The Best Of The BBC Sessions

The Best Of The BBC Sessions



Almost 20 years since Led Zeppelin first released The BBC Sessions, Jimmy Page has dusted off the tapes, given them a clean-up and spiced it up with tunes left off the original set. Set to be released on Friday September 16, The Complete BBC Sessions includes a ‘lost session’ which Page has cleaned up for its first official release. To celebrate the BBC’s status as archivists of some of the finest live recordings of the last 50 years, here’s a list of some other BBC sessions worth giving a spin.

Led Zeppelin - The Complete BBC Sessions

Nearly 20 years ago, Led Zeppelin introduced BBC Sessions, an acclaimed two-disc set of live recordings selected from the band’s appearances on BBC radio between 1969 and 1971. Now the band have unveiled THE COMPLETE BBC SESSIONS, an updated version of the collection that’s been newly remastered with supervision by Jimmy Page and expanded with eight unreleased BBC recordings, including three rescued from a previously “lost” session from 1969. Read more about the new release here.

The Beatles – Live At The BBC

Offering hours of fascinating archival riches, The Beatles’ 50 BBC sessions showcase the gestation of rock’s most influential band. Released over the two sets as 1995’s Live At The BBC and 2013’s On Air: Live At The BBC Volume 2, the 100 live songs are backed by fascinating snippets of Beatle dialogue that range from Goon Show absurdity to laboured interaction with toffy BBC presenters apparently unaware they were MCing a cultural zeitgeist. Fresh from winning over Hamburg with their amphetamine-fuelled six-hour sets, 1963 sessions featuring feisty covers of Chuck Berry standards such as “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock And Roll Music” make way for more pensive recordings such as 1965’s “I’m A Loser” and 1966’s “I Feel Fine”.

Pulp – The Peel Sessions

It took more than a decade of anaemic bedsit poetry before Jarvis Cocker and his Sheffield misfits Pulp finally broke through with 1994’s His N Hers album, but the BBC archive boasted live recordings of the group dating back to 1981. While their overlooked ‘80s output is enlightening (“Refuse To Be Blind” sounds like an outtake from The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds), this 2006 double CD hits its stride when Cocker’s wry observational clout takes centre stage on “Do You Remember The First Time?”, “Common People” and “This Is Hardcore”. Cocker’s people-watching is peerlessly translated into lyrics that were at turns pervy, insightful, venomous and desperate – often in the space of one song.

Pixies – Pixies At The BBC


An influence on everyone from Nirvana and Placebo through to Radiohead and David Bowie, the Pixies had dissolved in acrimony five years prior to this 1998 compilation being released. The Boston quartet’s raucous energy is captured exquisitely on these John Peel Sessions, kicking off with the howling, primal cover of The Beatles’ Wild Honey Pie and taking in late single Letter To Memphis, a surf rock take on Doolittle’s standout tune Wave Of Mutilation and the surreal fable Monkey Gone To Heaven. In the words of frontman Frank Black, “Rock me, Joseph Alberto Santiago!”

David Bowie – Bowie At The Beeb


Plotting David Bowie’s swift rise from London fop to galactic traveller, the 2000 release Bowie At The Beeb is filled with early curios (“Silly Boy Blue” and “Karma Man”, recorded prior to his 1969 “Space Oddity” breakthrough), Ziggy Stardust wonders (“Five Years”, “Moonage Daydream”) and a couple of Velvet Underground covers (“I’m Waiting For The Man” and “White Light/White Heat”) at a time when the New York band were still a cult concern. Limited to early pressings, a bonus live disc (featuring gripping versions of ‘90s releases “Little Wonder”, “Hallo Spaceboy” and “I’m Afraid Of Americans”) added a fascinating contemporary chapter to proceedings. Bowie At The Beeb was finally released on LP in 2016.

Syd Barrett – The Radio One Sessions


His career was curtailed by psychosis often linked to his ‘60s LSD consumption, but contemporary artists from Tame Impala to Brian Jonestown Massacre owe a debt to Syd Barrett’s scant solo catalogue. Before he retreated to his mother’s Cambridge basement to live out an acid-crippled life away from the public eye, Pink Floyd’s original lead singer Barrett managed to pull together two fascinating BBC sessions. The eight tracks of The Radio One Sessions showcase an intangible artist prone to impulsively bending his song’s tempos while delivering unique lyrics halfway between nursery rhyme and madness.

The Who – BBC Sessions


Using a humorous Trojan horse to cosy up to the BBC (the opening take on “My Generation” is good-naturedly adapted to ‘Talkin’ bout my favourite station!’), it’s not long before The Who’s guitarist Pete Townshend is serving up fiery lead guitar on “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” and “My Generation” and former metal-worker Roger Daltrey is dishing out impressive ballsy, bluesy hollering on “Leaving Here”.  Released on CD in 2000 and recorded between 1965 and 1973, the 24-track is a strong offering that avoids The Who’s penchant for rock opera bombast and instead sticks with meaty, beaty, big and bouncy rock.

The Smiths – Hatful Of Hollow & The World Won’t Listen


Anyone in denial about the joy, humour and incredible chemistry at the heart of The Smiths’ canon should re-evaluate their BBC recordings. Frontman Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr and Smiths aficionados have often identified these vigorous, fledgling takes of future singles as superior to subsequent studio album versions. While not officially available as a complete BBC Sessions set, the Manchester group’s Hatful Of Hollow and The World Won’t Listen B-sides collections are packed with songs exclusively recorded for the Beeb. The rockabilly roll of “What Difference Does It Make?”, the deliciously amorous “Handsome Devil” and the pining perfection of “How Soon Is Now?” left jaws on bedsit floors – and acolytes such as Radiohead and Suede with lofty heights to aim for.

The La’s – BBC In Session


While not as sad as Syd Barrett’s retreat from the real world, Liverpool musician Lee Mavers’ obsessive quest for an inconceivable, unquantifiable studio sound ensured The La’s only managed a self-titled 1990 album (and majestic singles such as “There She Goes” and “Timeless Melody”) before crumbling from view. Prior to earning a reputation for rejecting mixing desks due to the absence of “original ‘60s dust”, Mavers and his band of rapscallions recorded four jubilant, jangling BBC sessions. It’s a damn shame The La’s were a distant memory by the time the 2006 compilation BBC In Session appeared, but you can hear echoes of Mavers’ raw joy in acolytes including The Coral, The Zutons and even Noel Gallagher.

The Fall – Words Of Expectation: BBC Sessions

A favourite of the late, iconic BBC presenter John Peel, The Fall’s Mark E Smith has spent almost 40 years ranting like an old crank who’s just stubbed his toe on the post-punk someone left lying on the lounge floor. Taking in sessions from 1978 through to 1996, the 2CD collection Words Of Expectation: BBC Sessions showcases few changes in The Fall’s modus operandi. The jittery post-punk speed-laced poetry of Smith is backed by musicians who sound like they are either locked in combat with their instruments or simply baffled by them. It all ends with Smith slurring over a deranged appropriation of “Strawberry Fields Forever” on “Beatle Bones ‘N’ Smokin’ Stones”, a musical tightrope teetering between genius and madness.

Joy Division – Peel Sessions


Manchester icons Joy Division recorded just eight songs over two John Peel sessions in the 12 months prior to frontman Ian Curtis’ suicide, but the jagged and potent rush of songs such as “Transmission”, “She’s Lost Control” and the pre-emptive epitaph “Love Will Tear Us Apart” have influenced a congregation of alternative acts in the proceeding four decades. In a sign of their importance to completing the picture of the iconic band’s short but pivotal history, every track from The Fall’s first Peel Session appears on The Best Of Joy Division. Prior to their official release in the mid-‘80s, the sessions were two of the most requested in Peel’s archive. 

Released on September 16, Led Zeppelin’s The Complete BBC Sessions can be ordered now in three different formats.

- Scott McLennan

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