As I’ve recounted, there were many discoveries I made after I arrived at the campus radio in the late-eighties. Among them were a series of records with a distinctive cover design, just the name of an artist atop a big black box with a dizzying array of other bands and performers listed within it. In small print at the very top of the jacket sat three simple words: “The Peel Sessions.”
To the best of my knowledge, I hadn’t heard of John Peel, the British radio personality and indefatigable music fan who was the namesake for the records. We didn’t have very many of these precious vinyl discs in the station’s collection and they certainly weren’t abundant in the record stores I was able to frequent, all of which made me view these releases as extraordinarily rare commodities (as imports, they cost a little more too, which only added to their air of being unattainable, at least to a perpetually strapped college kid such as myself). On those infrequent occasions when I saw one featuring one of the artists who was on my unofficial and unwritten “Must Buy” list, I snapped it up without hesitation. The first Peel Sessions release I owned contained the music of one Stephen William Bragg.
Things were perfectly aligned for me to fall hard for Bragg when I got the radio station. Besides handily concurrent news stories about his simpatico politics popping up around that time (I recall a Rolling Stone article that noted a bit of stage banter about growing hoarse from yelling “Asshole!” at people with Bush bumper stickers, and this was the better Bush), his fourth album, Workers Playtime, was conveniently ensconced in the station’s Heavy Rotation when I took my first spin in the air chair, giving me a chance to freely and repeatedly sample that album’s abundant selection of lovelorn balladeering for weeks on end. There couldn’t have been a more enticing introduction for the cynical romantic I was at age eighteen.
The first Peel Sessions album from Billy Bragg I bought was originally released in 1987. Later, I got another more robust collection that, importantly for me, included several songs from Workers Playtime, including the tremendous “Valentine’s Day Is Over,” a song that was the focus of several personal late night listening sessions devoted to shameless wallowing. I had Bragg to thank for the song, but I also had Peel to thank for yet another version of it, for those instances when I needed it to be even more downbeat and somber. If nothing else, it’s a damn perfect song for February 15th.
Listen or download –> Billy Bragg, “Valentine’s Day is Over” (Peel Session)
(Disclaimer: As far as I can tell, the various Peel Sessions releases from Billy Bragg are out of print. That noted, Bragg had a quite vigorous reissue series going on for a bit, and I completely lost track of all the extras that showed up on there. It’s entirely possible that this specific track is indeed available for purchase somewhere out there, but I haven’t been able to identify where, so this is shared in this space with the understanding that doing so causes no loss of due revenue to those who are deserving of compensation for the song, be it Mr. Bragg himself or the proprietor of your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I do highly recommend making a proper purchase. The previously mentioned Workers Playtime is as good a place to start as any, especially for those reeling from romantic catastrophe. It stands with Blood on the Tracks and Achtung Baby as one of the great break-up albums. Also, buy a ticket and see Bragg perform if he comes to your town. It’s always worth it. Always. I should note that I’ll gladly and promptly remove the track if asked to do so by someone with due authority to make such a request.)