Album: Public Image (1986)
Charted: 11
  • songfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • Formerly titled "South African Song," "Rise" was written by John Lydon about the oppression of blacks in South Africa during its hideous apartheid era. He told Smash Hits: "I read this manual on South African interrogation techniques, and 'Rise' is quotes from some of the victims. I put them together because I thought it fitted in aptly with my own feelings about daily existence."
  • The song marries rock with Celtic folk and finds Lydon singing the phrase "May The Road Rise With You," which is an old Irish blessing. Lydon was brought up as the son of an Irish couple who immigrated to an impoverished area of London.
  • Steve Vai contributed guitar work to the track. The American guitar legend can also be heard throughout the Public Image album and he recalled on his website: "Bill Laswell, the producer, called and I flew in and out of New York from Alcatrazz shows to cut the [solo guitar] parts. I did basically all the guitar parts in two days. Bill Laswell took a very interesting approach to the production of this disc. Some of the material I'd never heard and just went in and started playing on it. At the end, Johnny Lydon came in and liked it [...] There was the consideration of putting a band together - him, myself, Bill Laswell on bass and Ginger Baker on drums. Would have been quite a band."
  • The drummer was American jazz fusion pioneer Tony Williams, who first gained fame in the 1960s as a member of trumpeter Miles Davis' band.
  • Speaking to Mojo about "Rise" in 2016, John Lydon said:

    "I think it's one of my best pop songs. The content of what it was about got me into hot water. It was that time when everyone was talking about how great Nelson Mandela was; but my history lessons went back further... people died.

    My message is there's no political cause worthy enough that people should die for it. Once you start murdering your fellow human beings it's over. 'Rise' is about the stop of that. I related it to my own background. I've got Protestant and Catholic relatives in the north of Ireland, why were they killing each other."
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