John Lydon’s post-punk project Public Image Ltd. was, in his words, a “communications company”

By on August 30, 2019

This nearly nine-minute “Public Image Ltd. Video Profile” aired during our syndication era in 1991, although — since several video snippets featured here were first released on the 1986 VHS compilation, Videos — we think most of this segment originally aired on “Night Flight” sometime in the late ’80s.

Whenever it was first compiled, you can now find it streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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“I don’t think I’m part of the industry, the music industry, I think I’ve always been against that and always will be,” says Public Image Ltd.‘s John Lydon during one of the interstitial Night Flight interview segments.

“I do things first and foremost for myself, and by being that way I make it easier for a lot of new and upcoming outfits, that’s without a doubt.”

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Public Image Ltd. arrived mid-way through the year 1978, rising from the ashes of the Sex Pistols who’d famously flamed-out in January that same year (Johnny Rotten’s last words onstage: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”)

Lydon — he’d re-adopted his surname — named the group after a novel, The Public Image, by Scottish author Muriel Spark, published in 1968.

Bassist Jah Wobble had wanted to call the band the Carnivorous Butterflies.

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As Lydon told American late night TV talk show host Tom Snyder on June 27, 1980, on the set of “The Tomorrow Show,” he considered Public Image to be a “communications company,” and had fuck-all to do with rock ‘n’ roll… doo dah.

Lydon said he really saw them working on “Videos, movies, soundtracks for films…”

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You can watch the entire interview here (or, read the transcript):

Read more about Public Image Ltd. below.

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By 1980, Public Image had already put out a few albums, the first being Public Image: First Issue, featuring Lydon (vocals), Wobble (bass), ex-Clash member Keith Levene (guitar), and Canadian Jim Walker (drums).

The first song anyone heard from them was their debut single, “Public Image” — Don Letts directed the video — which began with a few “hello’s” and ended with a “goodbye,” and lyrically everything in between was Lydon setting the world straight: “I’m not the same as when I began, I will not be treated as property.”

The album actually opened with a nine-minute dirge called “Theme,” which was Lydon’s way of saying “Don’t expect this to be Sex Pistols Mach II.”

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Their second album, Metal Box, arrived in 1979.

The UK vinyl came in a metal canister, while the American double-LP was released as Second Edition, with an altered track listing that wasn’t even printed on the gatefold sleeve.

You can read more about the “Death Disco” (a.k.a. “Swan Lake”) video in our earlier blog post.

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On May 17, 1980 — a little over a month before Lydon and Levene sat with Tom Snyder — Public Image had infamously appeared on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.”

Lydon sat at the lip of the stage and refused to lip-sync to two songs, “Poptones” and “Careering,” preferring instead to invite audience members out of the bleachers up to dance.

When Clark was asked in 1997 — around the time of “American Bandstand”‘s fortieth anniversary — what was the worst moment he could remember in the show’s history, he said it was when Public Image Ltd. were on.

Flowers of Romance was Public Image’s third album, but by this point Wobble had already departed after clashing repeatedly with Levene.

The title was named after Sid Vicious‘s short-lived pre-Pistols band (he’d overdosed on February 2, 1979, as we told you here, here and here).

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Public Image Ltd. burned through drummers pretty easily, but the loss of Levene after Wobble — who split during the recording of their 1983 album Commercial Zone — was particularly harsh.

Levene angrily took the album’s master tapes with plans to release it himself, which forced Lydon to re-record everything they’d done a second time, leading to the 1984 album, This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get.

Commercial Zone/TIWYW…TIWYG’s best track was “Mad Max,” which Lydon had already re-titled “Bad Life.”

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By 1986, Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. were soldiering on with the release of their blue-striped plain-wrap looking album titled Album (it was released on CD as Compact Disc).

Surprisingly, the album contained some of PiL’s best songs with a reinvigorated Lydon enjoying their biggest single to date, “This Is Not A Love Song.”

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“Rise”was released as a single five days after Lydon had bested ex-Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren in court, becoming one one of PiL’s biggest hits, charting at #11 UK.

The song was actually inspired by a pamphlet Lydon had read about South African apartheid police interrogation techniques, and a lot of the lyrics were quotes from many of actual victims.

Read more about “Rise” here.

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As we mentioned above, most of the videos here were compiled in a 1986 VHS home video release titled Videos.

One of the videos in our profile that wasn’t included in that collection was “Don’t Ask Me,” a brand new song added to Public Image Ltd’s 1990 compilation The Greatest Hits, So Far.

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Public Image officially disbanded in 1993, but Lydon revived the band name over a decade later and today continues to record new songs and release them and tour to support those releases, some of which are archival collections of Public Image recordings and videos.

These days, in interviews, Lydon can often be heard defending U.S. president Donald Trump, sometimes while wearing his red MAGA shirt, so it’s obvious he’s still concerned about his public image.

Watch Night Flight’s “Public Image Ltd. Video Profile” on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.