Album, the 1986 record by Public Image Ltd has recently been re-released. Reviewers have referred to its making as ‘one of the most bizarre episodes in [John] Lydon’s extraordinary story’, noting that the singer employed ‘a raft of top-flight session players’, including Ginger Baker, Tony Williams, Steve Vai, Bernard Fowler and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Lydon enjoyed confounding people. He has stated that he ‘needed the support from people like the Ginger Bakers, and to be reminded that people really fucking respected what I was doing’. Their encouragement made him see that he was not ‘an enormous, talentless boring lump’. He also enjoyed the fact that Sting thought that the record ‘was the best album I’ve ever made’. Nevertheless, the public were ‘confused’ by Album and his record company was ‘nonplussed’. Apparently, punk and session musicians are opposites.
But is this really the case? The Ramones provided the template for American punk. Their strongest influences were the girl group records of the early 1960s (which were performed by American session musicians) and the bubblegum pop of the Bay City Rollers (which was recorded by British session musicians). The influence of these predecessors is transparent. The Ramones recorded an album with the girl group producer Phil Spector (who employed session musicians for some of the guitar parts as well as for the strings). Their song ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ is modelled on the Rollers' ‘Saturday Night’.
The Bay City Rollers also served as Malcolm McLaren’s template for the Sex Pistols. This was true from the launch of the band (prior to hiring Lydon, McLaren drove to Scotland in search of a Rollers-type singer) to the time of their demise (in 1980 he looked back upon the Sex Pistols, saying ‘I was always concerned to make them as much like The Bay City Rollers as possible’).
And we should not forget the Chris Spedding rumours. It has been suggested that this session musician played guitar on early Sex Pistols’ tracks. Spedding also played guitar on the Wombles’ hits. What matters most about this story is not that it is true, but that it is plausible. The Sex Pistols were not averse to session musician practices. After his sacking, Glen Matlock was rehired as a session bass player. Steve Jones also had a session musician’s mentality as he laid down layer after layer of guitar for Never Mind the Bollocks and also played the bass.
It is not hard to see why the connections between punk and session musicians have been overlooked. They fly in the face of punk’s DIY ethos. They should not be ignored, however, and we should consider whether doing it for yourself and getting someone else to do it for you really are so different. These networks should also encourage us to rethink the Wombles. Are they the missing link between glam rock and punk?