"Next to the Sex Pistols, rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. We're not coming. We're not your monkeys. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons. You're anonymous as judges but you're still music industry people. We're not coming. You're not paying attention. Outside the shit-stream is a real Sex Pistol."
—Steve Jones, rejecting the band's admission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
punk rock band, not the original but definitely the most famous. The Sex Pistols were composed of vocalist Johnny Rotten (aka John Lydon), guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook, and bassists Glen Matlock and Sid Vicious (aka John Simon Ritchie), who replaced Matlock. They are credited with starting the punk movement in Britain. Though the band didn't last very long (1975-78), and released only a single album, Never Mind The Bollocks Heres The Sex Pistols
, they are one of the most influential bands in the history of pop music. Strangely enough, their biggest fans today range from hardcore punks to geeks.
Famously, the band performed to a crowd of approximately 42 people at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in Manchester England in June of 1976. As recounted in the film 24 Hour Party People
, each person in the crowd either later formed a band (future members of The Smiths
, Joy Division
(and by extension New Order
), The Fall
, The Buzzcocks
, and Simply Red) or had a pivotal role in shaping that city's music scene (Factory Records founder Tony Wilson and NME journalist Paul Morley). This show alone was proof to the band's reaching influence on punk, post-punk, new wave and eventually alternative and indie rock music.
One can argue that the Sex Pistols' appeal mostly came from their image and attitude, not the actual quality of the music
. Supposedly, Sid Vicious didn't even know how to play his instrument
(the bass). The turning point from band to spectacle is usually considered to be the firing of Glen Matlock (their Beatles
-liking, actually capable bassist who co-wrote most of their early songs) and the hiring of Vicious. Notably, Vicious didn't play any bass on their album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols
, with bass duties handled mostly by Jones and Matlock, returning as a session musician.
Many future punk rockers got their start as Sex Pistols fans, such as Siouxsie Sioux and Billy Idol. Most of these musicians were part of the media-named, (in)famous "Bromley Contingent," a group of artistically minded youths who hung out in gay clubs and shared a love of Roxy Music
and the Velvet Underground
, and were, in fact, largely not
from Bromley. Malcolm McLaren clothed them in Vivienne Westwood bondage apparel and helped them get from one Pistols show to the next - even France! - to cause controversy. Sid Vicious was initialy part of this group; he would be the Banshees' drummer for their first-ever show, as well as try to form his own band, The Flowers of Romance, before becoming a Pistol.
No discussion of the Sex Pistols would be complete without a mention of Malcolm McLaren, their manager, and Nancy Spungen, Vicious' girlfriend
. McLaren had a habit of taking the Pistols' ideas for his own
, and spreading the myth that the whole group was his Structuralist art project
. Spungen was stabbed to death in 1978. Vicious was imprisoned for Spungen's death (whether it was him or not is another, untold story) and died of a drug overdose in 1979 after his release on bail.
In January 1978, Rotten left the band sometime after Russ Meyer
and Roger Ebert
gave up trying to film a Hard Day's Night
-esque Pistols film called Who Killed Bambi?
and directly after a famously disastrous US tour which ended with him being stranded in the United States by McLaren. He reverted back to his birth name of John Lydon and formed art rock band Public Image Ltd.
(or simply PiL) as a means to explore his love of genres such as dub, progressive rock and noise music, which he had to keep on the lowdown during his Pistols days because these were the kinds of pretentious genres that the Pistols were allegedly supposed to be killing off (Rotten was discovered by McLaren after he saw Rotten wearing a Pink Floyd
t-shirt he had altered to read "I Hate Pink Floyd", the irony being that Rotten actually didn't
hate Pink Floyd, it was just to be nonconformist. Additionally, McLaren once got pissed at Lydon because in an interview he named some of his musical influences as Can
, Van Der Graaf Generator
and Captain Beefheart
, going against the punk image he was trying to cultivate.). Over the course of the next decade and eight albums, PiL became an influential pioneer in the genres of Post Punk
and Alternative Rock
After Lydon left, the Pistols attempted to continue on. One single was released in June 1978, with infamous train robber Ronnie Biggs taking over for Lydon on vocals (as a publicity stunt). After that single and the soundtrack to the then unreleased film The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle
(eventually released in 1980), the band was essentially over by the time of Nancy Spungen's death in October 1978.
After the Pistols split, Cook became a session musician and Jones made a few solo albums before becoming a radio personality. The band's original Lydon/Jones/Matlock/Cook lineup reunited for a tour in 1995. They reunited once more for a series of dates in 2002 and 2003. In 2007, they reunited once more for a few more shows (and to re-record "Anarchy in the UK" for Guitar Hero III
). They were put on hiatus in 2009 so Lydon could restart PiL, and the Pistols have abandoned the latest of several attempts to record their second album. Malcolm McLaren died in early 2010, and by that time Lydon and McLaren had at least patched up enough things for Lydon to recall him fondly in interviews leading up to McLaren's funeral.
Notable songs include:
- "God Save the Queen"
- "Anarchy in the U.K."
- "Pretty Vacant"
- "Holidays in the Sun"
The Sex Pistols provide examples of:
- Accentuate the Negative
- Anarchy: Interestingly not actually in play in their music, given that their first single was "Anarchy in the UK". Apparently, the Pistols saw themselves as a fairly apolitical band, whose main task was to tweak the noses of a hidebound Britain as opposed to spearheading any sort of revolution, anarchist or otherwise. Johnny said it best years later:
Anarchy is mind-games for the middle class. Itís a wonderful philosophy if youíve got the spare time to indulge in it. Itís more like French abstract art than reality, because ultimately you would destroy everything. Whatís the point of that if youíve got nothing to replace it with? Anarchy is a problem. Itís not a solution. But itís worthy of some thought."
- The Band Minus the Face: After Johnny Rotten left the band the rest released a few more songs.
- Becoming the Mask: Sid Vicious. When the band started, he was described as like a schoolgirl. Things went downhill from there.
- Berlin Wall: The subject of "Holidays in the Sun".
- Cluster F-Bomb: In the song "Bodies".
"Fuck this and fuck that, fuck it all and fuck the fucking brat!"
- Country Matters/Last-Second Word Swap: Rotten puts very deliberate and gleeful emphasis on the last syllable of "Pretty Vacant."
- Cover Version: "Stepping Stone" by The Monkees, "Silver Machine" by Hawkwind, "No Fun" by The Stooges, and "Substitute" by The Who used to be live mainstays. Notably, "No Fun" was the last song they played at their famous last gig in the USA - the one which ended with him throwing away his microphone and yelling "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?".
- Dreadful Musician: Vicious. Supposedly, he once told Lemmy "I can't play bass". Lemmy's reply? "I know".
- Jones admitted that the band tried "as hard as they could" to keep Vicious away from the studio while they were recording Never Mind the Bollocks. Luckily for them, he had caught a severe case of hepatitis. Jones also admitted that they let him play one small bass part on "Bodies", but it was buried in the mix and he overdubbed his own.
- Paul Cook and Keith Levene have both disputed this and said that Sid Vicious did become a fairly competent bassist. He was dreadful at it because he never played bass prior to being hired by the Sex Pistols (he was a drummer, singer, and saxophonist before that point). Coincidentally, most of the "Sid Vicious can't play" examples cite events that happened immediately after he was hired.
- Vicious is also said to have shown honest desire to improve his bass playing, at least before Nancy came into the picture. He apparently once stayed up a whole night on speed with a bass guitar and The Ramones' debut album, practicing along to the record until morning, by which time his playing had been greatly improved.
- Also worth mentioning that the manager stated he would have hired Sid Vicious to be the singer if it was an option, a logical choice given that Sid seemed to be able to hit notes far more accurately than Lydon when one compares their vocal performances.
- Evil Laugh: The very first thing uttered by Rotten on their very first single.
- Exact Words: When it was ruled they could not perform their song "God Save the Queen" on UK soil, they got a boat and performed on the river Thames.
- Hidden Depths: Johnny Rotten showed his softer side when describing the sad saga of Sid and Nancy and Sid Vicious's downward spiral and death.
- Jerk Ass: Just watch any interview with Johnny Rotten/Lydon.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Often, Johnny uses his abrasiveness to good use. Agree with him or not, at least he often has something intelligent to say..
- Non-Appearing Title: Nowhere on the album is "Never Mind The Bollocks" uttered. Not even once.
- Technically, also "Anarchy In The U.K."... there's one mention of "Anarchy for the U.K." and that's it.
- Obligatory Bondage Song: "Submission" was originally going to be one of these, but the band got mad at McLaren and made it about a submarine mission instead.
- The actual story is one of Executive Meddling and the band's snarky Take That to it. McLaren's clothing store, "Sex" (from whence the name "Sex Pistols"), sold along with its other punk clothes, a fair amount of bondage gear, and he demanded the Pistols write a song called "Submission," assuming it could be used as free advertising for the shop to move product. Johnny was particularly incensed by this request, and did write a song called "Submission", but wrote it about a submarine mission, a SUB MISSION.
- One of Us: Embodied in this quote:
"I like it, that's what I say. I bloody well like it, and I normally don't. Well, I like a lot of video games, but this one I really like!"
- Promoted Fanboy: Sid Vicious began as a fan of the band before becoming their bassist.
- Protest Song: All of the songs, although on the other hand the group also states: "We don't care!"
- Real Life Writes the Plot:
- "God Save the Queen" was written when Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 25th Jubilee, though the band has explicitly denied that they wrote it in response to the Jubilee, instead having written it as a "workingman's song" in frustration with a royal family that they viewed as out of touch. It was their bad luck that the single just happened to be released during the Jubilee, when pro-royal and general patriotic sentiment among the class they were trying to reach was at a high point.
Paul Cook: "It wasn't written specifically for the Queen's Jubilee. We weren't aware of it at the time. It wasn't a contrived effort to go out and shock everyone."
- "Bodies" was inspired by Johnny Rotten's encounter with a crazed fan (not an exaggeration: she was institutionalised) from Birmingham named Pauline, who described to him in detail the abortions she'd had.
- Sarcastic Title: "God Save the Queen"
- Self-Titled Album: Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols is a partial example of this.
- Short-Lived Big Impact: The Sex Pistols had a grand total of one studio album, yet they are considered the pioneers of Punk Rock.
- Smarmy Host: Bill Grundy, pictured in the newspaper headline at the top of this page. The reason guitarist Steve Jones dropped the f-bomb is because Grundy made an explicit pass at Siouxsie Sioux.
- Stage Names: Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten.
- The Svengali: McLaren claimed to be this to the band, although how much influence he actually had is up for debate.
- Glen Matlock admitted that he left the band because of arguments with Johnny, and the band has since agreed that McLaren played a part in exacerbating it.
- His behaviour is the reason why Never Mind the Bollocks carried an unusual production credit. To let Bill Price explain:
The simple facts of the matter were that Chris was hired by Malcolm to do a series of singles for the Sex Pistols. I was hired by Malcolm to do a series of album tracks with the Sex Pistols. Life got slightly complicated, because I did a few album tracks that Chris remade as singles. Also, Chris started a couple of tracks, which got abandoned as singles, which I remade to be used as album tracks. On quite a large number of songs, when we'd finished the album, we had two versions of the song. I couldn't quite understand why Malcolm kept chopping and changing between different versions of different songs. It slowly dawned on Chris and myself that Malcolm was trying to slip between two stools and not pay Chris or me. So we said, "I'll tell you what, Malcolm. Whatever's on the Sex Pistols' album, it was either done by me or Chris, and you can pay us and we'll divvy it out amongst our little selves." Which is what we did. But it did force that very strange credit, simply because the sleeve was printed long before it was finally decided which version of each individual song was on the record. If we'd known, it would have said 'produced by Bill Price' or 'produced by Chris Thomas'. That's how you ended up with that credit, 'produced by Bill Price or Chris Thomas'.
- Subsequent issues of the album on CD have amended this to a slightly more reasonable "Produced by Chris Thomas, engineered by Bill Price".
- Take That:
- The entire group was an anarchic reaction against everything rock 'n' roll stood for.
- Their entire public image and songs were designed to shock the establishment.
- "New York" against the New York Dolls
- "God Save the Queen" against the British Monarchy
- Their above-detailed Writer Revolt over "Submission"
- "EMI" against record company EMI.
- The band's refusal to attend their induction to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame - complete with a scathing "The Reason You Suck" Speech - also qualifies.
- Any hope of a colaboration with American punkette Patti Smith was scuppered by Johnny Rotten's sneering at what he saw as pretentious tripe:
Horses, horses, fucking horses!
- As this was the title of her first LP, Smith was not flattered or amused.
- Three Chords and the Truth: They were a punk band, what did you expect?
- What Could Have Been: In England's Dreaming, John Savage's bio of the the band, Rotten mentioned that he wrote some songs during the Pistols' American tour in order to expand their sound. He would later record them with his next project, Public Image Ltd., when McLaren disapproved of the new material.
- World War Three: Mentioned in "Holidays in the Sun".