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 Indian sisters Salma & Sabina and Elvis Presley covers by Eilert Pilarm (the “Swedish Elvis”) to full sessions of covers by artists including Brian Auger's Trinity, Billy Bragg, Cat Power, Chumbawamba, Cuban Boys, Delgados, The French, FSK, Lance Gambit Trio, Hefner, Mangrove Steel Band, J Mascis & The Fog,[1] Nirvana, Joshua Rifkin, Samurai Seven, Sex Clark Five, Sonic Youth, Stars Of Heaven, June Tabor & The Oyster Band, Teenagers In Trouble, Toques and Tunic.[2] On 06 January 1997, the John Peel's Classic Sessions series looked back at some favourite BBC studio renditions of songs originally by other artists.

Albums of covers played by Peel also include releases by Backbeat Band, Beau Hspanunks, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Claw Hammer, Angel Corpus-Christi, Godfrey Daniel, Detroit Cobras, Flying Lizards, Hybrid Kids, Mike Kozelek, Laibach, LB, John Lennon, London Punkharmonic Orchestra, Mrs Miller, Nouvelle Vague, Portsmouth Sinfonia, Ramonetures, Silicon Teens, Johnny Thunders & Patti Palladin, Trashmuseum, V/Vm and When People Were Shorter And Lived By The Water, as well as numerous covers compilations.

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.”[4]

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.[3] 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).[5] [6]

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,[4] although this was eventually abandoned because many bands were unwilling to play the song.[5] He later took huge delight in the Trikont label’s four-CD 'La Paloma' series, featuring nothing but recordings of the popular nineteenth-century Spanish song by different artists.[6]

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.”[7]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the DJ continued to look back with derision at cover versions of popular hits such as "Purple Haze" and "See Emily Play" performed by dance bands and orchestras hired by the BBC to escape needle time restrictions into the early days of Radio One.

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. In the early 1980s, he also joined the recording of Altered Images' version of Diamond's 'Song Sung Blue' on "backing vocals, whistling".[8]

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). For pages with covers listings for original artists, songs and others, see Covered category page.

Performing Artist | Song | Covered Artist | First Known Play




Bad Livers - Lust For Life (Iggy Pop Cover)


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



Cat Power - Free Bird


Cheeze TM - Dancin' Queen



Riders In The Sky - Dan Bau Vietnam.wmv


D. J. Lebowitz - Holiday In Cambodia




The Fall - Kimble


Flying Lizards - Summertime Blues




I Love Paris - Screamin' Jay Hawkins


HYBRID KIDS d'ya think i'm sexy 1979





The Kingswoods - Purty Vacant




Maloko - in the midnight hour


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





Eilert Pilarm - Jailhouse Rock




The Raincoats - Lola


Rondellus - Verres Militares (War Pigs)



William Shatner - Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds



Whole Lotta Love-0



The Ukrainians - Batyar (Bigmouth Strikes Again)




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


Jolene - The White Stripes






  1. A sub-set of the band's first session was made up solely of covers of Peel show favourites and broadcast only on the F50 anniversary special on 19 December 2000.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. See Ken Garner's In Session Tonight, pg 311.
  5. As admitted by Peel on 13 July 1982.
  6. Written in the 1850s by Spanish composer Sebastián Iradier (later Yradier), 'La Palona' is one of the most-recorded songs in the history of music.[2] The first known release, by Cornet Duet, dates back to 1894.[3]
  7. Based on Wham!!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go".
  8. See comment on 22 October 1979.
  9. Instrumental version of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.
  10. Object of the Little Richard Cover Search.
  11. Melys were with the London Welsh Male Choir on this session, but the song was solely covered by the latter.
  12. See comment on 22 October 1979.
  13. See comment on 22 October 1979.
  14. This is not a female singer but an all male indie band, whose name comes from Latin and translates as 'Star of the Sea'.
  15. See comment on 22 October 1979.
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