The Cure - Peel Sessions 1978-1985

In recognition of the Cure's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this month, I wanted to share with you the sessions that the Cure recorded for The John Peel Show on England's Radio One. The band recorded a total of six sessions for the program between 1978 and 1985. The first session from 1978 was released as a legitimate commercial EP in 1988. The fourth session from 1981 was issued as an unauthorized 7-inch vinyl EP. I reviewed both of those EP's on my website many years ago, but I only recently was able to listen to the Cure's other four Peel Sessions, thanks to the modern conveniences of YouTube and Twitter. I would have loved to have been able to embed these videos on my Cure page way back in 2001. Now that we have Web 2.0 technology, that dream is now a reality.

The Cure’s first Peel Session from 1978 features the original trio of singer/guitarist Robert Smith, bassist Mick Dempsey, and drummer Laurence Tolhurst performing live in the studio in December of that year, before the release of their 1979 debut album Three Imaginary Boys. It's a good listen, providing a glimpse of the group's original stripped-down punk ethos. In particular, “10:15 Saturday Night” takes on a life of its own in this setting. The sound quality in the embedded video below has an authentic live-in-the-studio sound, unlike the cleaned-up sound on the 1988 Peel Session EP release. The tracks are listed below in the order in which the songs were broadcast. The Peel Session EP release presented the tracks in reverse order.

Track Listing:

1. Boys Don’t Cry
2. Fire In Cairo
3. 10:15 Saturday Night
4. Killing An Arab

The Cure's second Peel session was recorded in May of 1979. This lineup consisted of Smith, Tolhurst, and bassist Simon Gallup, who performed four more songs from the Three Imaginary Boys era. These versions of the songs tend to have more color than their studio versions, suggesting the type of moody atmosphere that would be present on their next three albums. The paranoid “Subway Song” does not reproduce the scream that comes at the end of the studio version, even though Peel mentions it; on “Grinding Halt”, the band does attempt to end the song with the same type of effect befitting the title. The fifth track is a curio: a mocking response to a negative review of Three Imaginary Boys by NME’s Paul Morley, played to the tune of “Grinding Halt”. Now that is pure punk!

Track Listing:

1. Accuracy
2. Subway Song
3. Plastic Passion
4. Grinding Halt
5. Desperate Journalist In Ongoing Meaningful Review Situation

Their third Peel session was recorded in March 1980 by Smith, Tolhurst, Gallup, and keyboardist Matthieu Hartley. The four songs were selections from their 1980 sophomore album Seventeen Seconds, on which the Cure were beginning to develop the gloomy sound that became their trademark. The first two deliberately paced songs are basically played the same as they were on record, but they sound less distant in this setting. The same can be said for the closing track “M”, while the faster-paced “Play For Today” could almost pass for a fully produced studio cut if Smith’s vocals did not take as much of a backseat to the instrumentation.

Track Listing:

1. A Forest
2. Seventeen Seconds
3. Play For Today
4. M

Their fourth Peel session was recorded in January 1981, and was unofficially distributed on a 7-inch vinyl record (Stigma ST-504). The packaging (which folded out into a poster) correctly named the band and songs, but the sticker on the vinyl called the group "Bob Smith's Combo", and gave false names to the songs! The combo again consisted of Smith, Tolhurst, and Gallup. The three songs on the EP were taken from the Faith album; one of them, the "yellow version" of "Primary", has alternate lyrics that are curiously flighty. The broadcast featured a fourth song, “Forever”, an unreleased song which the band has often performed live; it’s a much noisier mood piece than the rest. The songs were played very well, especially “Holy Hour”, although (with the exception of “All Cats Are Grey”) they lost some of their atmosphere in this setting.

Track Listing (broadcast):

1. Primary
2. All Cats Are Grey
3. Forever
4. Holy Hour

Track Listing (on the EP):

1. Holy Hour -- listed as "Happy Hour" on disc sticker
2. Primary (Yellow Version) -- listed as "First In Line" on disc sticker
3. All Cats Are Grey -- listed as "Pet Colours" on disc sticker

Their fifth Peel Session was recorded in December of 1981, but aired in January of 1982. The same trio performed four songs from their 1982 Pornography album, which was the final and most depressing album in a downbeat trilogy. It was also arguably one of their best works. These songs were reproduced faithfully for this session, but they sound more distant in this setting. It was inevitable that a song like “One Hundred Years” would lose some of its intense aura, but the material is still potent. The drum sound is a bit less audible in these versions, but still on target.

Track Listing:

1. Figurehead
2. One Hundred Years
3. Siamese Twins

The Cure's sixth and final Peel Session was recorded in July of 1985. The trio of Smith, Tolhurst, and Gallup were joined by drummer Boris Williams. The quartet performed three songs from the 1985 album The Head On The Door, as well as the non-album B-side "The Exploding Boy". During those few years between this Peel Session and the last, the Cure’s music had noticeably become less gloomy, and they were using much more electronics-based technology. Although these Peel Session versions of the songs are predictably less polished than the studio versions, none of them are inferior, and the growing technical sophistication comes through intact. Tolhurst makes a strong impression playing the keyboards; Gallup’s bass lines are even more effective. The inclusion of the obscure B-side selection "The Exploding Boy" is a nice surprise. Smith’s heartfelt lead vocal on “Sinking” makes it better than the studio version. If it had been up to me, this final Peel Session by the Cure would have been the one released as a commercial EP.

Track Listing:

1. The Exploding Boy
2. Six Different Ways
3. Screw
4. Sinking

And here is a bonus track from 1983, to fill in that three-and-a-half-year gap between those last two Peel Sessions. This is an ‘83 broadcast from another BBC Radio program, namely the Richard Skinner show. The tracks are “The Lovecats” and its two B-sides, “Mr. Pink Eyes” and “Speak My Language”.

I hope you have enjoyed these recordings! And congratulations to The Cure on their well-deserved Hall Of Fame induction.