By 1984, both Levene and Wobble had left the band and it essentially became Lydons own project, going in a more commercial direction and having chart success with it. The group went on a hiatus in the late 90’s until Lydon brought it back in 2009 and since then they have continued to tour and have released several more albums.
We open our Top 10 Public Image Ltd Songs with a track fROM an alum in whIch John Lydon made it clear that he was going to be making music that was very far away from the straight-forward rock n roll that he had made his name with with the Sex Pistols. 1979’s Metal Box however, went even beyond this. Drawing on influences that included dub and krautrock, this would define Public Image Ltd’s sound. This track from the album is a slow and psychedelic racket with Lavene’s guitar creating a jangly sound whilst the rhythm section bounce off each other. Meanwhile, Lydon delivers his vocals by snarling them at a pace where they can keep in line with the rest of the song.
The second track from the second album, which was also released as a single. Lydon, Lavene and Wobble composed all of the lyrics and music while the drums were performed by Richard Dudanski who had replaced Walker. The song has a very danceable beat which holds together the distorted guitar and vocals.
8. Flowers Of Romance
This single and title track from the third album released in 1981 see’s the band diverting more into experimental and inaccessible territory. With Wobble now gone, Lavene was now making less use of guitar and applying much more synth to Public Image Ltd’s sound. The bass and drums aspect is very heavy and machine-like and although the song’s title may give the impression that is a soppy love song, it is anything but, as Lydon spouts off about false notions of romance. Ironically, Flowers of Romance was the name of a band that Wobble was in with Sid Vicious before Vicious joined the Sex Pistols.
This track from Metal Box is strongly influenced by one of Public Image Ltd’s main influences: the German band Can. Lydon even attempts to emulate the style of that band’s vocalist Damo Suzuki. The dub influence is also prominent in this song and mixed with the hypnotic krautrock sound, which does not sound like it should work but it very much does.
6. Lou Reed Part One
This is a track from an unreleased album entitled Commercial Zone. It is an instrumental track (so does not feature Lydon) composed by Lavene and featuring bassist Pete Jones and drums from Martin Atkins who went on to become something of an industrial guru going on to play with the likes of Killing Joke, Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. The track is very laid back sounding, seemingly as a homage to it’s namesake and it is a shame that it was never released on an album.
5. One Drop
There was much speculation when Public Image Ltd released their first album in 20 years, 2012’s This is PiL and as it turned out, it was one of their strongest albums containing some of the best Public Image Ltd songs released in years. It brought back all of the band’s classic elements whilst at the same time being relevant in today’s musical climate. Featuring a strong reggae influence, Lydon may have been the only returning member but he proved that he is all there really needed to be.
4. Religion II
The third track from first album Public Image: First Issue, the lyrics were actually written by Lydon when he was still in the Sex Pistols for a planned second album which obviously never happened. So after forming PiL he decided to re-write them slightly in order for them to fit the band. Lyrically, it is a anti-religion anthem with Lydon sounding just angry as he was when was in the Pistols and featuring a classic riff, it is a particular highlight of live shows.
3. This is Not A Love Song
A track which saw the end of Lavene’s tenure in the band is their highest charting single, reaching number 5 in the charts. Lavene left the band because of an argument about how the song should have been mixed, which led to Lydon re-recording it for 1983’s This is What You Want…This is What You Get. The band were generally moving away from their early sound which Lavene, who had serious problems with heroin at the time, was not satisfied with. It does sound a lot more radio-friendly than the earlier material but never-the-less is still a classic.
The bands most well known song, Rise is a brilliant alternative 80’s tune. From 1986’s uncreatively titled Album. Out of all the Public Image Ltd Songs released, “Rise,” is their biggest commercially successful hit. With that said, they are not selling out or compromising by any means as it contains the influential line “Anger is an energy.” Produced by legendary musician Bill Laswell, the album also features contributions from Ginger Baker and Steve Vai.
1. Public Image
As we close out our top 10 Public Image Ltd Songs list we turn to the very first single that acts as an introduction to the band and to Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols career, he literally starts with saying “Hello” before ending the song with “Goodbye.” With this track, he is making it clear that he is going to do more than sing in a standard punk band, and the opening riff proves that they are not a band who are mere continuation of his previous band as Wobble’s deep bass kicks the whole thing off before Levene’s atmospheric riff follows. From the first album, it was only released in the UK because America considered it too raw sounding.