The question posed by the title of the posting relates to the b-side of the 45 I’m having a look today:-

mp3: Public Image Ltd – The Cowboy Song

It borders on unlistenable, but then again, I’m assuming that was the whole point of it.  Julian Cope, over at Head Heritage, provides as perfect a description as there is:-

“The Cowboy Song”is a throwaway single that sounds like it was ALREADY tossed into the bin: the screech of a needle being ripped and torn back and forth across the surface of a record cuts in as the single begins. Then you hear Lydon in the studio tell the producer it’s so loud, they can’t hear the backing track. Ha; like they fucking even needed to, as they are preparing to scream and toss tambourines in the studio over a towering bass drive and general overall mayhem. The ludicrous “Thick As A Brick”-styled newspaper parody this single originally came wrapped in details the ‘lyrics’ (16 lines of “clipy ty clop/clipy ty clop/clipy ty clop”) but they do not appear on the single. Or if they do, they are drowned out by a deafening racket of multi-tracked screaming, talking and general pandemonium. The only distinct sound is that of the bass guitar of John Wardle (aka Jah Wobble) although it’s oddly un-dub and pre-set to ultra-strum. The lyrics should’ve been “Make it stop/make it stop/Make it stop” so that everybody who bought this single in 1978 could sing along. There’s also further stylus-scratching effects just to drive the rest of us up the wall. When the noise finally subsists, only Lydon’s coughing and sputtering of amphetamine-loosened phlegm can be heard — right before the record picks up after being trapped in the locked-groove for a revolution and a half.

I don’t have the single, but I do have a vinyl copy of Public Image : First Issue, the debut album, on which it is included:-

mp3: Public Image Limited – Public Image

Issued in October 1978, meaning it’s not that long until it turns 44 years of age.  I think it’s fair to say that the tune, and in particular, that killer bass line, have aged spectacularly well. For those who like the technical side of things, (hi JTFL!!!!) it seems it was Wardle’s/Wobble first bass line that he presented to the rest of the group, Keith Levene‘s guitars were double-tracked on the back of a live take and Lydon’s vocals went through a Space-Echo (aka Roland RE-201), a bit of kit which produced delay and reverb effects.

Me?  I just love dancing to it.


8 thoughts on “NOISE ANNOYS?

  1. Public Image is a fantastic single. I’ve never listened to the LP. I’ve no idea why. Same with Metal Box – it (box and standard) were in every second-hand shop for years and years but never attracted me. I did listen to Paris in the Spring LP a lot – a neighbour had it and it was on permanent loan to me – I wonder where it is now? Not in my collection, that’s for sure. So many unexplained gaps.

  2. Public Image remains a fantastic song today. A song of such promise after the SP dismal train crash. But, Cowboy Song… why?! Public Image First Issue I haven’t listened to this century – I have fond memories of Annalisa, the production & the artwork, which, even now, has a great feel to it. Metal Box seemed to gather a lot of momentum… Death Disco, The Suit, Radio 4, Memories… again, the production, the artwork. But, in many ways, Public Image, in this house, was never bettered by PiL. Great post!

  3. I actually own this single, which is odd since I never bought singles and can’t remember where I got it. But it’s a perfect song. Wobble’s 4-note bass line is all it needs. Keith Levene could have been another John McGeoch if he stayed clean. Don’t think I ever listened to the b-side.

  4. Gosh! Almost 44 years since I first heard the single, bought it, rushed home to hear the b-side and then…

  5. The A-side is one of the great songs of the time. Perfect piece of music.

    I once saw Jah Wobble play in Altrincham, the usual jazz/ dub/ middle eastern stuff, all very good. The bizarre thing happened at the end. For the encore he was joined by Dermo from Northside and Bonehead from Oasis and they did Public Image.

  6. For a long time I held up First Issue as some sort of marker for where things started for me. As time went by, Magazine’s Real Life took its place. But First Issue is still a white hot poker stab at Punk and what Lydon already saw as the sell out. Wobble’s bass is three dimensional – you can certainly touch it. Levene’s guitar is the stuff anti guitar hero dreams are made of.

  7. Just had something of a Proustian rush seeing that image again. I was so excited to know what they were going to sound like and bought the single when it came out without having heard it – oh, the anticipation. Unusually perhaps, the single was everything I could have wished for, so different from the Pistols to really draw a line there, but also like nothing I’d ever known before . Perfect really. The Cowboy Song just made me laugh…
    That wraparound newspaper cover, though! I only wish I still had it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.