He was discovered by Malcolm McLaren at designer Vivienne Westwood’s boutique, Sex. He snotty nosed fellow wearing a Pink Floyd shirt, to which he had painted on the words “I hate.” This earned him an audition for The Sex Pistols. Today is the birthday of John Lydon a/k/a Johnny Rotten, one of the most important figures in punk and post-punk music. Whether the Pistols were musically innovative can be debated. What isn’t debatable is that Lydon’s presence and lyrics fit the stance of a band challenging societal norms. He was someone who wanted to do more than entertain. And The Sex Pistols lit the fuse for a new music explosion. Hence, they burned out quickly, but Lydon moved onto Public Image, Ltd., with Keith Leven and Jah Wobble. PiL are really the starting point for post-punk, leading to all sorts of cross-breeding and experimentation, making the late ‘70s and early ‘80s perhaps the most fruitful period for rock post-mid-‘60s. Let’s pay tribute to Mr. Lydon by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Swamp Dogg – Do Our Thing Together (Rat On!): Taken from an album whose cover is often ranked amongst the worst ever, this is another bouncy piece of ebullient Southern soul from Jerry Williams. Williams wrote great songs that mixed soul with a bit of funk with some really interesting lyrical content. This is a song about bringing people together. Swamp Dogg shows how you can pen really accessible material that still isn’t commercial. Thankfully, his early albums were reissued last year.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Are You Gonna Look After My Boy? (Scared Famous): This comes from a CD that compiles some of Pink’s earlier work. The low-fi sound is there, with Pink trying to use the limitations as an advantage. This is oddball R & B styled pop song that sounds like it’s from another dimension.
The Pretty Things – Old Man Going (S.F. Sorrow): A cool acoustic guitar driven number from this cult band’s classic first concept album. The haunting backing vocals, Phil May’s disembodied vocals and Dick Taylor’s muscular guitar make this a fine example of top notch psychedelic rock.
The Hives – Find Another Girl (Veni Vidi Vicious): A change of pace from the frantic Swedish garage rock band. This is akin to the ballads from The Troggs. Pelle Almqvist sings over a electronic drum beat, some sci-fi keyboards and jangle guitars.
Neu! – Lila Engel (Neu! 2): This is the album that defines the droning motorik beat that makes Krautrock Krautrock (though it was Faust who actually did a song called “Krautrock”). The metronomic beat is the foundation for repetitive vocals and layers of repeating guitars, and then variations are laid on top of that. This song still sounds fresh today.
Brian Eno – The Great Pretender (Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)): This number kind of drones a bit too, but it also has a bit of an Eastern feel, with the addition of primitive electronic percussion. The layers of sound on this track are really cool, and when Phil Manzanera’s fuzz guitar kicks in, it’s sublime.
Stevie Wonder – They Won’t Go When I Go (Fulfillingness’ First Finale): This dramatic song from Wonder’s first number one album has almost a classical feel, with the stately piano that drives the song. The song is masterfully produced to create a claustrophobic, macabre feel. It is speculated that this song was inspired by his 1973 car accident. It is an unforgettable piece of music.
Siouxsie & The Banshees – Swimming Horses (Twice Upon a Time: The Singles): And the piano is prominent on this goth waltz from Siouxsie Sioux. This song sounds like it may have influenced The Dresden Dolls. The stately melody and how it works with Siouxsie’s delivery is surprisingly effective.
The Kingsbury Manx – Oh No (The Fast Rise and Fall of the South): This is a such a lovely album of low key melodic songs. Not quite jangle rock, not quite orch-pop, but edging up to both, this sound is so comforting.
The Zombies – She’s Not There (May 6, 2013 Daytrotter Session): When The Zombies were at South By Southwest last year, Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent did a Daytrotter Session. So this gives me another chance to marvel at how great Blunstone still sounds. Meanwhile, the song is slowed down just a bit, as Argent is playing the electric piano instead of his trusty organ. This is a great rendition of the first song The Zombies ever wrote, which turned out to be an international smash hit.