Jukebox Jury: John Lydon

Andrew Perry

By Andrew Perry

Contributor
on 05.24.12 in Lists

In 1977, at the height of the Sex Pistols’ infamy, John Lydon hosted a legendary radio show on London’s Capital Radio, in which he baffled punks with the unforeseen diversity of the music he aired. As well as a liberal sprinkling of reggae and proto-punk, there were long-haired eccentrics like Captain Beefheart, Can, Hawkwind, Peter Hamill and Neil Young. “Hang on,” cried the confused punkers, “Weren’t old hippies like them meant to be the enemy?” “No,” retorted Mr. Rotten, “they were free spirits, who made up their own rules as they went along — they were punk before punk had even been invented.” Exclusively for eMusic, Lydon here reprises that historic show, piecing together another incredible playlist of songs and albums from our database, which only further underlines the breadth of his tastes, and which is full of “Huh? Did I read this correctly?” moments. Punk purists, take cover…

Clarence Carter, “Patches”

It was just such a funny song. So awful, almost like a hound dog howling at the moon. There's a great deal of amusement, but it comes from a warm and cozy place. I don't know what illness I was going through at the time, but it kind of crept into my psyche, as indeed supposedly or allegedly horrible songs can. They're inexplicable, but they're in there somewhere, and they're stored under fond memories, and you can never fathom out why. He was one of the reasons Candi Staton wrote "Young Hearts Run Free"? Not a model husband? I don't care!

Johnny Clarke, “King Of The Arena”

I love Johnny Clarke's voice. He did very many great records — easy to sing to, and fit in your vibe. Kind of like the birth of Lovers' Rock, really — that's a particularly English thing, but Johnny kind of got it, he led the way. It wasn't all heavy rasta, and political. "King Of The Arena" is like the beginning of dancehall, in a way, yeah. He's the crossroads I picked, to get the bigger picture, because reggae is a vast empire! Singers like Johnny Clarke — and there are many of them, but him in particular — had such a vast output, they just loved singing. I met him. An amazing looking fella, because he had blue eyes — jet black skin and blue eyes! But there are many like that in Jamaica; it's a very crossed race. Finding out the history of Jamaica when I was there, and places like Irish Town which was where they put the Irish slaves. But a blue-eyes rasta! What it shows is that we're all victims, that was my hook in it, my understanding. In the music, you get a deeper connection — it's not us and them, it's all of us, and a few of them!

Dubliners, “The Wild Rover”

A world-famous, and world-weary song, but it's still heart-warming. I love The Dubliners, they're just good fun. It was all around me when I was young [in the Irish community in Finsbury Park], and it was a song that actually plays really well in a pile of reggae. You know, the sentiment was understood. Jim Reeves, too. The biggest surprise of all when I first went to Jamaica was how popular Jim Reeves was, and country music, period. He was one of the forerunners of roots! It's wonderful when you see the cross-pollination, as I call it, when it really works, and it's not just a bunch of white trendies trying to hook onto the reggae thing. It's good to see that it works both sides of the cultural divide.

Jim Reeves, “Welcome To My World”

The Essential Jim Reeves

Jim Reeves

[Croons the chorus] A wonderful song. I still remember my mum and dad dancing to that, in the front room to the Dansette, her with her bouffant and pink crimplene outfit, and my dad in his suit and tie. You know, it was a very romantic song. Also, kind of political, that the world could be a better place — just hopeful, positive. That was where I learnt my DJ skills, because I'd see that as my job when I was young, was to put the records on. And the drinks — that, too. In them days the DJ had to run the bar!

You can tell my record collection is varied. I love anything done by humans, generally, but I don't like deliberate copies, this is why I've never appreciated — although I understand it's note perfect — is the Japanese ideology of jazz. It's very note-perfect, they can copy anything, down to the last gasp of air on the saxophone, but it's pointless. It doesn't do much for me, because it's not really in their heart and soul to be fiddling in that area. There's so many beautiful things to explore in their own culture.

Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue”

The Legend Of Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash

Well, it was a shocking song subject for the time. It's all about making you grow up and realize the world's a hard place. My dad had lots of that in him; he wouldn't give us an easy ride. We were far from spoilt. The country stuff was very much around, yeah. Johnny Cash was very different to the average country, because of the dry delivery. As a kid, it almost felt as if he's talking his way through it. Let's call it "slow rap"! There was an element of threat in his presence. "A Boy Named Sue" was the kind of record my mum and dad would like to hear, to challenge their friends and see what their reaction would be. They played far-out music — in their way, yeah. It led me into putting Hawkwind on, and stuff, which didn't always achieve good results!

Pablo Moses, Revolutionary Dream

Revolutionary Dream

Pablo Moses

Brilliant record, and a complete political person, with a definite Cuban Communist lean! The sound is stunning — the minimalism of the guitaring is just genius for me, with those very neat, almost Neil Young-ish inflections every now and then. There's a hint of country in there, with a strict reggae backbeat. It's all about sentiment, and how that motivates you inside your head. So for me that is a great piece of singing, because the message is clearly got across. Very inspiring record.

Captain Beefheart, “Bat Chain Puller”

Dust Sucker

Captain Beefheart

Oh, yippee eye-oh! "Bat Chain Puller," I remember very fondly. I had no idea what it was about, but I knew I liked it. Captain Beefheart was, I think, a comedy act, slightly. He never took pause when he was going into deep comedy or parody. He was a bit like a Tommy Cooper [the fez-wearing post-war British comedian] of music at that time. Wonderful, what he did — taking deep Delta blues and all those Southern things, and turning it upside down, and making really, really good tunes, out of tuneless cacophony. It was a really wonderful thing.

I've met quite a few people in America over the years, but particularly when he died, having discussions — he wasn't liked by many serious blues musicians at all, precisely because of those elements. They would take themselves rather too serious, and were too wrapped up in themselves as historians, shall we say. Which is missing the point and purpose of music which is to entertain, enthrall and educate. But not dictate.

Authenticity? Oh, stop it! That's the devil, in music, because the people who're preaching authenticity in blues are the likes of Eric Clapton…He's imitating something, then preaching the rights and wrongs of it. He misunderstands that music is written by people, for people. I understand that purity is a very fine thing, but some of us sometimes — we like impure also. Y'know, I like to mix my drinks!

Faust, “It’s A Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl”

I first fell in love with their 50p album [1973's The Faust Tapes]. I went to see them at the Rainbow (a defunct venue in Finsbury Park), and they just basically made their noise, which was very interesting, hypnotic, trancey electronic-box-produced noises, while they were wrapped around a pile of old TVs in the middle of a huge empty stage. It was really great, and novel and fun. I must admit at the time, I was really angry because I didn't have a TV. You know, what are they doing with all those TV's I could definitely use? Then they kicked them to pieces, and re-wired them. It was an appropriate backdrop for what they were doing musically. But at the same time — forever the practicalist, me! I was thinking of meself only. I wanted a TV! I tried so hard to get backstage to nick one. The bands were great at those gigs, but the audience was stuck in trying to overhippie it — the crossed-legged brigade. The joss-sticks were everywhere, and the velvet loon pants, and unfortunately that was smothering the creativity. I think Faust were ahead of their audiences, which is a very good thing.

The Deviants, Ptooff!

Ptooff!

The Deviants

One of them was a journalist for NME, Mick Farren. Rules are for fools — that's what you were gathering from them. At least I was. You know, "Oooh, don't do this, it's bad for ya!" "Bollocks! Go forth, create chaos, and begin in your own head!" What's wrong with being off yer nut every now and then, you know? It's a healthy thing. But these bands, it was a very youthful contingent — us youngbloods, who were made to feel unwanted by the sit-down hippie mob. I went to concerts to dance, and that was that, and I shoved as much down me neck and other areas as I could possibly get my hands on.

Culture, Two Sevens Clash

Two Sevens Clash

Culture

Great album, great atmosphere. It crossed over here in Britain, and rightly so. There was a wonderful, hard production to it. Joe Gibbs is one of my all-time faves. In fact, just coming back from Jamaica before coming here for these gigs we've been doing, I picked up loads of Joe Gibbs. I wanted some of them mixes that I've always been looking for. It fills in the collection, shall we say. I found it in some tiny little shack on the outskirts of Kingston, and then I found a few more pieces at the airport, oddly enough, in what looked like a dodgy chemist, but it had all these CDs.

T. Rex, Electric Warrior

Electric Warrior

T.Rex

A stunning album. I love the cover! Yes, the gold, and the power amp — phwoar, it was the dog's bollocks that cover. And there he is wisping away over those beautiful underplayed guitar parts — more than a nod and a wink to Bo Diddley, but God, look what he's done with it! This was the first proper glam one he did, and the productions at that time really thrilled me. Pop music in general sounded just great then, so slick and groovy. A lot of them Visconti productions I love, and Alvin fucking Stardust, which is an album I adore, and David Essex "Rock On," and all those things. Even Gary Glitter — "Rock & Roll (Part 1 & 2)." It was great at the time to hear that in a club. Not much music in it, there was something else going on, the atmosphere it would create.

Glam was modernizing rock 'n' roll, yeah, taking it to a new level. It wasn't always gonna be about Yes and bands like that, who were torturing you with their fine-note productions. This lot were, "Oh, bollocks to that." So this album's got "Jeepster," "Get It On," you can't really beat it. Well, he tried. The album before was great. I loved "Ride A White Swan." In fact, I go back several albums before this one with him. I missed him at the Roundhouse in that era, but I've seen him in other places, through the transitions.

He came out of the hippie-dippie thing, with Steve Took on bongos, the acoustic guitar thing, straight into "Ride a White Swan," and he did it quite smoothly, I thought. H was rather disliked be the cross-legged brigade for doing that, but he was instantly adored and loved by girls and young boys, at the local disco. They were records that formulated a great deal of sexual activity, which cannot be undermined. Tamla Motown did the same. So we had it from all sources. You must let the youth bond with each other!

Ohio Players, The Best Of…

Oh lovely! I love them, Bobby Womack, Isley Brothers…But listen, the Ohio Players album covers — they were great! Hose-pipes and sweaty thighs, hahaha, with a white substance in the clear tubing! "Yeah, ok! Can't wait to hear what that sounds like!" Very great, as it turns out, and apparently from what people tell me, a very loose band, in that they'd go in, do their bits, and then they'd leave. And the producer would be going, "What the hell am I going to do with all this?" They didn't take it too serious, yet they formed great anthemic type funk songs.

I also love The Fatback band; in fact, I adore them, for that dance groove, and Kool & the Gang. The funk! Yeah, I love The Meters too, and the singer from all that lot, Art Neville — God, is he good! He's really, I think, one of the greatest voices ever. There's just something in the tonal quality of his delivery. I love Dr John too, I've seen him play countless times — countless!

Big tunes by Ohio Players? [Roars] "Fiiiire, woah woah woah yeah FIIIIIRE!" It's a powerhouse of brass, and really bloody groovy. It's a kind of "smooch up to the woman of your dreams" thing, you know? You can feel the fire in your loins, hahaha! It's a lust buzz. That's what the Ohio Players were, and you can't get enough of that!

Burning Spear, Spear Burning

Burning Spear, I love, period. High drama! I never got on with him really. Well, it was a bit hard on him, too, because he'd just come off stage, at the Rainbow Astoria, and I ran up to say hello, and he was tired, all of that. I've learnt from that, not to do that with people. When you come offstage, you're too exhausted for it. But one of my favorite Burning Spear tracks oddly enough is a thing called "Social Living," which was officially released in England on the Island label. I just love it — "we all know social living is the best." That's practically all he says in it, but that's good enough! A sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. And that's not the same as socialism, I may add.

New Age Steppers, Love Forever

Love Forever

New Age Steppers

[Ed. Note: This album features singer Ari Up, from first-wave punk band, The Slits. Lydon is married to Up's mother, Nora. In 2010, Up lost her battle against cancer.]
"Love Forever." My God, what an unfortunate title. Just brings tears to my eyes, straight away. [Long pause] Listen, she was one of the world's most strangest originalities. She would concoct her music out of such a bunch of odd peculiarities. I mean, Ari went into deep reggae and dancehall, but she comes from Cat Stevens, right? That's who she loved most, more than anyone in the world, musically. So it's an odd progression. But it sums her up — the melody, and the insanity. And Ari could play anything, but she never projected a musical snobbery, quite the opposite. She spent most of her time teaching the other band members in The Slits the rudiments. In a weird way, it was a bit like a Captain Beefheart operation — the end results were catastrophically beautiful.