Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Poptones...The Story of Public Image Limited and Show #263

After exiting The Sex Pistols, John Lydon went on to form a new group who would be titled, Public Image Limited. Forming in 1978, the group consisted of John Lydon on vocals, Jah Wobble on bass, Keith Levene on guitar and Jim Walker on drums. Wobble had been a friend of Lydon's since their school days, while Levene had previously been in an early incarnation of The Clash. Another interesting fact is that the bands original drummer, was in fact Canadian. Jim Walker had been in the Canadian Punk band The Furies and after moving to London, he answered an ad that was placed in the UK magazine Melody Maker. With the band members in order and after rehearsing for several months, the band needed a name. Taking the title from the book Public Image by Muriel Spark, this group of musicians became known as Public Image Limited.

The bands first single "Public Image" would be released in October of 1978. The song which had been written while Lydon was in The Sex Pistols, was sonically different than the Pistols. "Public Image" featured heavy almost Dub sounding bass lines, with the unique guitar stylings of Keith Levene, John Lydon's sporadic vocal delivery and the Dance-like rhythms of Jim Walker. The song was unlike anything at the time and would eventually be labelled under the genre of Post-Punk. The single for "Public Image" charted at #9 on the UK singles charts. A promotional music video was made for the single "Public Image", it was directed by Don Letts. From July to November of 1978, Public Image Limited recorded material for was to become their first full length album. First Issue as it would be titled was recorded in several studios throughout London because the band had went over the budget given to them by their record company. The album which featured eight songs, drew in a wide variety of eclectic music influences. The album features longer songs, four of which are over five minutes. Songs such as the nine minute opener "Theme", "Annalisa" a six minute song blending elements of Rock and Dub expanding on sounds the band had started with the song "Public Image", "Low Life" a droning song with a steady drum beat, and "Attack" a low-fi sounding rock song, the album was unlike anything heard before. With Keith Levene's piercing guitar sound, Jah Wobble's heavy Dub influenced bass tones and Lydon's often experimental and anarchic vocal style, First Issue can not be discredited for it's artistic originality.

When released in the UK, First Issue received a lot of criticism, but fans enjoyed it causing the album to reach #22 on the UK album charts. There was a slightly different version of the album planned for release in the US in 1979, but after some test pressings the album was deemed noncommercial for the America market. PiL actually re-recorded new parts for certain songs and even re-recorded new versions of songs from First Issue for a US release, but the album was never released.

The bands next album, Metal Box would be released in 1979. By this point Jim Walker had left the group, not agreeing with the result of the bands first album. For Metal Box PiL did not have a steady drummer, so several drummers were featured on the recordings, which resulted in the drummers not being credited in the linear notes. Some tracks featured Jah Wobble on drums (on "Careering" and "The Suit"), and Keith Levene on "Swan Lake" and "Radio 4", a song in which he played all of the instruments. Other drummers on the sessions were David Humprey, Richard Dudanski and Martin Atkins. The album departed from the sound of the bands first album, entering more of an exploratory realm. Songs such as "Albatross", "Memories", "Swan Lake", Careering" and "Poptones" all helped characterize the new direction the band was heading in. Metal Box also featured several instrumental tracks.

The packaging and design for Metal Box was a design created by photographer/designer Dennis Morris. The album was packaged in a 16 mm metal film canister featuring the music on six 12" records. The album went to #18 on the UK album charts. In the US a slightly different version of the album was released. It was retitled, Second Edition and made a double album. The artwork for the album featured Keith Levene with a wavy , fun house mirror effect altering his appearance. The album went to #46 on the US album charts. In 1980, PiL embarked on their first US tour. The band had several cancellations due to their controversial stands. At one show PiL records were played over a PA system as the band mimed along to them and Lydon taunted the audience from behind a projection screen. John Lydon and Keith Levene also appeared on the Tomorrow Show with Tom Synder, during their interview viewers were told that the band was a company, while John Lydon and the host insulted each other on-air.

Metal Box (1979) and Second Edition (1979)

By the time the band was to record their next full length album, Jah Wobble was no longer with the group. As a result Flowers of Romance, featured barely and bass, and instead focused around the sounds of percussion, synthesizers reversed guitar and sound effects and vocals. Drumming for this album featured drumming from Martin Atkins (on three tracks), Keith Levene and John Lydon. While the albums title makes reference to a band that featured one time Sex Pistol bassist Sid Vicious, the albums sound is not within the Punk genre. In fact the album features an unconventional sound, and while this may be seen as a bad thing by some, the album went to #14 on the UK album charts and #11 in the US. Another interesting fact is that Phil Collins liked the drum sound of this album so much, he employed the albums engineer Nick Launay for his own recording projects. In 1982, PiL began work on their fourth album, but due to internal pressures and arguments among band members, Levene left the group and the album was cancelled. A few years later, Levene would release the album titled Commercial Zone on his own, which featured songs form the 1982 album sessions. With Levene out of PiL, they re-recorded the album bringing the band in more of a Pop and Dance direction. The result would be the 1984 album, This Is What You Want...This Is What You Get. The album would feature several other musicians and Martin Atkins on drums. A single released in 1983, titled "This Is Not A Love Song" became a huge hit for the band prior to the albums release. The single went to #5 on the UK singles charts and was re-recorded for the album This Is What You Want...This Is What You Get. The single version of the song did however feature Keith Levene on guitar.

Public Image Limited's next album would be titled Album. Released in 1986, the album was titled according to what format it was released on. For example, if you were buying the cassette version of it, it would be titled Cassette and so on. Artwork for the album was a generic blue and white design, which poked fun at generic consumer products. The album was produced by Bill Laswell, who would play bass on some tracks and also bring in a cast of session musicians for the album. Some of the other musicians featured on Album, were Steve Vai, Johnas Hellborg, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Ginger Baker of Cream. Musically the album is a return to a more conventional PiL sound, while incorporating elements of Folk, Middle Eastern and big guitar and drum sounds. The album features songs such as the song "F.F.F (Farewell My Fairweathered Friend)" a song about Lydon's previous band member Martin Atkins, "Fishing", "Round", "Bags" and "Home". Album would also the spawn the hit single "Rise". The song had Folk and Middle Eastern melodies, while lyrically it referenced situations going on in Africa in the 80's. "Rise" went to #11 on the UK singles charts.

Next Lydon would assemble a more stable line up of band members. He would recruit John McGeoch for guitar (of Magazine and Siouxsie and The Banshees), Lu Edmunds (a short lived guitarist for The Damned, but also a multi-instrumentalist), and Alan Dias of The Pop Group on drums. The bands sound would drift into a more Dance and Drum based musical direction. PiL would released Happy? in 1987, 9 in 1989, and This What Is Not in 1992. Following a self financed tour (their label would not pay for a tour), PiL disbanded after a concert in September of 1992. By this point the line up had altered several times, but John Lydon stated that PiL is not necessarily broken up, but that they are just on hiatus. In 1999, a Public Image Limited box set was released titled Plastic Box. It was also announced that Public Image Limited will be reuniting for five UK tour dates for the 30th anniversary of the album Metal Box. More information on Public Image Limited can be found on the Fodderstompf website and Public Image Limited's official website.

The Play List:

1. The Vacants - Television Viewer
2. The Gizmos - Pay
3. The Nerves - One Way Ticket
4. Nebula - Aprhodite
5. One For Jude - Aux Doux Anges
6. Wreckless Eric - Reconnez Cherie
7. Ex-Boyfriends - To The Lowest Bidder
8. Ex-Boyfriends - Born To Be Kicked Out
9. The Rival Boys - Lonely Heart
10. Miesha & The Spanks - Mmmade For Me
11. The Michael Parks - Vanessa
12. The Hidden Cameras - Kingdom Come
13. Brian Setzer Orchestra - Trouble Train
14. The Raconteurs - Keep It Clean (Live)
15. XTC - Buzzcity Talking
16. Only Ones - From Here To Eternity
17. Rocket Reducers - Sauce Wagon
18. Public Image Limited - Tie Me To The Length of That
19. Public Image Limited - Fishing
20. Big Audio Dynamite - Sudden Impact!
21. Gang of Four - Sweet Jane (Live)
22. The Stranglers - Mean To Me
23. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - 5ive Gears In Reverse

To download this week's show visit the CJAM archives and select the files 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM on August 25th, 2009.

Public Image Videos:

Public Image
Poptones (OGWT 1980)
Careering (OGWT 1980)
Tom Synder Interview Part 1
Tom Synder Interview Part 2
American Bandstand 1980 (Poptones & Careering)
This Is Not A Love Song

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