PiL – Poptones

I have been listening to a lot of PiL recently. They have everything I could ever want from a band, in spades. They have got the style, the brash punk sensibility & an aggressive bass player (Jah Wobble). Metal Box, the second project by PiL is an undeniable classic. It’s what you would get if classic punk and early dub / reggae had a baby. Brilliant stuff! But the point of this entry, was not to discuss Metal Box in it’s entirety, that will come later. I just wanted to draw attention to this little gem, Poptones, hidden in the collection. Aside from Lydon’s mesmerizing & pictursque lyrics, what’s attracted me greatly to this song over the years has been the guitar riff. The guitar riff in Poptones is so melancholy, so haunting, it drives me delirious. From reading up online it seems that Keith Levene, lifted the riff straight out of Starship Trooper (from the Yes Album).

After listening to Startship Trooper, which I found a bit too syrupy and soft for my tastes, I’m inclined to believe that Keith was being unnecessarily modest. If he did indeed lift the riff straight out of Starship Trooper, then he did it justice. It is interesting to note, that the practice of lifting a riff sample or drums (although use of the word ‘lift’ might have unnecessary criminal connotations) was one that would be widely popular in hip-hop, a genre that was still struggling to find its footing in ’79. So, Poptones definitely predates the entire genre in that respect. A brilliant song that was quite ahead of its time.


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