Melody Maker was a UK weekly music paper first published in 1926. Initially aimed at dance band musicians, it covered not only pop music but jazz (and, later, folk music) and was regarded in the 1960s as the most serious of the British pop weeklies. Besides its main news and feature pages, the paper included a large advertising section, with gig listings, ads from bands seeking to recruit new members, and offers of musical instruments for sale.
It's not known if Peel was a reader of Melody Maker in his youth, but it might have been one of the "jazz magazines" he subscribed to. He may well have been an MM reader during his years in the USA; some of the gossip items he included in his 1966-7 Kmentertainer columns on the British music scene read like the MM's "The Raver" column, which documented the "raving" and "looning" of pop stars in trendy London clubs like the Speakeasy and the Bag O'Nails. On the Perfumed Garden of 06 August 1967 he remarked that the MM "seems to be the most reliable"" of the pop weeklies.
When Peel joined Radio 1 it was the pop paper most sympathetic to the music he had played on the Perfumed Garden and featured an interview with him in September 1967, a couple of weeks before Radio 1 began. A sign of the paper's continuing jazz orientation was that he was compared in the article with Willis Conover, the authoritative jazz presenter whose shows on Voice Of America were listened to all over Europe. MM was never a hippy paper, but it began to include pieces on the hippy scene in London and the USA and profiled many of the artists Peel admired, and he liked two of its younger writers, Nick Jones and Chris Welch. Jones was sympathetic to the underground and wrote in a hippy-impressionist style which brought him criticism, but Peel defended him in his International Times column.
- In the "Melody Maker" reviewer Nick Jones writes of "seashell sounds" and the bewildered write and scoff. When I listen to music, see people in the streets, smell the tumbling smells of the Liverpool docks I feebly try to involve the rest of my battered senses in these experiences. If Nick hears "seashell sounds" in a record how many times better is that than "another rave record from a gas new group from Coventry?"
Jones left MM in late 1967, but there was a mutual respect between Peel and Chris Welch, who reviewed (often humorously) singles and LPs for the paper, while also covering live gigs and the London club scene. Welch praised artists Peel liked, like Cream, Skip Bifferty and the Nice, some who were little-known but later became stars (Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Rod Stewart) and even some more commercial bands with good standards of musicianship (Marmalade, Amen Corner, Herd). But he wasn't impressed by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, describing them in 1968 as the worst group he'd seen anywhere. Despite this, Peel namechecked Chris Welch in 1975, on the final Top Gear show.
In 1968 and 1969 the DJ and his programmes were fashionable and popular with MM's readers, with frequent mentions in the paper (see Melody Maker: 1968; Melody Maker: 1969). But after that, Peel mentions gradually became less common, and in a 1971 interview with the DJ (see below) he was even described as "an institution that we all take for granted".. Nevertheless, Melody Maker gained a big readership by concentrating on the "underground" and "progressive" rock favoured by Peel's audience, attaining a circulation of 200.000 in 1972. However, in 1973 International Times printed a four-page parody of the MM, entitled "Monotony Maker". It included some sharp criticism of the MM and the rock stars it covered, suggesting that the paper had "hit rock bottom".
Indeed, in the early 1970s, the New Musical Express began to challenge MM's pre-eminence by hiring younger journalists (some of them from the underground press) and adopting a more irreverent approach to the music scene. MM responded by hiring new writers, including Caroline Coon, who in the late 1960s had been one of the underground's leading figures as head of the charity Release, which provided advice and legal support to young people facing prosecution for drug offences and was praised by Peel in his International Times columns. By the mid-1970s shw was developing an interest in the punk scene, which led her to write pieces for MM on many of the artists Peel was featuring on his shows after 1976. In the 1980s, however, NME became the most influential pop weekly and was often mentioned by Peel, but the two papers continued to compete for readers until 2000, when MM was merged with NME.
Peel never wrote a regular column for MM, as he did for rival publications Disc & Music Echo and Sounds, although he took part in some of the paper's opinion features, such as the record review series Blind Date (twice; he was also the first guest in the short-lived New Blind Date), was interviewed from time to time, and did contribute occasional pieces.
As discussed with John Walters on Peeling Back The Years, Peel's victory in the DJ section of MM's 1968 readers' poll over Tony Blackburn may have helped to cement his position at Radio One. Walters commented:
You look down a fairly straight poll – obviously the Beatles were in there and so on – and there was John Peel, and the top radio show was Top Gear. And I remember within Radio One people were absolutely astounded. And it was sort of resentment mixed with a reluctant acceptance that things had changed and that you had been a key part of it changing. After 1968 you were being seen as a figure of importance and influence.
Peel would eventually win the MM award 11 times.
In the December 1994 edition of the Melody Maker, Peel was featured in the Rebellious Jukebox section, where music celebrities choose records that have made an impact on their lives. Peel choose twelve records ranging from Frankie Laine to Elastica.
On his show of 05 May 1997, which featured Blur's visit to Peel Acres, Peel showed off to the band his 1931 Christmas double issue of MM and also recalled a piece he did for MM's 50th anniversary, noting that the lead article of the first issue had been about whether there was still a place for the banjo in the modern dance orchestra.
Online articles on Peel
- September 16 "Peel's appeal is in his chat": "in the jazz field Willis Conover of the Voice of America has for years been held in high esteem. Now pop has its own Willis Conover, 28-year-old ex-Radio London DJ John Peel...". He talks about his time in the USA ("I was offered a job with KFRC in San Francisco for 1,500 dollars a month. But I didn't take it because I wanted to come home...I left all my belongings behind, including 800 LPs, and came back...") and the Perfumed Garden; the article confirms he's among the ex-Radio London DJs taken on for the new Radio 1.
- (See Melody Maker: 1968)
- (See Melody Maker: 1969)
- July 18: JOHN PEEL: What's wrong with Radio One? The fact that you can listen to it for an entire week without learning anything that relates to what's going on. I don't know whether it originates from the producers or where, but... (read more)
- November 14: Reaction (Peel gives his opinions on various people and topics).
- April 24: In the three years since he first won the Top DJ title in the MM Poll, John Peel has been mocked and worshipped. Today he wipes the slate clean... (read more)
- September 25:"The State Of Rock. Starting a three-week series...which way is rock going?" Centre-page feature. Keith Emerson, Jon Anderson, Ian Hunter, Pete Towsnhend, Rory Gallagher and Peel give their ideas. JP writes: "As far as the music goes, groups like Deep Purple and Emerson, Lake & Palmer are enormously popular and sell great numbers of records - becasue they are so predictable......Pop is such a mad animal. It charges about and I just hope I will still be around watching it!" (issue unavailable online at present)
- August 14: If the age of the Ford Prefect, Ealing Comedies and the Coronation Mug could be preserved in pickle for subsequent generations' delectation, its museum would probably be one room. Cocooned in the musty web of corridors... (read more)
- July 1: From "The Raver" column: "Radio London DJ John Peele [sic] uses David O'List's guitar solo "Any More Than I Do" as a signature tune. Dave recently declined an offer from John Mayall"
- August 19: Mailbag - letter from Perfumed Garden listener after closedown of Radio London: "Every night from midnight to two am a beautiful sound flowed from radios all over the country. Soul by the Cream, Mayall, Doors and a host of others, and a a beautiful voice uttering inspiring thoughts and poetry. Now John Peele [sic] of Radio London wil be heard no more..."
- September 16: "Hold On, Here Come The Nice" - article on this "new group". "David [O'List] is the 17-year-old guitarist who played with the Attack...he already has fans like DJ John Peel who played his exciting solo on "Any More Than I Do" on Perfumed Garden."
- September 23: 1967 Pop Poll - Peel seventh in Top DJ listing. Winner is Jimmy Savile.
- September 23: Mailbag - letter in praise of flower power; "Aware people such as Jeff Dexter, John Peel and Steve Abrams are becoming noticed and appreciated..." (link as above)
- November 11 From "The Raver" column: "John Peel asked by pop magazine for a short, clean joke for their Christmas number replied: "How about Tony Blackburn?"
- December 2 From "The Raver" column: "Fantastic response to gOD poll from readers. Votes went to Eric Clapton, Tony Coe, John Lennon, Roland Kirk, Ginger Baker, John Peel, Donovan, John Coltrane, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Mavis Greebstabling, an undiscovered drummer from South London called George Jeffrey, and Edwin Bulstrode"
- December 16 From "The Raver" column: "John Peel played Captain Beefheart's "Electricity" on Top Gear. Yes John, it's "Safe As Milk"!"
- December 30 "Old Dawbarn's Almanack". Bob Dawbarn's comic predictions for the music scene in 1968, including the replacement of Radio 1 DJs by much older, established BBC presenters; "November: Radio One replace John Peel with Jack de Manio".
- (See Melody Maker: 1968)
- (See Melody Maker: 1969)
- February 7 News item:: "Mac, Shack, Trems in six-hour "light" show": "A massive six-hour pop festival under floodlights is planned for April 11 at Thrum Hall, home of the famous Halifax Rugby League Club.....It is also hoped for deejay John Peel to take part....."
- The Raver: "Blodwyn Pig's Jack Lancaster played nice tenor on the Peel Show."
- Ad for Principal Edwards Magic Theatre LP with photo of double-fold sleeve: "John Peel and Principal Edwards Magic Theatre pruduced the album..."
- "And so Klooks Kleek closes", by Max Jones. Owner Dick Jordan on demise of noted Hampstead club: "...you can't give tickets away, whatever the group, unless John Peel has rated it. Which shows a lot of confidence in the man. But why can't the public decide for themselves?"
- Mailbag: "I had the opportunity to atend the BBC recording of John Peel's Sunday show recently when Keef Hartley used the big band. What a sound! If this is the type of trend the pop scene is taking - great...."
- February 14 Ad for Siren LP with quote: "'Stomping, roaring...a considerable treat'. - John Peel"
- News in brief: "John Peel's tip for the future, Medicine Head, appear at Walsall Town Hall on Saturday February 21, together with the Rosko Show featuring the Go-Go Dancers and Light show."
- Mailbag: Letter from record producer (of Elton John, the Bonzo Dog Band and many others) Gus Dudgeon: "I feel I must congratulate the person who decided to put John Peel's Sunday Show on the sir. This show has, for me, become the best radio programme since Radio One began... " Goes on to praise the balance engineer, and says "Please Radio One - if you're short of needle time - realise that programmes of this sort are the answer..."
- February 21 Unenthusiastic review of Siren LP: "The merits of this album, accoiding to John Peel's sleevenote, are its simplicity and lack of pretension. Fair enough; but it's also pretty inconsequential..."
- July 18 "Cool or Uncool?" (p.8) Light-hearted article with lists of people and things which fit the two categories, including "Cool: John Peel - Uncool: Tony Brandon"
- July 25: Article about the Humblebums: "Since John Peel declared, earlier this year that his favourite record of the moment was " Please Sing A Song For Us," very little has been heard of the Humblebums. Last week they broke a three-day holiday from recording to pay a visit to the MM." 
- Album review of John Peel's Archive Things, by Richard Williams: "Connoisseurs of good radio will remember that Peel's old Wednesday Night Ride was probably the best programme ever to appear on BBC. In It Peel was given complete freedom to presents poets, musicians, and — most Importantly — material from the BBC archives, dug up by Peel and researched by David Luddy. The result was vastly more adventurous and far more rewarding than Top Gear, because it took us into new, unfamiliar realms of music which, like travel, truly broadened the mind." 
- Mailbag - letter criticising Jonathan King's bad review of the Bath Festival: "So Jonathan King thought it necessary to criticise the people at Bath. Well, a lot of people will agree with John Peel when he says the real stars are the people out front not the paper ones backstage as I hope Mr King realises soon." 
- Article about Kenny Everett, sacked from the BBC after his comments in MM: "John Peel, Pete Drummond and David Symonds — all Radio One deejays — were also critical of the BBC in the same MM article." 
- September 19: 1970 Pop Poll Results: "John Peel makes it a hat-trick of Top Disc Jockey awards, follows it up with the first and second places in the Top Radio Show division with his Top Gear and Sunday Show".
- February 13 "Football on Peel 'Special'". "Guests on John Peel's Late-Night Line-Up "special" on BBC2 TV on February 20 at 10.45 p.m. will include former Liverpool and Scotland football international Billy Liddell and soprano saxist Lowen Coxhill..." (read more). Programme was described as first of a regular series, but only this one featured Peel. The series was called "One Man's Week" and was edited by Rowan Ayers, father of Peel favourite Kevin Ayers.
- September 25: "Up the Poll! MM Pop Poll Special 1971" by Chris Welch. ""It was probably the strangest pop poll awards ever held by the MM" - because the national press hadn't heard of most of the pollwinners...""Who is he?" asked a pressman curiously, as Viv Stanshall threatened to scourge the chattering, boozing crowd with a whip...John Peel smiled from a corner, a veteran of such skirmishes. He chatted to Peter Frampton...." (not available online at present)
- September 29: Peel winning the Best DJ category in the 1973 Melody Maker Readers' Poll. (read more)
- Spring 1976: "Melody Maker Special - 50 Years of Music." 50th anniversary issue. "The Sixties" by Chris Welch."Deejay John Peel with his Perfumed Garden show virtually had the monopoly of underground music and his name became synonymous with Tyrannosaurus Rex, Captain Beefheart, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention" (issue not available online)
- November 11: Peel wins Top DJ and comes 2nd in the Best Radio Show in the 1978 Melody Maker Readers' Poll. (read more)
- January 5: Peel wins Best Radio Show in the 1990 Melody Maker Readers' Poll (read more)
Melody Maker v/a Compilations
(Known plays by Peel of various artist (v/a) releases from Melody Maker, listed in order of first appearance on his R1 show. He also gave airtime to at least one flexidisc issued with the paper (see 03 May 1982). Please add more information if known.)
(v/a LP - Red Stripe - Playback Volume 1)
(v/a 7" - MM Vinyl Conflict 1)
- 10 February 1986: Men They Couldn't Hang: The Bells
- 11 February 1986: Housemartins: Anxious
- 15 February 1986 (BFBS): Men They Couldn't Hang: The Bells
(v/a 7" - Vinyl Conflict 2)
- 24 September 1986: Fall: Lucifer Over Lancashire (Alternative Version)
- 24 September 1986: Cocteau Twins: Orange Appled
- 24 September 1986 (VPRO): Fall: Lucifer Over Lancashire (Alternative Version)
- 24 September 1986 (VPRO): Cocteau Twins: Orange Appled
- October 1986 (BBC World Service): Cocteau Twins: Orange Appled
(v/a cassette - Five Alive)
(v/a 3xCD - The Serious Road Trip )
- 12 November 1994: Banco De Gaia: White Paint
- 12 November 1994: Loop Guru: Yayli (Unity Vibrations)
- 12 November 1994: Dust Brothers: Be That Thing
(v/a cassette - Reading Present)
- 26 August 1994: Elastica: Waking Up [BBC Radio 1 FM Session]
- 27 August 1994: Elastica: Waking Up [BBC Radio 1 FM Session]
- 02 September 1994: Elastica: Waking Up [BBC Radio 1 FM Session]
- 10 September 1994 (BFBS): Elastica: Waking Up [BBC Radio 1 FM Session]
- 08 October 1994 (BFBS): Elastica: Waking Up [BBC Radio 1 FM Session]
- 23 December 1994: Elastica: Waking Up [BBC Radio 1 FM Session] FF#7
(v/a cassette - Reading Present 1995)
(v/a CD - ...Hold On)
- ↑ Because of the lack of jazz on the BBC, Melody Maker included listings of jazz programmes broadcast by European radio stations, as well as the American Forces Network and Voice Of America, in its jazz pages. Conover's VOA "Jazz Hour" was broadcast every night and was audible in the UK on the medium wave band, thanks to the VOA's powerful transmitter located in Germany.
- ↑ For example, as guest reviewer for MM in 1991, Peel made PJ Harvey's debut 45 Single Of The Week.
- ↑ This is a frequently quoted figure - see, for example, Peel's Wikipedia entry - but no full list of the years he won is available. Please put a note in the Talk section at the top of this page if you can help with this.
- ↑ Although the Attack's "Any More Than I Do" was a lifelong Peel favourite. there's no evidence of this on available recordings. However Peel did use a snippet from the track in an ad he compiled, no doubt with help from the station's engineers, for the Nautilus Club, Lowestoft - a regualr venue for Radio London DJs. It can be heard on the show of 01 July 1967.
- ↑ American academic living in London in 1967 who campaigned for the legalisation of cannabis. He sponsored and authored the full page advertisement petitioning for cannabis law reform which appeared in The Times on 24 July 1967. In 1987 Abrams appeared in the video for the song 'The Body' by Public Image Limited.
- ↑ A Radio London and Radio One DJ with middle-of-the-road music tastes, he was known as Tony "Birdbrain" Brandon and eventually moved to Radio Two in 1971.
- Wikipedia: Melody Maker
- Jazz Lives : 1934 photo of Louis Armstrong reading Melody Maker
- Pathe News: Peel at 1968 MM Readers' Poll Awards
- Pathe News: Peel at 1969 MM Readers' Poll Awards
- Archived Music Press: Melody Maker
- rocklist.net: Melody Maker Annual Critic Lists 1978-2000
- Melody Maker Pop Poll 1973 - Best disc jockey