gilest.org: about; archive; photos

John Peel's record collection - the Spotify playlist

Before you read the rest, take note:

No matter how hooked you are into modern digital music consumption, you must surely feel the magnetic pull of a decent record collection. A proper collection, of actual vinyl records. Yes, such a collection consumes vast cubic volume and requires specially constructed shelving to support its weight, but there's something about it, something deliciously tactile, about thrumming your fingertips across the spines of hundreds of record sleeves.

When I was growing up, John Peel was the coolest DJ on the radio. People discussed the music he played and the show he played it on, but didn't dwell on his record collection. Although I'm sure, had you asked me then, I'd have tried to imagine it. It was obvious that a DJ like Peel would own, quite simply, all the records. He'd have to.

An online arts project called thespace is making some effort to publicly archive Peel's record collection on the internet. They're releasing it in chunks, one letter of the alphabet at a time, each week during this summer (2012). And not even the whole thing, just the first 100 records in each letter. Peel, like all sensible record collectors, stored his vinyl alphabetically.

The first 100 of each letter sounds like a bit of swizz, something of a disappointment. But in fairness, doing the whole thing would be a project orders of magnitude larger and more complicated. Doing it this way provides us with a manageable slice through the collection.

I love the way it's been done. We're shown photos of the actual vinyl copies Peel stored, complete with his sticky labels on the front cover. We see the paper index cards he typed. We see the interior sleeves, and the back covers. The entire online project is as much a nod to the glorious history of album art as it is to Peel's personal collection.

I also love the way links have been provided alongside each listed album, allowing you to buy it on iTunes, or listen to it on Spotify.

It's those Spotify links that interest me most. How wonderful to have this enormous archive of so much music that's obscure and esoteric. How amazing to be able to flick through Peel's collection, click a button, and listen to the music instantly. And be reminded how eclectic and unusual his taste in music could be.

The Spotify links are a nice touch, but Spotify is a platform built on playlists, and on finding out about this project I thought a playlist was the perfect response. So that's what I'm building. As each alphabetical update is published by thespace, I'm adding all the Spotify-listed albums it contains to the John Peel's record collection playlist, to which I encourage you to subscribe for your listening pleasure.

I'm being strict with the playlist. Only albums specifically listed in Peel's collection are included, and where possible I'm trying to remove bonus tracks and other filler material that I'm certain would not have been included on the original record. Not all the albums listed are on Spotify at all; and some are only present as a handful of tracks on a best-of compilation.

I have no idea what Peel would have made of Spotify. But my 17-year-old self would have been floored by it. My 41-year-old self gets quite a lot of enjoyment out of it too.