July 1984: Public Image Ltd. Release This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get

John Lyndon

38 years ago, Public Image Ltd., the musical collective John Lydon called home after the disintegration of the Sex Pistols, released their fourth studio album, a somewhat troubled LP which ended up the subject of significant controversy within the band and led to a major split within their ranks.

The story of This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get arguably begins in May 1982, when Public Image Ltd. – henceforth to be referred to as PiL –  entered Park South Studios in Manhattan to begin recording a new album. When the sessions started, they included returning drummer Martin Atkins, who’d been out of the band for a bit, and by August there was a new bassist in the mix: Pete Jones. In November, the band announced the upcoming release of a new single entitled “Blue Water,” which was to be followed by a six-track mini-album entitled You Are Now Entering a Commercial Zone. In the end, neither emerged, but PiL continued recording nonetheless, and in March 1983 they finally released a new single: “This Is Not a Love Song,” which featured the aforementioned “Blue Water” as its B-side.


Although “This Is Not a Love Song” turned out to be a big hit, climbing to #5 on the UK Singles Chart after its release in September 1983, it was a single without an album...and might well have been a single without a band, since PiL had actually broken up earlier in the year after Jones and guitarist Keith Levene bailed out. To fulfill their touring commitments, however, Lydon and Atkins hired sessions musicians to flesh out the remainder of the lineup and revived PiL in order to hit the road.

While Lydon and Atkins were playing shows, however, Levene was a rather naughty boy: he took the unfinished tapes from the album PiL had been recording throughout much of ’82, did his own mix, and then flew to London to present the material to Virgin Records main man Richard Branson as the new PiL album. In the end, Virgin didn’t release the so-called Commercial Zone album, but as if Levene’s initial actions hadn’t been bad enough, he subsequently decided to release the LP on his own, doing two different pressings – one slightly different than the other – before Virgin put a stop to his shenanigans.

Of course, you can imagine how well Lydon took all of this betrayal...except you don’t have to imagine it when the facts are readily available: he effectively disavowed all of that material and proceeded to re-record it without Levene. The end result was – you guessed it – This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get.

Is it as good as Commercial Zone? It doesn’t really matter, since Commercial Zone wasn’t an officially sanctioned PiL release, whereas This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get was. In the end, the album wasn’t a massive hit in and of itself, only making its way to #56 on the UK Albums Chart before beginning its descent. Still, it gave us “This Is Not a Love Song,” and it gave us “Bad Life,” the song that provided the album with its title.

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