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Dec. 20, 2023

The frontman John Lydon called his “all-time favourite”

via Far Out Magazine

The entire ethos behind John Lydon has been about stirring up some sort of controversy. While he may have been able to express himself musically both with Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd, Lydon always felt comfortable dragging bands through the mud, either chastising wannabe punk outfits for not playing for the right reasons or calling out the flashiness of pompous rock stars. When it came to his taste in music, though, Lydon could never turn down a good shock.

Then again, the punk aesthetic that Lydon pioneered was all about shocking people to some extent. Even though he may not have been making any outlandish actions onstage, Lydon was known for treating every audience with contempt when he came out, looking to perform for no one but himself every time he sang tracks like ‘Pretty Vacant’.

Before punk had a proper name, many bands in the 1960s were learning how to shock people through their ramshackle approaches to rock and roll. Years before Sex Pistols started to annihilate the charts, the punk rock capital of the world was Detroit, home to the progenitors of the genre like Iggy and the Stooges and the MC5.

Although Iggy Pop may have been known as the king of the punks, he had company regarding chaotic live shows. After growing up in Phoenix, a band calling themselves Alice Cooper was about to turn the world of hard rock inside out by taking theatricality to the next level.

Compared to the intimidating rockstars of old, Cooper looked like he had crawled out of the crypt from the moment he appeared, often simulating despicable things that no parent would have approved of. While many concerned adults may have been appalled by Cooper’s actions, Lydon could not turn away.

Instead of the marketing scheme that was going on with fellow shock rockers, Kiss, Cooper was looking to write iconic songs that emphasised the seedy side of life. Despite acts like The Rolling Stones showcasing the darker side of rock and roll, albums like Billion Dollar Babies and School’s Out marked a turning point for rock, making it acceptable for songwriters to push the envelope whenever they wrote a hard rock song.

Looking back on his biggest influence, Lydon would consider Cooper one of his greatest musical heroes, telling Spin, “A lot the heavy metal acts that go out dressed up in makeup and tights [don’t have personalities]. It’s an image to them, and that’s very important. Alice Cooper is one of my all-time favourites. The sheer way he turned it into theatre was great. I loved it as a young person, and I still do. Every time I see him playing live, I’m there”.

Beyond his music, Lydon can also thank Cooper for helping him become the ultimate punk rock frontman. During his audition to join Sex Pistols, Lydon would mime along to the Cooper classic ‘I’m Eighteen’, earning him a spot at the front without having to sing a note. Cooper may not have been looking to be the progenitor of punk rock, but his brand of shock rock inspired many rock degenerates to try and upset the established order.