The Peel Sessions are the stuff of legend. They broke all the rules and engaged the listener with rough and ready mixes of some of the world's most weird, wonderful and wired bands. There was a mythology to Peel Sessions: musicians went into the studio to record their three or four track session, only to emerge a few hours later blinking and dazed, having made a helluva racket that would go down in history as the making of the band.
The Peel Sessions began when John realised he had to play by more rules than he was used to at pirate radio when he joined the BBC in 1967.
John's show had to air a large amount of non-recorded music. This meant that he was only allowed a certain amount of 'needle time' (referring to 'stylus-on-vinyl' time - the time allotted to playing records on air) due to Musicians' Union rules.
The choice was either to have idle banter or to get bands to play a live session... Guess what he chose to do?
Deciding which artist to book for The Peel Sessions was an organic process. Peel would have a brief chat with his producer, John Walters, usually about artists that took their fancy that week. A phone call was made and the band would turn up to the recording studio to lay down the session, usually at the BBC's Maida Vale studios.
"There are those who believe that there is in place some system, that meetings are held, that charts are pored over… John and I would list those bands who had not recorded a session for a spell, eliminating those whose work no longer pleased us or, more rarely, whose new-found celebrity status would mean that their agents, management and record companies would come together in holy union to frustrate our attempts at rebooking. We'd also add to the list the names of artists we had heard and liked on demo tape or record or seen and liked in performance."
Ken Garner - John Peel In Session Tonight
John was repeatedly asked what his favourite session was. He could never choose because there were so many Peel Sessions recorded.
John told Interzone magazine:
"It's really impossible to say which is my favourite… Perhaps Culture - I wish they'd done more. The Slits was something of a classic, and I liked several by The Wedding Present. There's been a few American bands that it would have been nice to have - The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead - for a while it was difficult to get American bands into the country in the Sixties and Seventies."
But artists who did get invited back lots of times included: The Fall (32 sessions), Ivor Cutler (20 sessions), The Wedding Present (16 sessions) and The Delgados (16 sessions). And, of course, there are also the famous sessions, from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, The Smiths, Nirvana, Pulp and The White Stripes.
The Peel Sessions are now a worldwide phenomenon, recognised for quality and diversity.
You can search through thousands of them right here. Or, you can listen to the pick of the crop. The top 125 sessions of all time have been selected by the people who knew Peel best - his family, friends, studio engineers, producers and musicians, and we've provided snippets of audio from each to ensure you get the best round-up of what made the Peel Sessions truly unique.
With 4,000 sessions for over 2,000 artists there's a lot of of info in here, and we done our best to make sure it's all accurate. However, if you think we've left something out, or got something wrong then please tell us. Email us at: KeepingItPeel@bbc.co.uk