single, 1983; This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get, 1984
Justification: This was a strange time for the former Johnny Rotten. PiL had ceased to be a band by this point and become effectively John Lydon’s solo project: bassist Jah Wobble had left two years earlier, while guitarist Keith Levine had been sacked over his escalating heroin use and drummer Martin Atkins walked not long after. The spirit had changed too: the first few PiL albums had been inflammatory, powerful records (Metal Box, rightly, is cited by critics as a masterpiece of the period) but Lydon seemed to have drifted into one of his art-prank-over-music phases, as with the infamous May 1981 gig at the Ritz in New York where Lydon and hired hands improvised behind a screen while PiL albums played over the PA, leading the audience to tear the place up.
With the band in disarray and a couple of pretty scrappy records masquerading as PiL albums, Lydon dropped what was to be his band’s biggest hit, reaching #5 in the UK. The single was reportedly an answer of sorts to the Flying Lizards’ ‘Her Song’, which decried previously political bands who sold out by writing “songs of love”. Since the Sex Pistols’ cash-in reunion was over 15 years away Lydon was still able to sympathise with the Lizards’ position and sneer lines like “I’m inside free enterprise!” with sarcastic venom rather than as a statement of intent.
Ahead were a couple more PiL albums, the aforementioned Pistols reunion, a self-serving autobiography and a lucrative late career as tame Snotty Englishman for US reality shows. However, this comes from that wonderful period where Lydon’s muse was still firing out shards of righteous fury and making records that actually, genuinely mattered.