Public Image Ltd

Public Image Limited — commonly truncated as Public Image Ltd. and acronymically known as Pil — are an English post-punk band from London. Vocalist John Lydon assembled the band following his departure from The Sex Pistols. The first five Pil albums feature guitarist Keith Levene, who played in a formative lineup of The Clash. Original Pil bassist John Wardle (aka Jah Wobble) was part of Lydon’s pre-fame posse known as “The Johns,” which also included the Pistols’ second bassist John Ritchie (aka Sid Vicious.)

Members: John Lydon (vocals, keyboards, percussion, violin, saxophone), Keith Levene (guitar, keyboards, bass, percussion, keyboards, 1978-83), Jah Wobble (bass, vocals, percussion, 1978-80), Jim Walker (drums, vocals, 1978-79), Jeanette Lee (manager, 1978-83), Dave Crowe (manager, 1978-81), Vivian Jackson (drums, 1979), David Humphrey (drums, 1979), Richard Dudanski (drums, 1979), Karl Burns (drums, 1979), Martin Atkins (drums, percussion, keyboards, guitar, 1979-80, 1982-85), Steve New (guitar, 1980), Ken Lockie (keyboards, 1982), Pete Jones (bass, 1982-83), John McGeoch (guitar, 1986-92), Allan Dias (bass, keyboards, 1986-92), Bruce Smith (drums, 1986-90, 2009-present), Lu Edmonds (guitar, saz, keyboards, banjo, cümbüş, 1986-88)


Formation

Public Image Ltd. were assembled in the spring of 1978, soon after vocalist John Lydon left The Sex Pistols during their brief American tour. In March, he visited Jamaica with Virgin Records head Richard Branson to scout for new reggae talent. Upon his return to England, Lydon approached his longtime friend John Wardle about forming a new band. The two reconnected over a shared affinity for dub, reggae, and experimental Krautrock.

Wardle’s nickname, Jah Wobble, sprung one evening from a slurred utterance of his real name by a drunken Sid Vicious. The bass was a natural instrument for Wobble due to his large hands.

Another person Lydon summoned was guitarist Keith Levene, who had played in an early, pre-record version of The Clash. Nearly two years earlier, after a Clash/Pistols double-bill, Levene approached Lydon about  the possibility of collaborating in the future.

Through an ad in the Melody Maker, the new band found Canadian transplant drummer Jim Walker. Lydon lifted the name Public Image from the title of a 1968 novel by Scottish author Muriel Spark (“Ltd.” was added shortly thereafter).


1978

One of the first idea’s Lydon brought to the band was “Sod In Heaven,” an anti-theist lyrical screed that he first ran by the Pistols on their US tour. Pil developed this into the two-part soliloquy jam “Religion.” They also created a theme song from a two-note bassline supplied by Wobble.


“Public Image”

On October 13, 1978, Public Image Limited debuted with their theme song “Public Image,” a searing up-tempo rocker backed with “The Cowboy Song,” an experiment in overdubs.

A. “Public Image” (2:58)
B. “The Cowboy Song” (2:17)

UK copies appeared in a four-fold mock newspaper sleeve with the font and layout of British tabloid The Sun.

“Public Image” reached No. 9 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 15 in Ireland.


Public Image – First Issue

Public Image Limited released their debut album, First Issue, on December 8, 1978, on Virgin. Side One contains “Theme,” a slow, lengthy, grinding jam followed by “Religion,” a re-titled “Sod In Heaven” with a spoken-word prelude followed by a Kraut-style jam. “Annalisa” wraps Side One with grim lyrics (about a starved, hysterical girl) over a pounding back beat.

Side Two follows the pre-released “Public Image” with two further brash, searing rockers: “Low Life” and the rhythmically jolted “Attack.” First Issue closes with “Fodderstompf,” a lengthy, lurching dub experiment.

1. “Theme” (9:05)
2. “Religion I” (1:40)
3. “Religion II” (5:40)
4. “Annalisa” (6:00)

5. “Public Image” (2:58)
6. “Low Life” (3:35)
7. “Attack” (2:55)
8. “Fodderstompf” (7:40)

Recorded July – November 1978
Producer Public Image Ltd
The Manor (Shipton-on-Cherwell); Wessex, Gooseberry Sound, Townhouse, Advision (all London)

John Lydon – vocals, piano
Keith Levene – guitar, synthesiser
Jah Wobble – bass, vocals and fire extinguisher on “Fodderstompf”
Jim Walker – drums

Design [Sleeve Design] – Zebulon
Make-Up – Linda Thompson
Sleeve [Sleeve Concept] – Terry Jones
Sleeve [Sleeve Concept], Photography By – Dennis Morris

First Issue reached No. 18 in New Zealand and No. 22 on the UK Albums Chart.


1979


“Death Disco”

On June 29, 1979, Public Image Limited released “Death Disco.” 

A. “Death Disco” (4:11)
B. “No Birds Do Sing” (4:41)

The 12″ version contains an extended “Death Disco” titled “½ Mix” (6:42) and a different b-side: an instrumental version of “Fodderstompf” titled “Megga Mix” (6:51).

John Lydon – vocals, piano on “No Birds Do Sing”
Keith Levene – guitar, synthesizer
Jah Wobble – bass
David Humphrey – drums on “Death Disco”, “½ Mix”
Richard Dudanski – drums on “No Birds Do Sing”
Jim Walker – drums on “Megga Mix”

“Death Disco” reached No. 20 on the UK Singles Chart.


Metal Box

Public Image Limited released their second album, Metal Box, on November 23, 1979, on Virgin. It features ten tracks spread across three 12″ EPs (60:29 total duration). Side A consists of one lengthy track (“Albatross”) while Side F links three tracks (“Socialist,” “Chant,” “Radio 4”) into a twelve-minute medley. Side B contains the album’s two a-sides: “Memories” and “Death Disco” (re-titled “Swan Lake”).

Side A
1. “Albatross” (10:34)

Side B
2. “Memories” (5:05)
3. “Swan Lake” (4:11)

Side C
4. “Poptones” (7:46)
5. “Careering” (4:32)

Side D
6. “No Birds” (4:41)
7. “Graveyard” (3:07)

Side E
8. “The Suit” (3:29)
9. “Bad Baby” (4:30)

Side F
10. “Socialist/Chant/Radio 4” (12:34)

Recorded March – October 1979
Studio The Manor in Shipton-on-Cherwell;
Townhouse, Advision, Gooseberry Sound and Rollerball in London
Producer Public Image Ltd

John Lydon – vocals, piano (“No Birds” and “Bad Baby”)
Keith Levene – guitar, synthesizers, drums (“Poptones” and “Radio 4”), bass guitar (“Radio 4”)
Jah Wobble – bass guitar (except “Radio 4”), drums (“Careering” and “The Suit”), piano (“The Suit”)
David Humphrey – drums (“Albatross” and “Swan Lake”)[41]
Richard Dudanski – drums (“Memories”, “No Birds”, “Graveyard”, “Socialist” and “Chant”)
Martin Atkins – drums (“Bad Baby”)
Note: Levene played all instruments on “Radio 4”.

Technical
Nick Cook, Hugh Padgham, George Chambers – engineers
PiL, Dennis Morris – sleeve design and concept
Metal Box Company – packaging

On October 12, “Memories” appeared as the second single, backed with “Another.”

B. “Another” ()

Metal Box reached No. 18 on the UK Albums Chart.


1980

In February 1980, Island Records released the album in North America as a two-record set titled Second Edition. The first record collects the five tracks from side’s A, B, and C of Metal Box in their original running order. The second record re-sequences side’s D, E, and F with “Socialist,” “Chant,” and “Radio 4” presented as three separate tracks.

Photography By – Tony McGee

Virgin issued the double-album in Europe and Oceania, where Second Edition reached No. 21 in New Zealand.

American Bandstand

Wobble solo

Tomorrow with Tom Snyder


Paris au Printemps

On November 14, 1980, Public Image Limited released the live album Paris au Printemps, a document of their January 17–18 shows at Le Palace. It features renditions of three songs from First Issue (“Theme,” “Low Life,” “Attack”) and four from Metal Box (“Chant,” “Careering,” “Bad Baby,” “Poptones”). The title is French for Paris in Spring. All seven tracks appear with French-translated titles along with the band name (Image Publique S.A.).

1. “Thème” (“Theme”)
2. “Psalmodie” (“Chant”)
3. “Précipitamment” (“Careering”)

4. “Sale Bébé” (“Bad Baby”)
5. “La Vie Ignoble” (“Low Life”)
6. “Attaque” (“Attack”)
7. “Timbres De Pop” (“Poptones”)

Producer Public Image Ltd

John Lydon – vocals, sleeve paintings
Keith Levene – guitar, synthesiser
Jah Wobble – bass
Martin Atkins – drums

Lydon painted the cover art, which depics three animals that represent himself, Keith Levene, and Jeannette Lee.


1981


The Flowers of Romance

Public Image Limited released their third studio album, The Flowers of Romance, on April 10, 1981, on Virgin.

1. “Four Enclosed Walls” Lydon, Levene, Martin Atkins (4:44)
2. “Track 8” (3:15)
3. “Phenagen” (2:40)
4. “Flowers of Romance” (2:51)
5. “Under the House” Lydon, Levene, Atkins (4:33)

6. “Hymie’s Him” (3:18)
7. “Banging the Door” Lydon, Levene, Atkins (4:49)
8. “Go Back” (3:46)
9. “Francis Massacre” (3:31)

Recorded October – November 1980
Studio The Manor (Oxfordshire), The Town House (London)
Producer Public Image Ltd Nick Launay
Nick Launay – engineering

John Lydon – vocals, violin, saxophone, percussion
Keith Levene – guitar, bass, piano, cello, synthesiser, percussion, drums on “Under the House” and “Go Back”
Martin Atkins – drums on (1,4,5,7), synthesizer (7)

On March 27, PIL released “Flowers of Romance” as an advance single, backed with the non-album “Home Is Where The Heart Is,” a late-period recording from the Wobble era.

B. “Home Is Where the Heart Is” (7:34) Jah Wobble – bass

The Flowers of Romance reached No. 11 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 33 in New Zealand.


1982–1983


Live in Tokyo

In August 1983, Public Image Limited released Live in Tokyo, a document of their July 1–2 show at the Nakano Sun Plaza. The album appeared on Virgin (UK, Europe) and Nippon Columbia (Japan) as a double-album with ten tracks (45:50 duration) spread across two 45rpm 12″ records.

On Live in Tokyo, PIL performs material from First Issue (“Annalisa,” “Religion II,” “Low-Life”), Metal Box (“Swan Lake”), The Flowers of Romance (“Flowers of Romance,” “Under the House,” “Banging the Door”), and their yet-unreleased fourth studio album (“Solitaire,” “Bad Life”), including the upcoming single “This Is Not a Love Song.”

Side One
1. “Annalisa” (5:17)
2. “Religion II” (5:49)

Side Two
3. “Low-Life” (2:47)
4. “Solitaire” (3:59)
5. “Flowers of Romance” (4:46)

Side Three
6. “This Is Not a Love Song” (6:27)
7. “Swan Lake” (5:06)

Side Four
8. “Bad Life” (4:44)
9. “Banging the Door” (4:55)
10. “Under the House” (1:56)

John Lydon – vocals
Joseph Guida – guitar
Louis Bernardi – bass
Tommy Zvoncheck – keyboards
Martin Atkins – drums

Kenji Miura – cover photograph


“This Is Not a Love Song”

On September 5, 1983, Public Image Limited released “This Is Not a Love Song.” The b-side features their 1978 debut “Public Image,” since recognized as their signature song.

A. “This Is Not a Love Song” ()


1984


Commercial Zone

On January 30, 1984, Keith Levine released Commercial Zone on PIL Records Inc.

1. “Love Song” original version of “This Is Not a Love Song”
2. “Mad Max” original version of “Bad Life”
3. “Bad Night”
4. “Solitaire”
5. “The Slab” original version of “The Order of Death”
6. “Lou Reed Part 1”
7. “Lou Reed Part 2” original version of “Where Are You?”
8. “Blue Water”
9. “Miller Hi-Life”

John Lydon – vocals
Keith Levene – guitar, synthesizers (bass on “Bad Night” and “Lou Reed Part 2”)
Pete R. Jones – bass (on “This Is Not A Love Song”, “Mad Max”, “Solitaire” and “Miller Hi-Life”)
Martin Atkins – drums, percussion
Robert E. (Bob) Miller – sound effects (on “Miller Hi-Life”)


This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get

Public Image Limited released their fourth studio album, This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get, on July 6, 1984, on Virgin. It features five songs credited to Lydon, Levene, and Atkins, including the pre-released “This Is Not a Love Song,” the follow-up single “Bad Life,” and the re-titled Copkiller theme “The Order of Death.” Three songs (“1981,” “The Pardon,” “Tie Me to the Length of That”) are Lydon–Atkins numbers that post-date Levene’s involvement.

1. “Bad Life” (5:15)
2. “This Is Not a Love Song” (4:12)
3. “Solitaire” (3:59)
4. “Tie Me to the Length of That” (5:17)

5. “The Pardon” (5:19)
6. “Where Are You?” (4:18)
7. “1981” (3:17)
8. “The Order of Death” (4:59)

Recorded 1983–1984
Studio Maison Rouge Studios (London, England)
Producer Public Image Ltd
John Lydon – vocals, synth bass, violin, brass, synthesiser, keyboards, percussion
Martin Atkins – drums, percussion, synth bass, guitar, keyboards

Additional personnel
Colin Woore – guitar
Louis Bernardi – bass
Richard Cottle – keyboards
Gary Barnacle – brass, keyboards

On May 8, 1984, “Bad Life” appeared as a second single, backed with the non-album “Question Mark.”

B. “Question Mark” ()


1985–1986


Album

Public Image Limited released their fifth studio album, Album, on January 27, 1986, on Virgin and Elektra.

1. “F.F.F.” John Lydon, Bill Laswell (5:32)
2. “Rise” Lydon, Laswell (6:05)
3. “Fishing” Lydon, Jebin Bruni, Mark Schulz (5:20)
4. “Round” Lydon, Schulz (4:24)

5. “Bags” Lydon, Bruni, Schulz (5:28)
6. “Home” Lydon, Laswell (5:49)
7. “Ease” Lydon, Bruni (8:09)

recorded in late 1985 in New York. Ginger Baker’s and Tony Williams’ drums were recorded at Power Station by engineer Jason Corsaro. Steve Vai’s lead guitar parts were recorded at Electric Lady Studios and the rest of the album at RPM Studios and Quad Recording Studios, all engineered by Robert Musso. The recording took three weeks, followed by one week of mixing the album at The Power Station.
Producer John Lydon Bill Laswell

John Lydon – lead vocals

with:
Bill Laswell – bass (1-6), producer
Steve Vai – guitar
Nicky Skopelitis – guitar (1-4, 6)
Ryuichi Sakamoto – Fairlight CMI (2, 3, 5, 7)
Bernie Worrell – organ (1, 4, 6), Yamaha DX7 (3)
Ginger Baker – drums (3-5, 7)
Tony Williams – drums (1, 2, 6)
Bernard Fowler – backing vocals
Jonas Hellborg – bass (4)

Additional personnel
Shankar – electric violin on 2, 4
Malachi Favors – acoustic bass on 3, 5, 7
Steve Turre – didgeridoo on 7
Aïyb Dieng – chatan pot drums on 4

On January 21, PIL lifted “Rise” as the lead single, backed with an instrumental version of the song.

On April 21, PIL lifted “Home” as the second Album single (b/w “Round”).

Album reached No. 14 on the UK Albums Chart.


1987–1988


Happy?

Public Image Limited released their sixth studio album, Happy?, on September 14, 1987, on Virgin.

1. “Seattle” (3:40)
2. “Rules and Regulations” (4:32)
3. “The Body” (3:11)
4. “Save Me” (4:49)
5. “Hard Times” (3:42)
6. “Open and Revolving” (4:01)
7. “Angry” (4:13)
8. “Fat Chance Hotel” (includes hidden instrumental of Save Me) (7:03)

Studio The Manor Studio, Shipton-on-Cherwell Great Linford Manor Studios, Milton Keynes
Producer Gary Langan Public Image Ltd

John Lydon – vocals
John McGeoch – guitar
Lu Edmonds – guitar, keyboards
Allan Dias – bass
Bruce Smith – drums

cover art by Richard Evans is a homage to the style of Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser

10 Aug 1987
A: “Seattle”
B: “Selfish Rubbish”

31 Oct 1987
A1: “The Body”
B2: “Angry”


1989–1990


9

Public Image Limited released their seventh studio album, 9, on May 10, 1989, on Virgin. The title references PIL’s overall album count (including two live releases).

1. “Happy” (3:57)
2. “Disappointed” (5:34)
3. “Warrior” (4:17)
4. “U.S.L.S. 1” (5:37)
5. “Sand Castles in the Snow” (3:44)
6. “Worry” (3:54)
7. “Brave New World” (4:19)
8. “Like That” (3:40)
9. “Same Old Story” (4:19)
10. “Armada” (4:43)

Recorded December 1988 – March 1989
Studio The Manor Studio (Shipton-on-Cherwell) Comfort’s Place Studios (Lingfield)

Producer – Stephen Hague (1-4, 6), Eric “ET” Thorngren (5, 7-10)

John Lydon – vocals
John McGeoch – guitar
Allan Dias – bass
Bruce Smith – drums, percussion, programming


“Don’t Ask Me”


Discography:

  • Public Image – First Issue (1978)
  • Metal Box [aka Second Edition] (1979)
  • Paris au Printemps (live, 1980 • Image Publique S.A.)
  • The Flowers of Romance (1981)
  • Live in Tokyo (live, 1983)
  • This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get (1984)
  • Album (1986)
  • Happy? (1987 )
  • 9 (1989)
  • That What Is Not (1992)
  • This Is PiL (2012)
  • What the World Needs Now… (2015)

Sources:

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