voice + video blog

25 Years of Rock

I was recently reminded of “25 Years of Rock”, a documentary series on BBC Radio 1, first broadcast in 1980.

The series consisted of 25 episodes covering every year from 1955 to 1979. Despite the title, the tracks were not purely rock but quite broad, mostly chart hits, and were interspersed with soundbites from tv, radio and cinema newsreels (which, surprisingly, were still going strong during the seventies).

For me, it was essential listening each Sunday evening, coming immediately after the charts, providing sixty minutes of songs and clips from a particular year woven together to provide a fast moving sonic reminder of the news stories and hits of the day.

The series was first aired in 1980 with the last episode broadcast on December 7 that year. The very next day, Monday 8 December, John Lennon was murdered in New York. His death felt all the more shocking to me as I was just getting into the Beatles through this series. I’d been aware of their music of course, but the interview clips featured in the series had revealed something more personal and intimate and led me to seek out more about them and their music that summer.

25 Years of Rock was repeated a year later in 1981 and this time around I was all set to record it. In the intervening months since the first broadcast, my parents had bought a new-fangled music centre (the Fidelity 4-40) and so I was able to record the series in pristine stereo directly from FM. No more holding a mic up to the radio.

My cassette recordings were prized possessions for many years. The Fleetwood Mac theme tune (“Oh Well”), those same spoken intros by Stuart Grundy each week and the authentic news clips by Bill Bingham still delight me now. I just love everything about the production.

Years ago, long after my precious C120s had faded, I contacted the show’s producer Trevor Dann enquiring if the series was still knocking around, perhaps languishing on some long forgotten magnetic reels. Amazingly, they were and he kindly let me have a copy of all 25 episodes on a bunch of CDs. Having a newly minted copy of the series in my hand was just brilliant, the keys to a musical time machine.

In 2011, Trevor created a new series called “Sounds of the 20th Century”. Listening to some early editions, I realised I was hearing 25 Years of Rock, playing out again for perhaps the first time in thirty years. I can’t help thinking that my enquiry had nudged Dann into revisiting the concept for a new generation of listeners. Whatever the inspiration, I’m glad he did. The new series for BBC Radio 2 was a welcome and long overdue update on the original with brand new episodes covering 1950 to 54 and 1981 through to 1999.

“Sounds of the 20th Century” has aired a few times on Radio 2. The original “25 Years of Rock” also shows up from time to time on BBC 6 Music. Catch them both if you can. They are great listens.

Posted by Tim Longhurst on Mon 20 Aug 2018.