Illustrated throughout by the author in a style that’s identifiably Spike Milligan via the Beano with a walloping great side order of self-mocking cruelty, Mr Rotten’s Songbook corrals 128 of the rock firmament’s most incendiary, iconoclastic and unflinchingly personal lyrics in a single, cripplingly weighty volume. What’s most striking about its content is just how accomplished Lydon’s initial batch of lyrics were, and how casually controversial. One can only imagine Malcolm McLaren’s reaction when they were first delivered.
Having recruited Lydon to join the Sex Pistols by mistake (Vivienne Westwood was actually describing Sid Vicious as her preferred candidate) and on the strength of an, ironic, ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ T-shirt, McLaren probably expected little, if any, compositional talent of his sullen malleable Monkee. But what he got was Anarchy In The UK and God Save The Queen with future dreams, shopping schemes and flowers in the dustbin that promised no future in England’s dreaming. Was McLaren’s vision for the Pistols seditious at all before Lydon delivered these lyrics? In spite of born revisionist Malcy’s frequent testimony to the contrary, probably not.
Alongside the lyrics that begatpunk there’s all Lydon’s more selfanalyticalPiL work, which from Religion onward are of equal interest. That said, Mr Rotten’s Songbook has already sold out its initial run of1,000 copies at 300 quid a pop, so even if you could afford it you’re too late.