Radio Two, as you would expect, has three regular weekly decade-based oldies shows every weekend, each highlighting one of the three decades during which the R2 core audience turned eighteen.
The excellent Johnnie Walker presents Sounds Of the 70s on a Sunday afternoon, which unfortunately mixes dull feature interviews with interminable West Coast rock, while Sarah Cox’s Sounds Of The 80s is a similar waste of a great presenter – a request-heavy trawl through the decade in the Saturday evening graveyard slot.
Sounds Of The Sixties, though, is an absolute bloody miracle of a show.
Presented by 87-year-old veteran broadcaster Brian Matthew, who was there pretty much at the start of rock’n’roll / pop music radio in the UK, hosting “Saturday Club” from 1957 and “Easy Beat “from 1960. He added TV to his CV from 1961, presenting “Thank Your Lucky Stars” for five years.
His clipped received pronounciation was very much BBC standard of the time, but the man’s enthusiasm for the music shone through, so he never really appeared “above” the bands he interviewed – you can hear plenty of examples of his rapport with The Beatles on the various sessions they recorded for the BBC between 1962 and 1965.
He continued on various shows on BBC Radios One and Two through the seventies and eighties -“My Top Twelve” was a particular highlight, his relaxed interviewing style allowing him to get quite a lot out of the likes of Rod Stewart, Rick Wakeman and (just twelve days before her tragic death) Mama Cass Elliot.
The uninitiated might expect Sounds Of The 60s to be simply a selection of chart hits such as you might hear on Gold or Absolute 60s – and I’m not knocking those fine stations, by the way, sometimes you just need something nice and familiar, which is the way 80% of all commercial radio works.
But Sounds Of The 60s is something different. Sure, there are hits, but these are interspersed with B-Sides, rare tracks from well-known artists and downright obscure sounds from bands nobody has ever heard of apart from a tiny number of aficionados.
The Sixties were such a time of musical change that it is relatively straightforward to build a playlist that covers tracks from the early 60s (1960-1962, pre-Beatles), the mid-Sixties (1963-1966,the Beat boom,Beatles,Motown,etc) and the psychedelic late 60s (1967-1969).
Each of these three eras is covered in each show, which means that any given “avid” will almost certainly not like all every song played but that’s fine, because the songs from “your” mini-era will inevitably be excellent.
An example playlist from 30/01/2016 contained The Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison, Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions, The Ribbons, The Four Seasons, Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera (below), Bobby Vee, Sanford Clark,Kathy Kirby,Jet Harris & Tony Meehan, The Drifters,Gene Pitney, The Ugly Ducklings and The Honeycombs …
… and that’s just the first half of the show (“Side One”).
There are requests, but the show has been going for so long now (since 1990 with Brian at the helm, before that introduced by Keith Fordyce) that all us loyal regular listeners (“avids” – yes, the show has its own slang, and even John Peel never managed that!) both want and expect something different.
There are special features – a strangely arbitrary one where Side One Track One and Side Two Track Two of an album is played and the Loose Connection where a listener selects three songs linked as tortuously as possible by a common theme. I have yet to get one right.
If I have one slight complaint I’d like to hear more black music but that’s just a personal preference. The show does exactly what it is supposed to do, which is why it has lasted so long (and with the same presenter for the past 26 years)
Sounds Of The 60s group on Facebook
There’s an excellent Sounds Of The Sixties Facebook Group which I’d recommend to anybody who likes the show, especially when the show is actually on air.
Despite the saying, if you remember the sixties, that doesn’t mean you weren’t there, but it does mean that you’re an invaluable resource for fielding questions about the era if you don’t remember it yourself (which I don’t, not really, as I was just too young)
One of the topics exercising the fans just now is the vexed question of who will take over when Brian finally calls it a day? It’s hard to see Tony Blackburn or Johnnie Walker (the only survivors from that era) doing as good a job – both their talents lie in other directions. My vote would go to Craig Charles or a similar enthusiast – let’s hope a replacement is not required for a few more years yet.
Sounds of the 60s bingo on Twitter
Every week you choose five artists, use the hashtag #sotsbingo and if Brian plays an artist you’ve chosen you get a point. It’s fiendishly hard. The average score is zero, and I’ve only managed more than 1 point on one occasion. It’s also great fun. I think Brian would approve.
See you round the radio on Saturday morning, avids. Leaving you with this obscure tune from 1961 featuring a man who decided (wisely or not, who can say?) to stick to playing other people’s records rather than making his own.