From Lou Reed to David Bowie: Johnny Rotten picks his favourite songs in 1977
In 1977 the world was rife with punks. The Ramones and their energised sound had found its way across the Atlantic and The Clash, The Damned and Johnny Rotten’s Sex Pistols had taken the genre by the scruff of the neck and ran with it. Things were about to get shredded.
During the Summer of Punk in ’77, with the Sex Pistols’ growing infamy gathering pace with every new release and every subsequent banning from radio, Capital Radio broke ranks and offered Johnny Rotten (AKA John Lydon) a whole radio show to speak his mind to the fullest on. Here, in this recording, the snarling singer takes to the airwaves to offer a selection of his favourite records of the moments as well as some naturally razor-sharp commentary.
As Open Culture reports, DJ Tommy Vance would vacate his slot on Capital Radio, an independent radio station, for the cutting words of Lydon to be transmitted across the airwaves with abandon. A remarkable thing considering just a few months earlier their iconic punk anthem ‘God Save The Queen’ was not only banned by the BBC but kept off the official number one spot in the charts, despite receiving the most sales. A right rock and roll swindle if you ask us.
Bosses and executives must’ve been really worried about the Nevermind The Bollocks singer verbally destroying the radio show as they did the ‘Today’ show with Billy Grundy. Lydon and his bandmates bringing the career of Grundy to a halt following their foul-mouthed rant. But they needn’t have worried, Lydon was not only incisive and intelligent but as musically clued up as anyone.
Discussing his own record collection, from which the show’s music was compiled, Lydon reveals a deep-seated love of reggae and dub music selecting acts like Peter Tosh, Makka Bees, and Dr. Alimantado. A musical penchant that much of London was experiencing (see The Clash’s iconic London Calling for extra reading) would go on to influence Lydon in his later work with Public Image Ltd.
When on the stage Lydon is a prowling and teeth-bearing beast, staring down the crowd he moves with both intent and spontaneity to create a truly unforgettable experience. A far cry from the man being interviewed about his favourite music. Though he does have a few barbed words for mega-stars like The Rolling Stones and David Bowie, the latter he calls “a bad drag queen”, on the whole, he has an appreciation for the music they create and a begrudging acceptance of their influence.
Of course, he manages to keep up the angsty image over the minutes, casting his verbal spines out at ’60s music and saying most of his contemporaries in the punk scene were “stagnant”. But the overarching theme is of Lydon showing his intelligence and that the arguments he put forward, however violently spat out across the airwaves, are merited.
Also appearing in Lydon’s 1977 record collection are a host of singer-songwriters including, Nico, John Cale, Lou Reed, Can, Kevin Coyne, the aforementioned “drag queen” Bowie and Tim Buckley—and an awkward selection of Gary Glitter to boot. To show off his increasing love of lyrics, something which again would be represented on the subsequent projects Lydon would pursue.
The whole interview is a wonderful listen for any Sex Pistol fan or anyone who wants to change their opinion on Johnny Rotten. It’s a glimpse into the burning mind behind one of the most iconic bands in rock and roll history. Welcome to Johnny Rotten Radio.
Johnny Rotten’s favourite songs in 1977
Tim Buckley – ‘Sweet Surrender’
The Creation – ‘Life Is Just Beginning’
David Bowie – ‘Rebel Rebel’
Unknown Irish Folk Music / Jig
Augustus Pablo – ‘King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown’
Gary Glitter – ‘Doing Alright With The Boys’
Fred Locks – ‘Walls’
Vivian Jackson and the Prophets – ‘Fire in a Kingston’
Culture – ‘I’m Not Ashamed’
Dr Alimantado & The Rebels – ‘Born For A Purpose’
Bobby Byrd – ‘Back From The Dead’
Neil Young – ‘Revolution Blues’
Lou Reed – ‘Men Of Good Fortune’
Kevin Coyne – ‘Eastbourne Ladies’
Peter Hammill – ‘The Institute Of Mental Health, Burning’