Johnny Rotten Becomes a DJ and Plays Songs from His Record Collection, 1977

lydon radio

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

One of the ini­tial impres­sions of the British punks–and one that impre­sario Mal­colm McLaren tried to cultivate–was that they were dan­ger­ous, unschooled yobs cre­at­ing rock music from pri­mor­dial mate­ri­als. That’s why McLaren was unhap­py about John Lydon aka John­ny Rotten’s appear­ance on Cap­i­tal Radio’s Tom­my Vance Show in the mid­dle of the sum­mer of punk, 1977.

“Anar­chy in the U.K.” and “God Save the Queen” had already been released as sin­gles. The Pis­tols had made their infa­mous appear­ance on Bill Grundy’s chat show, where goad­ed into doing some­thing out­ra­geous, they swore a bit and the British press melt­ed down in parox­ysms of pan­ic. They had been dropped by both EMI and A&M, and had fin­ished record­ing the bulk of Nev­er Mind the Bol­locks the month before. The band was in lim­bo.

DJ Tom­my Vance was six­teen years old­er than Lydon, but Cap­i­tal Radio was an inde­pen­dent sta­tion and offered an alter­na­tive to the BBC, which only a few months ear­li­er banned out­right “God Save the Queen” from the air­waves and refused to award it a num­ber one sin­gle spot, even though the sin­gle had earned it, sales­wise.

Lydon was asked to bring in records from his own col­lec­tion and talk about them, and, in doing so, demon­strat­ed that he was­n’t a thug, but an eclec­tic young music fan with broad tastes. He liked a lot of reg­gae (Peter Tosh, Mak­ka Bees, Dr. Ali­man­ta­do) and dub, and says he grew up with it. It also explains the dub heavy out­ings he’d soon do with Pub­lic Image Ltd. And he choos­es tracks by singer-song­writ­ers like Tim Buck­ley, Kevin Coyne, and Neil Young; John Cale, Lou Reed, and Nico; and art rock like Can, a band intro­duced to him by Sid Vicious.

He’s still abrupt, insult­ing and dis­mis­sive when he needs to be. He calls David Bowie a “real bad drag queen,” doesn’t think much of the Rolling Stones or most ‘60s bands (“ter­ri­ble scratch­ing sound” he says), and says most of his con­tem­po­rary punk bands are “stag­nant” and pre­dictable. But it wouldn’t be John­ny Rot­ten any oth­er way, would it?

When asked about his record col­lec­tion, Lydon says it’s quite big:

I ain’t got a record play­er at the moment, so I have to pass them around, because music’s for lis­ten­ing to, not to store away in a bloody cup­board. Yeah, I love my music.

You can lis­ten to the broad­cast here:

And here’s the full track list­ing:

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
Peter Ham­mill – Nobody’s Busi­ness
Mak­ka Bees – Nation Fid­dler / Fire!
Cap­tain Beef­heart – The Blimp
Nico – Jan­i­tor Of Luna­cy
Ken Boothe – Is It Because I’m Black
John Cale – Legs Lar­ry At Tele­vi­sion Cen­tre
Third Ear Band – Fleance
Can – Hal­leluh­wah
Peter Tosh – Legalise It

via That Eric Alper/WFMU

Relat­ed con­tent:

John Lydon & Pub­lic Image Ltd. Sow Chaos on Amer­i­can Band­stand: The Show’s Best and Worst Moment (1980)

The Sex Pis­tols’ 1976 Man­ches­ter “Gig That Changed the World,” and the Day the Punk Era Began

Nev­er Mind the Bol­locks, Here’s … John Lydon in a But­ter Com­mer­cial?

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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