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Encyclopedia > Public Image Ltd

Public Image Ltd (PiL) is a band formed in 1978 by John Lydon, formerly and later Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. PiL is often cited as one of the most challenging and innovative bands of the post punk period. 1978 was a common year starting on Sunday (the link is to a full 1978 calendar). ... John Lydon John Joseph Lydon (born January 31, 1956), also known as Johnny Rotten (a nickname derived from the state of his teeth) was the iconoclastic lead singer of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd (PiL) and an Irish individualist anarchist. ... The Sex Pistols in 1977. ... Post punk generally refers to the particularly fertile and creative period following the initial UK punk rock explosion, roughly spanning 1978-1982. ...


Early Career

Following the Sex Pistols' breakup, Lydon took a three-week trip to Jamaica with Virgin Records head Richard Branson, in which Lydon helped scout for new reggae artists. Virgin Records is a British recording label founded by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, and Nik Powell in 1972 after a period of selling discount records via their small shop in London. ... Sir Richard Branson during the announcement of the Virgin Express airline which would compete with Ryanair and EasyJet. ... Reggae is a style of music developed in Jamaica and is closely linked to the Rastafari movement, though not universally popular among Rastafarians. ...

After this vacation, Lydon approached Jah Wobble (né John Wardle) to start a new band. The pairing seemed natural: They had been friends since the early 1970s, and had casually played music together during the last days of the Sex Pistols. Furthermore, they were both avid fans of reggae, and of what would later be called world music. Lydon assumed, much as with his friend Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols' mid-career replacement for original bassist Glen Matlock, that Wobble could learn to play bass guitar as he went. While that had proven a fatal assumption with Vicious (Lydon cites his inability to learn his instrument as a prime reason for the Pistols' breakup), Wobble would prove to be a natural talent. Lydon also launched an effort to locate guitarist Keith Levene (né Julian Levene), whom he had met on tour in mid-1976 while Levene was a member of The Clash. Lydon and Levene had both considered themselves outsiders even within their own bands. After Levene heard of the invitation, he quickly signed on. The original drummer was Jim Walker (né Donat Walker), a Canadian student newly arrived in the UK, who answered an ad in a weekly music magazine. Jah Wobble (born John Wardle) is an English bass guitarist, singer, poet and composer. ... World music is a term that covers all music that is not part of mainstream popular music or classical music and has some kind of ethnic component. ... Sid Vicious in a 1978 Mugshot, when he was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. ... Glen Matlock (born August 27, 1956) was the original bass player of punk rock band the Sex Pistols. ... Fender Precision Bass Bass Guitar is a popular term that refers to electric and acoustic basses - stringed instruments similar in design to the guitar, but with longer scale and tuned lower in pitch. ... Keith Levene is a British guitarist and songwriter, probably best known as a member of Public Image Limited. ... 1976 is a leap year starting on Thursday (link will take you to calendar). ... The Clash in 1978. ... Students attending a lecture at the Helsinki University of Technology Etymologically derived through Middle English from the Latin second-type conjugation verb stÅ­dÄ“rÄ•, which means to direct ones zeal at; hence a student is one who directs zeal at a subject. ...

PiL debuted with "Public Image," a single not far from Sex Pistols territory. The single did splendidly in the UK, and surprisingly well as an import in the US, where the mainstream rock culture of the time was strongly resistant to edginess or innovation.

First Album

Heartened, the band relaxed and rolled a collective spliff: In preparing the album, First Issue, they ran through their recording budget well before finishing (drugs were a significant expense), and ended up with eight tracks of varying sound quality, half of which were written and recorded in a last-minute fire drill. Wobble had also beaten up producer Bill Price's assistant engineer (Price, with John Leckie, had secured the tight sound of the "Public Image" single), inciting Price to ban the group from their preferred Wessex Studios, and forcing them to scramble for another venue and soundman as deadlines loomed and passed. This article refers to the type of cigarette. ... John Leckie is one of British musics most prolific producers, having worked on such high-profile albums as The Bends by Radiohead, Showbiz by Muse, George Harrisons All Things Must Pass, the debut album by The Stone Roses and Pink Floyds Dark Side Of The Moon. ...

The album, however, was groundbreaking: scabrous and dirge-like, but lyrical by turn, 'Gothic' before the term was coined, and grounded in heavy dub reggae. Wobble's bass tone was called "impossibly deep" by contemporary reviews, and Levene's uniquely sharp guitar sound (Levene played an all-aluminum Veleno guitar, and a mostly-aluminum Travis Bean Wedge) was widely imitated, most notably by The Edge of the then-fledgling U2. Lydon's vocals were more tuneless and incantatory than in the Sex Pistols, gesturing toward the avant-garde territory of such artists as Yoko Ono. The album was, however, fairly easy for rock audiences to get a handle on. It sold well in the UK and in Europe. Goth is a modern subculture that first became popular during the early 1980s within the gothic rock scene, a sub-genre of post punk. ... Dub Reggae is a form of dub music. ... U2 (L to R): The Edge, Bono, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen U2 is an Irish rock band featuring Bono (Paul David Hewson) on vocals and guitar, The Edge (David Howell Evans) on guitar and pianos, vocals, and bass, Adam Clayton on bass and guitar, and Larry Mullen on drums. ... Yoko Ono in Central Park, c. ...

Metal Box

1979's Metal Box was a more focused effort, although created, like First Issue, under notably unfocused circumstances. In addition to the drugs and disorganization that were the normal condition of the band, Jim Walker had quit from general disillusionment, making way for a series of exploding drummers -- in one case literally, when Wobble set fire to the aptly-named Karl Burns. Sessions took place in which a star-struck young drummer would show up for an 'audition' and be stunned to discover himself in the middle of a recording date with the tape rolling. Categories: Nintendo items | Computer and video game stubs ... For the medical procedure, see spinal tap. ...

Metal Box was originally released as three 45rpm 12-inch records packaged in a metal film canister (it was later reissued as a double LP set, Second Edition), and features the band's trademark hypnotic dub reggae bass lines, glassy, arpeggiated guitar, and bleak, paranoid, stream of consciousness vocals. Metal Box is starker than First Issue, more spread out and uncompromising, and scattered with bits of ambient synthesizer. It is now widely regarded as a classic record, both for its music and its sheer tonality (the 45rpm 12" format added depth and fidelity to what was already a highly tactile, spacious sound), and it sold quite well upon release, and for years afterward. But with Metal Box, PiL was no longer operating as a standard rock band, but was entering a different territory altogether. 45 is the natural number following 44 and followed by 46. ... Second Edition is a double-album by Public Image Ltd released in 1980 by Virgin Records. ... Dub Reggae is a form of dub music. ... In psychology and philosophy stream of consciousness, introduced by William James, is the set of constantly changing inner thoughts and sensations which an individual has while conscious, used as a synonym for stream of thought. ... Ambient music is a loosely defined musical genre that incorporates elements of a number of different styles - including jazz, electronic music, new age, rock and roll, modern classical music, reggae, traditional, world and even noise. ... A classic FM synthesizer, the Yamaha DX7. ...

One critic wrote, "they sounded nothing like the Pistols or anyone else at the time." [1]. In fact, although radically different from other British and American rock groups, PiL was heavily influenced by German experimental rock, or Krautrock, especially by Can, Neu!, and the sonic aesthetic of producer Conny Plank. Hallmarks of the genre include minimalism, classically-inspired ambient or atonal leanings, via Stockhausen, and an abandonment of traditional song form in favor of long, slowly-unfolding compositions. Krautrock (most likely derived from the slang term Kraut for Germans) is often used as a term as though synonymous with German rock in general, although it may be more specifically applied to a group of early-1970s bands like Tangerine Dream and Faust, many of whom worked closely with... Can (originally The Can a few years, sometimes spelled C A N, or CAN by fans) was one of the major Krautrock bands, an avant-garde, improvisational anarchist community who have had a great influence on modern rock and electronic music. ... Neu! (pronounced noy) were a German band, probably the archetypal example of what the UK music press at the time dubbed Krautrock. ... Konrad Conny Plank (frequently spelled Planck) (d. ... Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art and design, especially visual art and music, where the work is stripped down to its most fundamental features. ... Ambient music is a loosely defined musical genre that incorporates elements of a number of different styles - including jazz, electronic music, new age, rock and roll, modern classical music, reggae, traditional, world and even noise. ... Atonality in a general sense describes music that departs from the system of tonal hierarchies that are said to characterized the sound of classical European music from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. ... Karlheinz Stockhausen (born August 22, 1928) is a contemporary composer. ...

The teenage dance show American Bandstand was, circa 1980, entirely innocent of such things, with a history beginning with the likes of Frankie Avalon and extending to the mild end of '70s pop-rock. PiL's booking there revealed a latent fiendish streak in host Dick Clark. The band mimed to the bleak soundscapes of "Poptones" and "Careering," from Metal Box, with Lydon haranguing the cameramen and making no effort to conceal that he was lip-synching. The studio audience made a valiant, but futile attempt to dance and stay in character, ruined by Lydon's good-humored incitements to storm the stage. General chaos broke out, and the show ended with the audience dancing with band members, band members goofing on their instruments, and Lydon chatting with fans while "Careering" blared on. Clark, in later years, would refer to the appearance as "One of the ten best American Bandstand episodes of all time." American Bandstand was a live dance music television show. ... Richard Wagstaff Clark (born November 30, 1929), more commonly known as Dick Clark, is an American television entertainer. ...

A US tour led to several cancelled dates and (more of the usual) chaos, this time between the band and their US label, Warner Brothers (PiL was on Virgin in the UK).

Lydon had always been a difficult character to work with, but Levene had begun to challenge his crown, by many reports acting increasingly grandiose and delusional, and by all reports sinking ever-deeper into heroin. Levene was a very small, skinny person, of the sort that one thinks of as 'runty.' Jah Wobble, for his part, was among the rarest of sensitive art-musicians and world-music aficionados in that his habits included assault and battery, setting people on fire, and hurling televisions out of hotel windows. Something had to break, and it was clear that it couldn't be Lydon. Oddly, it was Wobble.

PiL's elusiveness lent it a thick mystique, but to those behind the curtain it was known as "the laziest band in the world" -- never rehearsing, rarely gigging (the original band only played five UK shows), and recording only when forced to by frantic record execs. (One exec called PiL "a well-oiled machine that burns money and generates pot smoke and excuses.") When Jim Walker joined, he started hanging out at Lydon's apartment, and noticed that Levene would often call from wherever Levene lived -- presumably miles away, since he never saw him. One evening, moments after a phone exchange, he was astonished to see Levene walk in the door: The guitarist had been living the whole time in the apartment downstairs. He'd never bothered to come up before.

With that as a ground aesthetic, it's easy to see how an ambitious musician could be frustrated. Wobble had been releasing solo singles since 1978, and had long been unhappy with the band's relaxed sense of time and lack of ambition. While working on his first solo album, he began using PiL basslines as backing tracks, on the premise that nobody else in the band seemed likely to mind. When Levene found out, it provided fuel for a grudge; and while claims differ as to whether Wobble quit or was fired, the split was decisive. Upon Wobble's departure, the band continued not-playing as a bassless trio.

A show at the Ritz, in New York, signaled a turning point. The band's musical core had by then been stripped down to Lydon and Levene (drummer Martin Atkins had recently exploded), and PiL had begun to relocate to New York, partly because the MI5 was conducting a harassment campaign -- later admitted -- against the band's headquarters, the London apartment that Lydon bought with his Sex Pistols royalties. (A similar campaign would chase Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV frontman Genesis P. Orridge out of Britain in the early '90s.) Levene had also begun to get big ideas about PiL's formerly-ironic claims to be a 'corporation' and an 'art collective': While friends of the band including filmmaker Jeanette Lee had long been 'full members' of PiL (original drummer Jim Walker was only 'voted off the board' in 1980), no creative works besides the records had ever ensued. For the Ritz gig however, Levene decided that PiL would reorganize as an improvisational multimedia troupe -- working, as usual, without planning or rehearsals. The industrial drummer Martin Atkins was born in Coventry, England on August 3, 1959. ... Current MI5 headquarters in Thames House, London MI5—officially called the Security Service—is one of the British secret service agencies. ... ... Psychic TV (sometimes spelt Psychick TV) or PTV, is a largely electronic music group with occasional forays into psychedelic, punk, and experimental music. ... Genesis P-Orridge (born Neil Andrew Megson February 22, 1950, or May 22, 1949), is an English performer, musician, writer and artist. ...

The band appeared at the Ritz playing from behind a projection screen. (Drummer Sam Ulamo had been recruited for the gig from a bar -- the 60-year-old jazz player had never heard the band before.) While something reminiscent of, but clearly different from PiL improvised behind the screen, PiL records were played simultaneously through the PA. Lydon taunted the audience, who expected to hear familiar material (or at least see the band), and a melee erupted in which the audience pelted the stage with bottles and pulled on a tarp spread under the band, toppling equipment. The promoters cleared the hall and cancelled the next night's show, and a local media furore ignited in New York. The 18-inch model of Stonehenge had descended. For the medical procedure, see spinal tap. ...

An appearance a short time later on NBC's Tom Snyder show had Lydon and Snyder insulting each other on-air. The band soon regrouped, after a fashion, back in London. Newscaster for New Yorks WNBC-TV in the 1970s, Tom Snyder (b. ...

Flowers of Romance

Martin Atkins, who had initially joined at the tail end of the Metal Box sessions (most tracks on that album were played by Richard Dudanski), was re-recruited to drum on Flowers of Romance, an album considered much stranger and more difficult than the already strange Metal Box. Levene had by then largely abandoned guitar in favor of synthesizer, picking up a technique that was nearly unique, although perhaps owing a debt to Allen Ravenstine of Pere Ubu. Atkins' propulsive marching band-style drumming and Lydon's increasing lyrical abstraction made this LP a difficult listen for rock fans: contemporary reviews expressed great confusion. The record consists mostly of drums, vocals, musique concrète, and tape loops, with only gestures toward bass (played by Levene) and keyboards. Julian Cope, however, expresses the current majority view, saying that Flowers was "the last great PIL album." [2] Its drum sound was widely copied, notably by Phil Collins and Kate Bush. (Collins admits the deed; Bush went an extra step in buying some of Wobble's 'impossibly deep' Metal Box-era bass equipment [the secret is a 1970s or equivalent Fender Jazz Bass through all-tube Ampeg SVT amplifier, speakers faced toward a solid wall, with mikes arranged to pick up the ambient sound]). The industrial drummer Martin Atkins was born in Coventry, England on August 3, 1959. ... Flowers of Romance is an album by Public Image Ltd, their third collection of original music. ... A classic FM synthesizer, the Yamaha DX7. ... Allen Ravenstine played synthesizer (and occasionally saxophone) with the music group Pere Ubu. ... Pere Ubu is an experimental rock music group, see Pere Ubu (band). ... A marching band performs in a parade A marching band is a group of instrumental musicians who generally perform outdoors, and who incorporate movement – usually some type of marching – with their musical performance. ... Musique concrète (French; literally, concrete music), is the name given to a class of electronic music produced from editing together fragments of natural and industrial sounds. ... Tape loops are loops of prerecorded magnetic tape used to create repetitive, rhythmic musical patterns. ... Julian Cope is a British rock and roll musician and writer who came to prominence as singer of Liverpool (UK) pop band The Teardrop Explodes in 1980. ... Philip David Charles Collins (born January 30, 1951 in London), better known as Phil Collins, is a British rock/pop musician. ... Although Kate Bush won acclaim for her music worldwide, the 1985 single Running Up That Hill was her only major success on the American pop charts. ...

Atkins was, like Levene and Lydon, a control freak in ways, but Levene had the disadvantage of having repeatedly fired Atkins over apparent trifles, and of being zonked on junk much of the time -- so when conflict arose again, Levene was the one to go. An aborted fourth album, from 1982, was later released by Levene as Commercial Zone. Lydon and Atkins claim that he stole the tapes, while Levene's claim is, in effect, that possession is nine-tenths of the law. Recollections, as usual, differ widely on the particulars, and the album, while considered far superior to the official one that later appeared, has never been legally reissued. Atkins stayed on through a disatrous live album, Live in Tokyo -- in which PiL consisted of him, Lydon, and a band of New Jersey wedding musicians -- and left in 1985, following the album, This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get. The band was moving, or perhaps hurtling, toward a more commercial pop music and dance music direction, and while many new fans had found PiL, little of their original audience (or sound) remained. Depending on context, pop music is either an abbreviation of popular music or, more recently, a term for a sub-genre of it. ... Dance music is music composed, played, or both, specifically to accompany social dancing. ...


PiL's 1986 release was simply entitled CD, Tape, or Album, depending on the format. Produced by Bill Laswell (despite Lydon-fuelled faction and disunion) and with many of his usual rotating cast of musicians, it also featured guitar solos by Steve Vai, considered by Vai as some of his best work. Controversy reared its hoary glower again with claims that the album cover and title concept had been stolen from the San Francisco noise/punk band, Flipper, contemporaries of PiL, whose album, Album, featured a similarly unadorned sleeve. Flipper retaliated by naming their next album, Public Flipper Limited. Bill Laswell (born December 2, 1950 in Detroit) is a prolific bassist, producer, and record label owner who has collaborated with hundreds of musicians all over the world. ... Steve Vai at G3 in Milan, Italy, June 2004 Steven Siro Steve Vai (born June 6, 1960 in Carle Place, New York, USA), is an American guitarist and composer. ... Flipper was an influential band from San Francisco, forming in 1979 from the punk bands, SST, Sleepers, and Negative Trend, and continuing in often erratic fashion until the early 90s. ...

Late Career

Pil released Happy? in 1987, and during the spring of 1988 performed throughout the United States as part of INXS' Kick tour. In 1989, PiL toured with New Order and The Sugarcubes as "The Monsters of Alternative Rock," an arrangement of disparate alternative bands that predated the Lollapalooza festival by two years. PiL kept going as a Lydon project until 1993, when Lydon disbanded the group. Their final lineup consisted of Lydon, Ted Chau (guitar, keyboards), Mike Joyce of The Smiths (drums), John McGeoch (guitar), and Russel Webb (bass). Notable exploding members of the later PiL include world-music multi-instrumentalist (and former Damned guitarist) Lu Edmonds, and Cream bassist and drummer Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. Lydon released a solo album, Psycho's Path in 1997. He considers PiL "on hiatus," and plans a book on his years with the group. Original UK release CD cover: PIL - Happy? Happy? was Public Image Limiteds 1987 album, the track Seattle being released as a single and reaching No. ... 1988 is a leap year starting on a Friday of the Gregorian calendar. ... INXS is an Australian rock group. ... Kick is an album by the Australian rock and roll group INXS, released in 1987. ... New Order, 2005 Promotional shot New Order are an English electronic dance/rock crossover group, which formed in 1980 from Joy Division following the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis. ... The Sugarcubes were an Icelandic rock-pop band formed in 1986 and disbanded in 1992. ... Official logo Lollapalooza is an American traveling music festival featuring alternative rock, rap, and punk rock bands, dance and comedy performances, and craft booths. ... Mike Joyce was the drummer for The Smiths. ... The Smiths were a hugely influential British rock group and indie music pioneers. ... John McGeoch, (May 28, 1955-March 4, 2004), was a Scottish guitarist who played with some of the largest bands of the post-punk era, including: Magazine, Public Image Ltd. ... The Damned are a rock band originally from the suburbs of London, England, formed in 1976. ... Cream album cover Cream was a seminal 1960s rock band which featured the guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker. ... Jack Bruce (born May 14, 1943) is a musician (bass guitar, cello and occasional piano), singer and songwriter. ... Ginger Baker playing drums with Cream Peter Edward Ginger Baker (born August 19, 1939, Lewisham, London), British percussionist who gained fame as a member of Cream from 1966 until 1968 with Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton, and later joined Clapton and Steve Winwood in the 1969 group Blind Faith. ...

Album discography

  • First Issue, 1978
  • Metal Box, 1979
  • Second Edition, 1980
  • Paris au Printemps (live album), 1980
  • (The) Flowers of Romance, 1981
  • Live In Tokyo (live album), 1983
  • This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get, 1984
  • Album / Compact Disc / Cassette, 1986
  • Happy?, 1987
  • 9, 1989
  • The Greatest Hits, So Far (compilation), 1990
  • Box (box set), 1990
  • That What Is Not, 1992
  • Plastic Box (box set), 1999
  • Public Image/Second Edition (two-in-one), 2003



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