Public Image (song)

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"Public Image"
PiL Public Image.jpg
Single by Public Image Ltd
from the album Public Image: First Issue
A-side"Public Image"
B-side"The Cowboy Song"
Released13 October 1978 (UK)
Format7" vinyl
RecordedJuly 1978
LabelVirgin VS 228
Songwriter(s)John Lydon, Keith Levene, Jah Wobble and Jim Walker
Producer(s)Public Image Ltd
Public Image Ltd singles chronology
"Public Image"
"Death Disco"

"Public Image" is a song by Public Image Ltd. It reached number nine on the UK Singles Chart. The song was written when Lydon was in the Sex Pistols. The song addresses John Lydon's feelings of being exploited in the Sex Pistols by Malcolm McLaren and the press. Along with being released as a single, it appeared on PiL's 1978 debut album Public Image: First Issue.

On the song, PiL leader John Lydon has said:

'Public Image', despite what most of the press seemed to misinterpret it to be, is not about the fans at all, it's a slagging of the group I used to be in. It's what I went through from my own group. They never bothered to listen to what I was fucking singing, they don't even know the words to my songs. They never bothered to listen, it was like, 'Here's a tune, write some words to it.' So I did. They never questioned it. I found that offensive, it meant I was literally wasting my time, 'cause if you ain't working with people that are on the same level then you ain't doing anything. The rest of the band and Malcolm never bothered to find out if I could sing, they just took me as an image. It was as basic as that, they really were as dull as that. After a year of it they were going 'Why don't you have your hair this colour this year?' And I was going 'Oh God, a brick wall, I'm fighting a brick wall!' They don't understand even now.[1]


The single was originally packaged in a fake newspaper that makes outrageous statements such as "Refused To Play Russian Roullete", "No Ones Innocent, Except Us", "Donut's Laugh saves life" (Donut being a nickname for Jim Walker) and "The Girl Who Drove Me To Tea" among others. The B-side was designed to mock people buying the record (the tracks only sensical rhythm is a bassline played over nonsensical yelling), much to the dismay of drummer Jim Walker.[2]

NME named it the 242nd greatest song of all time in 2014.[3] The song's bass line was named as the 18th best bassline of all time by Stylus Magazine in 2005.[4]

Track Listing
  1. "Public Image" - 2:58
  2. "The Cowboy Song" - 2:17

Live performances[edit]

While "Public Image" has been performed live for much of the bands' existence, "The Cowboy Song" was only performed live twice, in a row, at their debut performance in Brussels, Belgium.[5]

Cover versions[edit]

The song has been covered by, among others: Pearl Jam, Revolting Cocks, Long Ryders and Feeder,[6] Menswear[7] and Scrawl.[8]


Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1978) Peak
Ireland (IRMA)[9] 15
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[10] 9


  1. ^ Brazier, Chris (28 October 1978). "The Danceable Solution". Melody Maker.
  2. ^ "Public Image 7' (PiL Discography)". 2006.
  3. ^ " NME The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.. 2014". Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  4. ^ "Stylus Magazine's Top 50 Basslines Of All Time - Article". Stylus Magazine. 4 October 2008. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  5. ^ "Brussels, Theatre 140 Belgium, December 20th 1978 (PiL Gigs)". 2009.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Public Image". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  10. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 20 September 2014.