This chart was introduced by JP in late 1976 based on an idea he and John Walters had to attract audiences over a period when the radio faced stiff competition from TV (and from other Radio 1 shows: Alan Freeman ran a similar chart on his Saturday rock show at this time), and is a collation of listener's votes for their favourite tracks of all time. (John had presented a personal choice of singles of the year on 19 December 1975, and probably hoped that his new chart would follow a similar pattern.) It is clearly a list representative of affiliations dating back to Peel's time on pirate radio. Sheila Ravenscroft states in Margrave Of The Marshes (Corgi Books 2006, p. 362) that "listeners weren't ready to hack off their hair and burn their old albums quite yet." In fact, only two tracks (by Racing Cars and Poco) came from that year (although votes for session tracks were not discouraged, none were voted for in sufficient quantities until 1983). Moreover, his beloved reggae achieved only one placing.
The available recordings shed instructive light on the demography of the list. For instance, one recurring feature was the ability of bands who had made only a few recordings to be more likely to be higher placed than artists with a wealth of back catalogue. John remarks that votes for the Who were spread over a wide number of tracks. Consequently, their highest placing was at number 29. A similar fate befell Bob Dylan: Peel noted that some fifty of his songs were voted for, but only four made the cut (although two of those were in the top 10). Conversely, the only track by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy that has ever achieved any celebrity, 'Paralyzed', is in the top 20 (and in the early life of the chart was actually at number 1).
A unique feature here is the length of the tracks, with many clocking in at longer than ten minutes (any compilation album of all the songs would require five CDs). This reflects a sensibility that punk was shortly to change. However, no new wave tracks appear, largely because this musical form championed by Peel had little pedigree and its hitherto most well-known product, 'Anarchy In The U.K.', had appeared late in the year (another feature that John would note in coming years was that tracks released in November or December had little or no chance of charting). It may well be this that prompted the punk special of 10 December 1976, as it would have been by then apparent that none of the new breed would be featured in the Festive Fifty.
Until 2011, no copy of any part of the shows had come to light. Ken Garner, author of The Peel Sessions, remembers voting in it (even though none of his choices were represented). He also supplied the track listing information reproduced below, for which many thanks.
At the start of the first show of 1978's rundown, Peel describes 78's chart as 'computed from your votes' and then goes on to say 'about 4 or 5 times as many voted this year as did 2 years ago'.
- 24 December 1976: #50-#45
- 27 December 1976: #44-#36
- 28 December 1976: #35-#25
- 29 December 1976: #24-#19
- 30 December 1976: #18-#11
- 03 January 1977: #10-#01
The Festive Fifty Of 1976
- 50: Yes, 'And You And I (LP-Close To The Edge)' (Atlantic)
- 49: Little Feat, 'Willin' (LP-Sailin' Shoes)' (Warner)
- 48: Wild Man Fischer, 'Go To Rhino Records (LP-Wild Man Fischer)' (Rhino)
- 47: Roy Harper, 'When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease (LP-HQ)' (Harvest)
- 46: Matching Mole, 'O Caroline (LP-Matching Mole)' (CBS)
- 45: Doors, 'Light My Fire (LP-The Doors)' (Elektra)
- 44: Bob Dylan, 'Hurricane (LP-Desire)' (CBS)
- 43: Jackson Browne, 'Fountain Of Sorrow (LP_Late For The Sky)' (Asylum)
- 42: Family, 'The Weaver's Answer (LP-Best Of Family)' (Reprise)
- 41: Richard & Linda Thompson, 'I Wanna See The Bright Lights Tonight (LP-I Wanna See The Bright Lights Tonight)' (Island)
- 40: Grateful Dead, 'Dark Star (LP-Live/Dead)' (Warner)
- 39: Rolling Stones, 'Jumping Jack Flash (LP-Through The Past Darkly)' (Decca)
- 38: Allman Brothers Band, 'Jessica (LP-Brothers And Sisters)' (Capricorn)
- 37: Jimi Hendrix, 'Hey Joe (7 inch)' (Track)
- 36: Led Zeppelin, 'Kashmir (LP-Physical Graffiti)' (Swan Song)
- 35: Jackson Browne, 'Late For The Sky (LP-Late For the Sky)' (Asylum)
- 34: Rod Stewart, 'Maggie May (7 inch)' (Mercury)
- 33: Jonathan Richman, 'Roadrunner (LP-Chartbusters)' (Beserkley)
- 32: Bob Marley & The Wailers, 'No Woman, No Cry (LP-Live At The Lyceum)' (Island)
- 31: Genesis, 'Supper's Ready (LP-Foxtrot)' (Charisma)
- 30: Misunderstood, 'I Can Take You To The Sun (7 inch)' (Fontana)
- 29: Who, 'Won't Get Fooled Again (LP-Story Of The Who)' (Polydor)
- 28: Joe Walsh, 'Rocky Mountain Way (7 inch)' (ABC)
- 27: Grinderswitch, 'Pickin' The Blues (LP-Macon Tracks)' (Capricorn)
- 26: Little Feat, 'Long Distance Love (LP-The Last Record Album)' (Warner)
- 25: Deep Purple, 'Child In Time (LP-Deep Purple In Rock)' (Harvest)
- 24: Jefferson Airplane, 'White Rabbit (7 inch)' (RCA)
- 23: Bob Dylan, 'Visions Of Johanna (LP-Blonde On Blonde)' (CBS)
- 22: Doors, 'Riders On The Storm (LP-LA Woman)' (Elektra)
- 21: Van Morrison, 'Madame George (LP-Astral Weeks)' (Warner)
- 20: Lynyrd Skynyrd, 'Freebird (LP-Pronounced)' (MCA)
- 19: Led Zeppelin, 'Whole Lotta Love (LP-Led Zeppelin II)' (Atlantic)
- 18: Captain Beefheart, 'Big Eyed Beans From Venus (LP-Clear Spot)' (Reprise)
- 17: Beatles, 'Strawberry Fields Forever (LP-Magical Mystery Tour)' (Capitol)
- 16: Jimi Hendrix, 'Voodoo Chile (7 inch)'
- 15: Legendary Stardust Cowboy, 'Paralysed (7 inch)'
- 14: Beatles, 'Hey Jude! (LP-Hey Jude!)' (Apple)
- 13: Rolling Stones, 'Brown Sugar (LP-Made In The Shade)' (Rolling Stones)
- 12: Neil Young, 'Cortez The Killer (LP-Zuma)' (Reprise)
- 11: Poco, 'Rose Of Cimarron (LP-Rose Of Cimarron)' (ABC)
- 10: Bob Dylan, 'Like A Rolling Stone (LP-Greatest Hits)' (CBS)
- 09: Beatles, 'A Day In The Life (LP-Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)' (Parlophone)
- 08: Pink Floyd, 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond (LP-Wish You Were Here)' (Harvest)
- 07: Racing Cars, 'They Shoot Horses Don't They? (LP-Downtown Tonight)' (Chrysalis)
- 06: Free, 'Alright Now (LP-Fire And Water)' (Island)
- 05: Jimi Hendrix, 'All Along The Watchtower (7 inch)' (Track)
- 04: Pink Floyd, 'Echoes (LP-Meddle)' (Harvest)
- 03: Bob Dylan, 'Desolation Row (LP-Highway 61 Revisited)' (CBS)
- 02: Derek & the Dominos, 'Layla (LP-Layla And Other Assorted Lovesongs)' (Polydor)
- 01: Led Zeppelin, 'Stairway To Heaven (LP-Led Zeppelin IV)' (Atlantic)
At present, 28 December 1976, 29 December 1976, 30 December 1976 and 03 January 1977 are available from the date pages. Any recordings of the remaining dates would be more than welcome: please get in touch with the Peel Mailing List if these are known to exist.