Leftfield is a British electronic music group formed in 1989 by Neil Barnes and Paul Daley. They were notable for their use of guest vocalists not associated with dance music and this song featured the voice of former Sex Pistol John Lydon
One of Barnes's friends was also a pal of Lydon and he first met the Public Image singer as a 19-year-old, when he spent a weekend at the rockers' Ladbroke Grove home listening to his reggae collection. Once he formed Leftfield with Paul Daley, Barnes was keeping his eye open for something suitable that would be suitable for Lydon to sing on.
"We had to do something that warranted getting John in," he recalled to Uncut. "We were terrified that we'd do something second-rate. We worked on the bassline until we got it right, spinning in records endlessly, trying different breaks to get the right feel for it, changing the hi-hat rhythm 100 times, different bass drums... We'd push things sonically as far as we could."
John Lydon recalled to Uncut: "They bought me over to the studio one night, and I am more or less just free-formed it. I've been running the ideas for my mind almost constantly. So it was all just waiting for the pen to hit the page."
The song includes the line "burn Hollywood burn." Lydon said the song was partly about not getting a part in a movie, but it was only "some of it." He added:
"There's so many different issues that run rampant in your mind when you put songs together. The best songs are when you draw conclusions from all those issues that are part of that same conglomerate that we're presented with and have to oppose in our daily lives - the assumption that this is the way or that's the way. In my book 'Open Up' is all flashing lights - that's how I remembered it, writing it and thinking about it and being in the studio. I used the traffic lights scenario. Red is of course the warning - you could ruin this that you're not careful!"
Remixed in turn by Andy Weatherall and the Dust Brothers, the song climbed up the UK singles chart. It might have risen higher had it not been pulled from ITV's The Chart Show at the last minute because of the "Burn Hollywood, burn" lyric. Unfortunately, a week after the song's release, portions of Los Angeles were actually being engulfed in flames. John Lydon recalled:
"I came back to LA and I'm facing the fires, which almost burnt our house down here. That came home in an ugly kind of way, 'cos the media were trying to imply that I was cashing in on the crisis with 'Open Up.' This is the music media talking - they should know that the work's done to make a record at least three months before it's released. Yes I want to burn Hollywood, but not literally, and certainly not displace anyone out of house and home!"
The song featured on the soundtrack of the 1995 movie, Hackers.