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Top 10 Early PiL Tracks


I was 'into' PiL right from their spellbinding debut single Public Image. I've always admired groups that experimented and took risks, whether it was The Beatles or 10cc (stop sniggering at the back there).

PiL were never glory hunters in those early days of the late 1970s, and were admired for their integrity. I remember coming back from a footie match back up north watching Luton get hammered by Leeds. Horrible weather, nasty cops, hacking cough, a friend getting struck by half a brick as it sailed out of the ground. Then on the coach home a Luton fan and I got talking about music. He started raving about PiL's debut album. I had thought that I may have been the only PiL fan in Luton at the time!

Amusingly, looking back, I thought that PiL were so inventive that they had created tracks on their debut album that appeared to jump as if the needle was screwed up in the groove. Later, I found out that it was just a dodgy Virgin pressing!

Here's my top 10 PiL tracks from their first three albums, First Issue, Metal Box, and Flowers of Romance.

- Paul Rance/

1. Theme
Where did this come from? Johnny sounds in pain amid some strange, distorted Keith Levene guitar. The bass of Jah Wobble and drums of Jim Walker really create the platform for John and Keith to have the freedom to play with. I remember playing this over and over during dark periods of my life, when the "I wish I could die" line really resonated at the time! Theme was never gonna get much national radio airplay, but, as with a lot of PiL, it sounded futuristic. You've only got to tune in to the 1978 Top of the Pops reruns on BBC4 to see how 'out there' this was.

2. Public Image
I was a Pistols and Clash fan, so what could we expect from former Pistol John Lydon and Clash co-founder Keith Levene's first PiL offering then? Play safe and give us some punk to pacify us? Not quite. Jah Wobble's thundering basslines and Keith Levene's distinctive guitar create as thrilling a single as Anarchy in the UK, as it not only seemed a totally new sound, but was also a great tune. This song was confirmation that Sex Pistol Johnny had moved on - though not without a dig at his critics.

3. Poptones
Hypnotic, and for many the stand-out track on Metal Box. I haven't a clue what the lyrics are really about, but there's just a sense of foreboding throughout the whole song. More disconcerting is that the tune is repetitively catchy.

4. Religion II
Even for The Sex Pistols this would have been a brave song to record or perform, and they apparently were too scared to touch it. John Lydon's Mother died of cancer and didn't get much succour from any Catholic priests as she lay dying, and the anger in this song stems from that dreadful lack of compassion. The bitter lyrics may be personal, but they strike a chord with many of us who believe religion is all about money. Keith Levene's guitar is just as barbed as John's vocals, stabbing through the hypocrisy which probably isn't falling to bits as quickly as we would like.

5. Flowers of Romance
Early PiL songs had interesting beginnings. Johnny as violinist kicks this one off. Droning amidst wild drumming, words are also thrown around like stones, but it all works somehow.

6. Chant
From Metal Box this little number has an infectious, er... chant! Relentless bass and drums and John's "mob war feel hate", with Keith's spikey guitar inserts. John's chanting sounds like a hyper Dalek towards the end!

7. Careering
Superb groove, driven along by Jah Wobble's bass. Keith's unsettling synth reflect the doom-laden lyrics delivered by an anxious sounding JL. There's also a reference to the Troubles with "Both sides of the river./ There is bacteria."

8. Graveyard
The best early PiL instrumental. Amidst a rock steady beat the tune is dominated by Keith Levene's appropriately lilting guitar.

9. Death Disco aka Swan Lake
Keith's guitar reprises Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake in this tribute to John's Mother, which is John's most emotional vocal performance, unsurprisingly. Bleak imagery and a remorseless rhythm hammers in your head on this one. This now affects me on a very personal level, too.

10. Bad Baby
From Metal Box - killer beat, interspersed with Keith's synth and John's kitchen sink drama lyrics. He harmonizes with himself on this track!

Metal Box In Dub - Theme - March 24th, 2012, Hebden Bridge; Jah Wobble, Keith Levene, Nathan Maverick, Marc Layton-Bennett (drums)



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