettered than it is in this song. The Wave Pictures, who backed Johnston on a tour, and who covered the whole of the Artistic Vice album that The Dream is Over came from, brought out the fragility and sorrow of this track, extremely well in their cover.
Titus Zihuite - Zihuite Echoes - more tinkly African goodness, played on a bad pressing according to Peel. No record of Titus on Discogs or anywhere else though, sadly.
WBI Red Ninja - Look Black in Anger/Trenton Dub [Peel Session] - Their session of 1/12/91 was repeated on this show. When I first heard the session, I only wanted Look Black in Anger, a call to young black people to learn their history and learn how much black people had accomplished.
Notable for its egalitarian message, "You have no superiors/you have no inferiors", minimalist beats and feel of low-key urban dread. I still wish for it as much as I did 18 months ago when I lamented its loss from my 1/12/91 selections. In the intervening time period, Trenton Dub has joined it on the want list. As its title suggests, the foundation of this track is rooted in dubstep, but quickly embellished with parps of Egyptian tinged saxophone, diddles of melodica, thumping drums and samples of boxing MC, Michael "Let's get ready to rumble" Buffer. I'm sad that it's not shareable at the moment, as I have a mate called Trenton, who appeared in several of the productions that this blog will chronicle through Peel's playlists, and it would be nice to let him know he has a song named after him. Everyone should be in a position to sing a song with their name in it at the drop of a hat. Although, he may struggle to "sing" Trenton Dub. My own options are limited to The Kinks or a Pulp song that l can only sing one line out of. Meanwhile, my wife does not appreciate being serenaded by this, but Left and To the Back gave us this much better option.
Ninjaman - Gun Talk and Lip Service - Now, I could have included this, but the 100 second version in the link is at least 2 and a half minutes shorter than the one Peel played. I hope that the record itself was considered as a reply to Gospel Fish's tune, Too Much Gun Talk, from 12/1/92.
Cheeze - MacArthur Park - Peel hoped that any listeners who remembered Richard Harris's version of Mack Arthur Park as a colleague of mine called it earlier this week, "would cordially hate it". He then ended the show by playing Cheeze's version of it. The Chicago band had already overhauled one acknowledged classic with their take on ABBA's Dancing Queen getting airplay on Peel's show around this time. For me, MacArthur Park is the better one of their two takes in subverting the kitsch nostalgia that both tracks can provoke and which in 1992 started to gain serious currency in the pop charts again through releases like Abba-esque by Erasure, although thinking back, Andy Bell was a good enough vocalist to draw enough out of those indestructible songs to avoid the exercise being completely redundant.
MacArthur Park is a vast smorgasbord of a song and Cheeze did it magnificent justice. Marc Almond style vocals slithering under Eastern string parts before bringing the whole thing home in a raucous rock out ending with histrionics aplenty over the meaning of that sodden cake. So good that I suspect that Harris himself would have wanted to have a go at the song in that style were he given the opportunity to try it again. Mind you, the best version of MacArthur Park I heard from 1992 was on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, in those dim and distant days before it got so horiffically self-indulgent. A verse from the song was used in the game, Next Lines, wherein Humphrey Lyttleton read lines from a song and the panellists had to provide the final line. All lyrics in the following extract are copyright of Jimmy Webb, except for the very last one:
Humphrey Lyttleton: MacArthur Park is melting in the dark/All the sweet green icing flowing down.
Someone left the cake out in the rain.
I don't think I can take it/Because it took so long to bake it.
And I'll never see that recipe again/Oh....
Willie Rushton: Bugger.
Full tracklisting. Ladies, which of these would you have proposed to your loved one to?