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Sex Pistols

Sex Pistols

+ {Sid Vicious}

Inspired by American proto-punk peers The STOOGES and the NEW YORK DOLLS, London lads The SEX PISTOLS were literally all the rage in boring Old Blighty from their meteoric rise in late ’76 to their implosion and capitulation a few years later. Delivering at least four seminal singles and a genre-defining album for Virgin Records in 1977, rock’n’roll had been given a short, sharp kick up the jacksy by a band who, almost overnight, changed the face of rock and pop music and kick-started a new wave generation of spiky-top youths. Although the ‘Pistols didn’t invent punk-rock, they certainly helped popularise it and, while they were at least partly responsible for an avalanche of un-listenable, amateurish shit, the band’s uncompromising approach permanently altered the machinations of the music industry and took three-chord rock’n’roll to its ultimate conclusion.
Formed London, England in the summer of 1975 (initially as The Swankers) by drummer Paul Cook, guitarist Steve Jones and bassist Glen Matlock, the latter pair would become regular faces at MALCOLM McLAREN’s “Sex” boutique in the fashion-trendy King’s Road. With the remnants of the NEW YORK DOLLS already on his CV, McLaren was well qualified to mastermind the rise and fall of The SEX PISTOLS (as he dubbed his new plaything), the entrepreneur/Svengali installing another “Sex” customer, the green-haired John Lydon as a suitably sneering frontman; Jones soon renamed his newfound bandmate, Johnny Rotten, taking his cue from the man’s farting rear-end, stating “You’re rotten, you are”. And the tone of The SEX PISTOLS was set.
After a few local gigs, the group duly supported JOE STRUMMER’s 101’ers (April ’76), their bedraggled, low-rent bondage-chic troupe of followers including the likes of SIOUXSIE SIOUX (later of the Banshees fame) and one John Ritchie (aka SID VICIOUS); the latter was the alleged perpetrator behind the infamous glass-throwing incident at the 100 Club punk all-day-gig in which a girl was partially blinded. Controversy, intentional or otherwise, hung around the group like a bad smell, making The SEX PISTOLS into minor legends without even a single record being released. Signed to E.M.I. for a reported £40,000, their debut release, `Anarchy In The UK’ (having already shocked those of a sensitive disposition after being aired on the “So It Goes” TV pop show) was finally released in November ‘76. An inflammatory slice of primal nihilism which surpassed even IGGY & THE STOOGES’ finest efforts, the track initially climbed into the Top 40 before being unceremoniously withdrawn following the band’s riotous appearance on a local chat/news programme, “Today”. With Jones swearing copiously at presenter Bill Grundy, the tabloids had a field day, stirring up the moral majority and prompting further “must we subject our pop kids to this filth” editorials than you could shake a snotty stick at. E.M.I. of course, bailed out early the following year (writing off the advance as a particularly bad debt), while Matlock was fired around the same time for being, well, er… too pretty.
His replacement was the aforementioned “bassist” Sid Vicious, a suitably violent and abusive character who duly became more of a punk anti-hero/caricature than McLaren could ever have dreamed. After a short period in label limbo, then ‘Pistols signed to A&M in March ‘77 for undisclosed six-figure sum; the honeymoon period was probably the shortest in recording history as the band’s infamous antics at the post-signing party, together with protests from other artists on the label saw the UK’s foremost punk band once again minus a recording contract. Once again, the band retained the loot from the advance and once again, a single, `God Save The Queen’, was withdrawn (some copies did find their way into circulation and now fetch considerably more than the original 50p price tag).
Arguably The SEX PISTOLS’ defining moment, this jaw-clenching, two-fingered salute to the monarchy and everything it represented was to truly make the band public enemy No.1, its release coinciding sweetly with HM’s Silver Jubilee year. Re-promoted by their new bosses at Virgin Records (virtually the only company willing to take the band on for a meagre £15,000 advance), the single was predictably banned by the BBC, though that didn’t prevent it from outselling the official No.1 at the time, ROD STEWART’s `I Don’t Want To Talk About It’.
That long hot summer, also saw the band hiring a boat and sailing up and down the Thames in a publicity stunt which ended in chaos; cue yet more controversy and howls of derision from the nation’s moral guardians. Knuckle-headed English royalists decided to take matters into their own hands, both Cook and Rotten attacked in separate incidents as another blankly brilliant single, `Pretty Vacant’ (the B side a version of The STOOGES’ `No Fun’), gate-crashed the Top 10.
Previewed by the seething, squalling outrage of `Holidays In The Sun’, the legendary debut album, NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, HERE’S THE SEX PISTOLS {*10} was finally delivered to an unsuspecting public toward the end of the year. While the record undeniably contained some filler (and the aforementioned A sides), it remains the classic punk statement, the blistering `Bodies’ and the gleeful kiss-off to their former employers, `E.M.I.’, almost standing up against the intensity of the singles. Just under forty minutes of unadulterated mayhem and acerbic angst, Rotten and his revolutionary rogues spat venom at the establishment through `Liar’, `Problems’, `Seventeen’ and `No Feelings’ – and this was when the Labour Party was in power! God save us all if the incumbent Tories had been in office.
As ever, controversy clouded its release, the album reaching No.1 in spite of the word “Bollocks” – a near contravention of the 1889 Indecent Advertisements Act(!) – resulting in boycotts from many major outlets. Constantly on the verge of falling apart, the band subsequently flew to America for a string of chaotic dates, the final round of blanks in The SEX PISTOLS’ depleted armoury. Amid sporadic showdowns with Deep South cowboys and Sid’s ever worsening heroin problem, Rotten – bowing out on stage in San Francisco with the immortal phrase, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated” – effectively ended the whole sorry affair with his departure after the final gig.
While John Lydon (the name he now reverted back to) went on to form PUBLIC IMAGE LTD., McLaren had other ideas for the splintered remains of the band, namely jetting off to Rio de Janeiro to record a single with exiled “Great Train Robber”, Ronnie Biggs as their singer. The result of this rather dubious association, `No One Is Innocent’, reached the Top 10 in the summer of ‘78, although Vicious was absent from the recording, holed up in New York with his similarly addicted girlfriend, Nancy Spungeon. He did find time to record a peerless rendition of Paul Anka’s `My Way’ (er, Frank Sinatra had did it his way), the single taking on an added poignancy following his untimely but hardly surprising death early the following year. The story was that, out on bail in NY, after being charged with the murder of his aforementioned girlfriend the previous October, Sid succumbed to a fatal heroin overdose on 2nd February ‘79. As always, mystery and speculation pursued the case; a movie `Sid & Nancy’ (1986) – starring Gary Oldman as Sid – did little to sort the myth from the legend.
Coincidentally, February/March ‘79 was also the time that saw a sixth hit (a Vicious-sung version of EDDIE COCHRAN’s `Something Else’) and the belated release of McLaren’s pet project, an artistically licensed celluloid account of group’s history, entitled THE GREAT ROCK’N’ROLL SWINDLE {*7}. Widely criticised for its blatant exclusion of Matlock, the glaring absence of Rotten/Lydon as an active participant and its paper-thin storyline, the movie was nevertheless an occasionally exhilarating, often hilarious trip through the misspent youth of Britain’s best-loved punk band. The thing is, that punk-rock had moved on so much in the preceding two years (The CLASH, The DAMNED, The STRANGLERS, BUZZCOCKS, SIOUXSIE, et al), that no-one could really take McLaren’s leftovers serious anyway. Long gone was their sensational “Bollocks” debut, this double-set was MM’s project, the man himself opening the album’s account via a hoarse and coarse narrative of the ‘Pistols story over a “symphony” version of `God Save The Queen’. Honorary Pistol number two, Eddie (Ten Pole) Tudor hits the extremely high notes for a rollickin’, bollockin’ rendition of BILL HALEY’s `Rock Around The Clock’, in fact the man also puts in the best performance by far courtesy of his (and fashion guru, Vivienne Westwood’s) `Who Killed Bambi?’ – how many ways can you say Bambi? (“Bamboiii, Bambaaeee, Bambarrgh!”). Compare this to bad-boy JR and his shambolic rehearsal covers of `Johnny B Goode’ and `Road Runner’; punk at its most embryonic and with the ginger one forgetting the words, a total embarrassment. Continuing on from a “Stars On 45”-style melee, that old 60s, SMALL FACES nugget, `Watcha Gonna Do About It’, saw Rotten and Co get back to their old boyish antics. Messrs Cook and Jones (with the former on vocals) carried on regardless, courtesy of rousing Top 10 hit song, `Silly Thing’ and `Lonely Boy’. Squeezed somewhat precariously between the two aforementioned dirges, a trio of Rotten/rotten (delete as appropriate) covers were all aboard via The WHO’s `Substitute’, `Don’t Give Me No Lip Child’ (Dave Berry originally recorded this!) and Boyce & Hart’s `I’m Not Your Stepping Stone’ (written for The MONKEES). The vicious Sidney – his epitaph written all over this film and soundtrack – gets his third Top 10 smash in a year by way of another EDDIE COCHRAN piece, `C’mon Everybody’. Just how could a man with seemingly no vocal talent whatsoever (although this was accentuated and acted out in its full cinematic glory) achieve so much? Maybe raw talent and bravado had more power over manufactured pop shite after all.
Virgin and McLaren continued to flog the ‘Pistols’ dead corpse with a variety of exploitation 45s, while Cook and Jones (plus bassist Andy Allen) formed short-lived The PROFESSIONALS. During the course of the next few years, the anthemic/proto-oi! outfit plodded away on a handful of flop 45s and a belated album; only the `1-2-3’ platter had any modicum of success when scratching the surface of the Top 40.
Lydon and his PUBLIC IMAGE LTD., meanwhile, had clocked up two experimental gems including the glorious and tinned 3×12” `Metal Box’. Cook and Jones would find other projects to wile away their time; Cook with BOW WOW WOW splinter Chiefs Of Relief, and Jones (a solo act in his own right) settling in to augment one-time idol, IGGY POP.
Despite the fact original fans had long since given up on the UK ever descending into anarchy, the original `Pistols line-up of Lydon, Matlock, Jones and Cook re-formed in summer ‘96 for a handful of outdoor gigs and an accompanying live album entitled FILTHY LUCRE LIVE (1996) {*6}. Opinion was divided as to whether this blatantly commercial venture was in keeping with the original punk spirit; probably not, although few paying punters complained about what was subsequently hailed as one of the events of the summer and it was certainly a safer bet than a new GREEN DAY album. A postscript to the SEX PISTOLS was definitely Julien Temple’s alternative look at the group through his `The Filth & The Fury’ album/film documentary in 2000. Not surprisingly, the band have taken up the temptation to re-unite on a handful of occasions from November 2007 onwards (Brixton Academy, etc.); we await a new re-vamped version of the Bollocks album in 2012. Never mind!
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-BG/MCS // rev-up May2012-May2019

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