28. Public Image Limited – Public Image

It’s my entrance, my own creation, my grand finale, my goodbye.

After the Sex Pistols broke up, John Lydon formed Public Image Limited. I didn’t know much about PiL until years later when they showed up on Rock Around the World singing the incomparable This Is Not A Love Song live in Japan. I liked it, but not enough to buy the record (although you should watch that clip, it is a beauty).

A few years later I was playing songs with my friend Jeff in his basement in Surry Hills. We played Alien Sex Fiend, Sonic Youth and, inspired by the Pixies, we played the Jesus and Mary Chain. Jeff asked me to learn Public Image.

I was shaken on first listen. This song had John Lydon, the voice the defined punk, surrounded by intense, powerful music. The drums were relentless, a constant battering of noise. Keith Levene played guitar like no other, inventing a sound that has been frequently copied (listen to U2’s Edge). I had to learn Jah Wobble’s bass line, a simple and beautiful construction where he plays the first note of a bar one slot early, like a reggae bass line. His bass sounded so powerful it could cut through the foundations of a skyscraper.

John doesn’t disappoint in the video, with his intense stage presence and his piercing voice, his dancing and his shoulder pads. He’s an icon.



I was ten in the summer of 1977 so I had a child’s perspective on Punk. A lot of it was kids’ music, firing up teenage rebellion against the music of their parents, against the double concept album and the rich old wankers who controlled the industry. I first gave PiL a good listen years later when I was in my twenties. With PiL, John Lydon had matured; his music and lyrics had matured along with him. It wasn’t the hammer blow of the Sex Pistols, but more of a drill piercing strategic points in your brain, giving you a changed view of the world.

Public Image Limited continued to influence long after Punk. Just listen to the music – does this sound like 1978 to you? In the decades after this song, music caught up to PiL.

The album is First Issue.


Next: 27. N*E*R*D – Lapdance

Previous: 29. Fishbone – Sunless Saturday


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