On December 8th, 1978 Public Image Ltd aka PIL released their debut studio album Public Image: First Issue. The record was a groundbreaking release, considered one of the pioneering records in the development of post-punk.
In addition to John Lydon (aka Rotton), who was moving on in the aftermath of the demise of his former band the Sex Pistols, were Keith Levene on guitar, Jah Wobble on bass and Jim Walker on drums.
Utilizing some material being written for the next Sex Pistols record, such as the atheistic anthem “Religion II”, Altogether, PiL showcased a creative transition from the biting and aggressive pose that was UK punk and incorporated a new experimental sound fusing rock, dance, folk, ballet, pop and dub.
The song “Low Life” on the record is about slagging off various figures involved with the Sex Pistols that irritated John Lydon, most notably Malcolm McClaren.
But the “Public Image” however, goes even further, was a biting critique at the shallowness of punk. Lydon explains:
“’Public Image’, despite what most of the press seemed to misinterpret it to be, is not about the fans at all, it’s a slagging of the group I used to be in. It’s what I went through from my own group. They never bothered to listen to what I was fucking singing, they don’t even know the words to my songs. They never bothered to listen, it was like ‘Here’s a tune, write some words to it.’ So I did. They never questioned it. I found that offensive, it meant I was literally wasting my time, cos if you ain’t working with people that are on the same level then you ain’t doing anything. The rest of the band and Malcolm never bothered to find out if I could sing, they just took me as an image. It was as basic as that, they really were as dull as that. After a year of it they were going ‘Why don’t you have your hair this colour this year?’ And I was going ‘Oh God, a brick wall, I’m fighting a brick wall!’ They don’t understand even now.”
In August 1978 a promotion video for “Public Image” was shot by Peter Clifton’s production company Notting Hill Studio Limited, which had just completed The Punk Rock Movie.
Peter Clifton explains:
“They formed Public Image and hired me and Don Letts to shoot their first video clip for Virgin. I hired a theatre in Fulham and dressed the band up on stage with garbage bags as a backdrop, and Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin, came down to witness the filming. There was a quiet lull in the middle of one of the takes, and Sid Vicious screamed at the top of his voice ‘Peter Clifton, where’s the 200 quid you owe me?’”
The video was directed by infamous punk rock figurehead and DJ Don Letts:
“Before the PIL promo, I was Don Letts, DJ at The Roxy, dread with a camera. All of a sudden I had a film crew and a 16 mm camera. The promo was shot at a studio in Olympia and I was making the shit up as I went along, having never been to film school. The video suited PIL’s mood, being totally anti-celebrity, it showed them playing in a dimly-lit studio. Because it was John’s band, I naively decided people just wanted to see him – due to my total inexperience I went for the safe option. It is just John’s dynamics that give the video any substance whatsoever. It was a very intense and dark performance […] I have made near enough 400 promo videos in my time. My first was for PIL. They chose me as they did not want to use boring old farts, and we had a good relationship.”
On the videos DIY financing, John Lydon adds:
“The promotional film was made and paid for by ourselves out of our advance. Virgin weren’t interested.”
Watch the video below:
Public Image: First Issue was never officially released in the USA initially, having a sound considered too un-commercial by major-labels for an American release.