Thirty-four years ago (well, almost), on July 16th 1977, Tommy Vance introduced his show on Capital Radio with these words:
“The following programme is dedicated to the belief that there’s always two sides to a story. All the music that you will hear has been chosen by Johnny Rotten and is from his personal collection.”
The show was entitled, ‘The Johnny Rotten Show: The Punk and his Music’ and, in that respect it did what it said on the tin, but if anybody was expecting to hear an hour and a half of New York Dolls, Stooges and Ramones they were going to be surprised. It debunked the myth that people in bands only listen to the type of music that they play themselves, or that they had ever been into anything very different from their own niche before they found it. Certainly, from my limited knowledge of John Lydon at that time through articles in the music press which only covered the obvious angles, I would never have guessed that he might choose Tim Buckley’s ‘Sweet Surrender’ as the first song to be played here.
From then on, his selection continued to intrigue. The next track was ‘Life Is Just Beginning’ by the Creation. I don’t think anyone really cared about these mod/psychsters or their ilk in the mid-70s; it was too soon to look back and value them retrospectively, too late to still be into them. But hearing them in this context they could be appreciated simply on their own merits. It wasn’t widely known at the time but the Pistols also used to play ‘Through My Eyes’, the B-side of this Creation single, during their early rehearsals.
When asked by Tommy Vance if there was one record above all others that gave him any musical influences, John’s reply was, “Oh god, no! None at all! I couldn’t tell you anything like that. I’ve liked music since the first day I began living. I just like all music.” The subsequent choices confirmed his eclectic tastes: Bobby Byrd, Neil Young, Captain Beefheart, Kevin Coyne, Augustus Pablo, Nico, Third Ear Band, Peter Tosh, John Cale, Can, David Bowie, Culture and even Gary Glitter (amongst others).
The interview between tracks was revealing too. I don’t think anybody would question the fact now that Lydon is highly articulate and intelligent, but back then the idea promoted by the tabloids was that all punks were yobs whose only noteworthy utterances were of the profane variety. Here he spoke of his dismay at the fact that, even then, punk was becoming boring: “…you can predict what their next song is gonna be, and as soon as they start up you can sing along with the words. Without ever hearing it before, which ain’t so funny. That’s a real bad night out and you do feel cheated… there should be loads of different things.”
This was the first time I had any idea that somebody at the core of a movement which meant so much to me could actually feel that way about it. It shattered my preconceptions that somehow you have to have a kind of blind loyalty to any one thing just because it’s what people associate you with. I realise now what a healthy attitude that is, that there need not be any limits, particularly self-imposed ones. It was a bit of a shock at the time though – I had never before even heard of half the stuff he played and I wasn’t sure if it was ok to like it – but in the case of most of his choices (albeit not all) I just did. And you can’t kid yourself about what about you do or don’t like.
So on that note I’ll wrap this up and follow John’s suggestion from that radio interview: “Just play the records. They’ll speak for themselves. That’s my idea of fun…”
I hope you enjoy this very small and diverse selection from his choice.