#942: 1979, Public Image Ltd, Poptones

by Jackie_South on October 14, 2014

It really is autumn now: miserable, wet, dank, leaf-strewn autumn, heralding ever shortening days and months of cold. That most British of seasons.

No song conjures up British autumn for me better than Poptones (released on Metal Box in November 1979). The combination of Jah Wobble‘s bass and Keith Levine‘s guitar somehow sounds like a wet autumn day, summoning up windscreen wipers, rain, trudging through damp leaves. You can almost smell the decaying vegetation, see the rain drops slide down the car window.

It is also a song that belies its title. You might first read ‘Poptones‘ and assume a jaunty, lightweight, fluffy jingle.  Instead, you get a dark tale of abduction, from the point of view of the terrified and bewildered victim. The ‘Poptones’ are playing on the cassette player in the kidnappers’ “Japanese car”. Lydon‘s lyrics were inspired by a story in the Daily Mirror, where the victim’s evidence that led to the arrest of the abducters was the unusual pop song they played over and over as they drove.

The lyrics have a twisted wit:

“I can’t forget the impression you made
You left a hole in the back of my ‘ead”

Less than two years after the break-up of the Sex Pistols, this is Lydon channeling a dark Betjaman:

“…Nearly injured my pride
Praise picnicking in the British countryside”

It isn’t only the damp weather conjured up Wobble and Levine that sends a shiver up you.

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