We thought we’d celebrate the iconic leader of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd. Johnny Rotten, by taking a look back at some of his most infamous moments. While many of them are born in petulance and obnoxiousness, they still make for great entertainment.
The singer may well be the frontman for one of most notorious punk bands to have ever graced the planet in the Sex Pistols, and he was certainly involved in the brokering of the new wave and post-punk scene with PiL, but it was his wild persona which drew him into the spotlight and kept him front and centre throughout his career.
Anyone lucky enough to catch the intensity of the Sex Pistols in their incendiary beginnings would have seen a master at work. No, you wouldn’t call any of the musicians in the band masters of their craft—though we’d argue Steve Jones may be one of the most underrated guitarists in rock—it was Johnny Rotten who was a leading light for all lead singers, or perhaps more precisely, frontman.
Not famed for his voice, while Rotten’s razor vocal could cut the room in half, it was his onstage persona that gathered up audience gasps and later, their gob. Rotten’s scowling and animalistic performance was something he took with him everywhere he went—and we mean everywhere.
Whether it was in an interview or floating down the river Thames or taking part in Judge Judy, Rotten stayed true to his stage name and persona, providing piles of quick-witted bile wherever he went.
Below we take a look back at the moments which gained Johnny Rotten his iconic moniker and the reason John Lydon will likely have to live with it forever.
Johnny Rotten’s 10 most infamous moments:
“The Filth and the Fury”: The Today Show with Bill Grundy (1976)
We had to start here, at the very moment that Johnny Rotten, the Sex Pistols and the rest of the Bromley contingent turned the airwaves blue and made themselves media sensations.
Taking over a slot vacated by Queen on the show in 1976, the Sex Pistols would utter some four-letter words in the presence of Grundy and send the tabloids into an almighty spin. While many will quote guitarist Steve Jones’ idiosyncratic language “You dirty fucking rotter!” It was Rotten who began the flurry of swears by with some schoolboy muttering, the kind which would land him in hot water wherever he went.
Watch it go down, below.
The Sex Pistols gatecrash the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (1977)
In 1977 there were two phrases on the public’s lips. While one was naturally the rising punk act “the Sex Pistols” the other was the “Queen’s Silver Jubilee”.
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation was a year of festivities. In a year of severe economic depression, it didn’t sit too kindly with the Rotten and his band and they released their second single ‘God Save The Queen’ to wide acclaim.
To celebrate, they rented a boat and trotted down the river Thames to gatecrash the Queen’s largest celebration, performing their hits as they went. Soon enough the police intervened and Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols infamy grew evermore as many of the party were led off the boat in cuffs.
John Lydon appears on Judge Judy (1997)
Never one to shy away from verbal jousting, Rotten, who was going by his real name John Lydon at this point, sees himself go toe to toe with another tongue-lashing giant—Judge Judy.
The iconic TV host welcomed Lydon to her show in 1997 to settle a claim involving drummer Robert Williams. Suing Lydon for $5,000 for “breach of contract and assault and battery,” the percussionist met his match because if there is one thing you don’t give Lydon—it’s a crowd.
He duly brought out the punk persona and perhaps began blowing his nose as obnoxiously as possible, snarling at the cameras, and generally playing the part of the pantomime villain. It was a winning part it turns out with Judge Judy siding with the singer in court.
PiL bring chaos to Dick Clark’s ‘American Bandstand’ (1980)
‘American Bandstand’ is an institution of American television, bringing the popular music of the charts to those sitting at home. In 1980, John Lydon and his band Public Image Ltd. took to the commercial television stage to give, in host Dick Clark’s words the worst moment in Bandstand history.
What followed was not the polished and shiny performance Bandstand was known for. Instead, Lydon starts the song ‘Poptones’ by sitting at the front of the stage, scowling as only Lydon can. He soon stands up, grabs the mic and then makes absolutely no attempt to mime the lyrics.
Lydon takes the bull by the horns and starts to encourage members of the audience to leave their seats and join the band on stage. The encouragement soon sticks and by the end of ‘Poptones’ the band are swamped by members of the audience.
PiL broke down the barriers of the show, of Dick Clark, of an American institution. All in the space of 10 minutes.
What a ‘Country Life’ butter advert (2008)
Far removed from the anti-establishment persona that had seen him become an icon, in 2008 the singer was the face of a £5m TV campaign for Country Life Butter.
“People know I only do things that I want to or that I believe in and I have to do it my way,” said Lydon on deciding to appear in the TV ad.
“I’ve never done anything like this before and never thought I would, but this Country Life ad was made for me and I couldn’t resist the opportunity.” While we’re sure the opportunity was tantalising, who wouldn’t want a lead role in a butter advert, am I right?
But we think this time it may have been the chequebook rather than the script which tempted Lydon.
“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
Though the Sex Pistols have reformed from time to time, nothing could ever match the intensity of which they set fire to the music scene. As they say, it’s better to burn out than fade away and that’s exactly what the Sex Pistols did.
After a particularly gruelling few months of being a part of the most notorious band in the world, the Sex Pistols called it quits as their lead singer Johnny Rotten walked away from the group. After starting the event with the feeling of being cheated, he ended it and his Sex Pistols career by singing ‘No Fun’ as their final encore.
Rotten changed the lyrics as he sang: “This is no fun, no fun / This is no fun at all, no fun,” meaning every single word.
Rotten Vs Ramone (2019)
In the most recent entry into the infamous record books for Rotten’s verbal fight with Marky Ramone while appearing on a punk rock panel in Los Angeles.
As the Ramone spoke of the band’s legacy, Lydon had some choice words: “[You’re] not even an original Ramone!” he sniggered, in typical Lydon style. In response, Marky quipped: “But I did the Blank Generation album with Richard Hell, and you took his image. All you guys took Richard Hell’s image. That’s all you did.”
Below is just a taster of the videos, the full reem of which you can find here.
Lydon comes face to face with Tom Snyder (1980)
The Tomorrow Show was another step on the promotional tour of Public Image Ltd. as they aimed to break America using their trusty frontman pickaxe, John Lydon. The singer was at his confrontational best when he ventured on to the Tom Snyder-hosted show.
When Snyder asked, “Why do you dislike rock & roll so much?” Lydon replied: “It’s dead. It’s a disease. It’s a plague. It’s been going on for too long. It’s history. It’s vile. It’s not achieving anything, it’s just regression. They play rock and roll at airports.”
Snyder ended the conversation by saying: “It’s unfortunate that we are all out of step except for you… Interesting having you on tonight. One of the most interesting moments in my life.” Whether that statement is authentic will never be confirmed but it’s a similar one most express after meeting Rotten.
“Fucking good riddance” – Rotten reacts to Elvis’ death (1977)
Johnny Rotten burst onto the scene without care for much that went before him. Though behind closed doors Lydon was an avid consumer of music, whenever the opportunity arose, he was sure to bring down the musicians of the past.
The Sex Pistols were the future and that was all that mattered. So when he was asked to comment on the recent death of Elvis Presley he replied: “Fuckin’ good riddance to bad rubbish. I don’t give a fucking shit, and nobody else does either. It’s just fun to fake sympathy, that’s all they’re doin’.”
It was a serious moment of confrontation, designed to rile up the overweight classic rock loversd and put punk right up their noses.
Sex Pistols are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
In 2006, the Sex pistols finally relented in being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While previous attempts had resulted in failure in 2006 the group finally joined the commercial elite.
The band refused to attend the event and did so with a quite perfectly written letter, which despite the grammatical issues and deliberate misspellings, was read aloud in 2006 to the audience. It reads: “Next to the Sex Pistols, rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. We’re not coming. We’re not your monkeys, and so what. Fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table of $15,000 to squeak up in the gallery goes to a non-profit organisation selling us a load of any old famous. Congradulations. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons. Your anonymous as judges but your still industry people. We’re not coming. Your not paying attention. Outside the shitstem is a real Sex Pistol.”
There it is, a selection of the 10 most infamous moments of Johnny Rotten’s long-running career of being a notorious bigmouth, serial agitator, and downright dirty punk.
While he has had some good times too, it’s all about the controversy when enjoying the best moment of Sir Johnny Rotten.