When music, fashion, art and attitude collided head on in London in late 1975 the Sex Pistols were the outcome; some have suggested it was inevitable. Managed by Malcolm McLaren - who with his girlfriend and business partner ran SEX - a fashion shop in the Kings Road, the Pistols were for them, at least initially, little more than a marketing tool. They had originally been called The Strand, and soon after becoming the Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten - who had been nicknamed as such by the band - and bass player Glen Matlock wrote Pretty Vacant. It was soon after that they played their first gig, in November 1975, at Saint Martin's College, where they supported Bazooka Joe (named after a popular bubblegum) - a band that featured Stuart Goddard, who later found fame as Adam Ant.
With stage gear supplied by SEX they were soon regulars on the London scene, helped in no small part by Jamie Read, an artist friend of McLaren's who created the band's iconic logo, posters and punk art that still resonates today. After a February 1976 gig supporting Eddie and the Hot Rods at the Marquee Club in London's Soho a New Musical Express review quoted guitarist Steve Jones as saying, "Actually we're not into music. We're into chaos." More gigs around London seemed to prove the point, culminating in a residency at London's 100 Club from May.
In July The Damned supported the Sex Pistols and later in the month the Pistols recorded a number of demos including Anarchy in the U.K. By September they played Europe before returning to London to play at the 100 Club's 'festival' of Punk. The following month EMI signed the band and after some less than successful sessions Chris Thomas, who had mixed Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, was brought in to produce the first single. Anarchy in the U.K is a blatant mixing of pop and politics and it caused waves, not least from the iconic ripped Union Jack poster that was used to promote it. It was during the promotion of the single that their infamous TV appearance took place. It was Steve jones that got into the row with presenter Bill Grundy, not Johnny Rotten as many now think. According to record plugger and music industry legend, Eric Hall, the only reason that the Sex Pistols were on the show was because they were a late substitution for Queen whose singer, Freddie Mercury had a dentist's appointment.
After a riotous tour of Holland, EMI released the band from their contract, which was followed by Glen Matlock leaving the band; he went on to form Rich Kids with Midge Ure, later of Ultravox. He was replaced by the man who invented pogo dancing, John Simon Ritchie, known to the world as Sid Vicious. In March the Pistols signed to A&M Records and in a cunningly conceived PR stunt outside Buckingham Palace; cunning because their new single was to be God Save the Queen, they created yet more headlines. However within weeks, and despite ten's of thousands of copies of the record already pressed, A&M dropped them following a fracas at the label's office. A week or so later Vicious made his live debut with the band and two months later they signed their third contract, this time with Virgin. God Save the Queen came out a few weeks later when it rocketed to No.2 on the UK charts.
A series of singles through the rest of 1977 and into 1978 all made the Top 10 in Britain which all helped Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols make the top of the album chart for two weeks in November, only to be replaced by The Sound of Bread. . .the ironies of pop!
The Sex Pistols' US tour in January 1978 ended in complete shambles with fighting and drugs accompanied by just about every other rock 'n' roll excess. Three days after the last gig in San Francisco, the band broke up. Johnny Rotten once more became Lydon and formed PIL and Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose in February 1979, not long after his girlfriend had been stabbed to death. Two weeks later The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, an album soundtrack to their unreleased movie came out and made the top 10.
Having first offered hope to a generation that was feeling pretty hopeless, the Sex Pistols ultimately met a tragic end but they also inspired many others in the belief that anyone can make it. They were, and are, for many the quintessential rock band, but that really does depend on when you were born.<
The Sex Pistols may have only been together for two years in the late '70s, but they changed the face of popular music. Through their raw, nihilistic singles and violent performances, the band revolutionized the idea of what rock & roll could be. In England, the group was considered dangerous to the very fabric of society and was banned across the country; in America, they didn't have the same impact, but countless bands in both countries were inspired by the sheer sonic force of their music, while countless others were inspired by their independent, do-it-yourself ethics. Even if they didn't release any singles by themselves, there was an implicit independence in the way they played their music and handled their career. The band gave birth to the massive independent music underground in England and America that would soon include bands that didn't have a direct musical connection to The Sex Pistols' initial three-minute blasts of rage, but couldn't have existed without those singles.
Guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook were regulars at a boutique owned by their manager, Malcolm McLaren; bassist Glen Matlock worked at the store. Vocalist John Lydon, who would later perform under the name Johnny Rotten, met the rest of the group at the shop and was asked to join the band. While the band played simple rock & roll loudly and abrasively, Rotten arrogantly sang of anarchy, abortion, violence, fascism, and apathy; without Rotten, the band wouldn't have been threatening to England's government -- he provided the band's conceptual direction, calculated to be as confrontational and threatening as possible. The publicity caused by their caustic first single "Anarchy in the U.K." caused the band to be dropped by their record label, EMI. Matlock was fired before their next single "God Save the Queen," which was released on Virgin; it was
banned by the BBC. Matlock's replacement was Sid Vicious, a tough street kid who, unlike the rest of the band, couldn't play his instrument.
After releasing one album, Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols, in 1977, the band headed over to the U.S. for a tour in January of 1978; it lasted 14 days. Rotten left the band after their show at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom on January 14, heading back to New York; he would form Public Image Limited later that year. McLaren tried to continue the band but Cook and Jones soon turned against him. In the two decades following the Sex Pistols' implosion, an endless stream of outtakes, demos, repackagings, and live shows were released on a variety of labels, which only helped their cult grow.
In 1996, to celebrate their impending twentieth anniversary, The Sex Pistols reunited, with original bassist Glen Matlock taking the place of the deceased Sid Vicious. The band embarked on an international tour in June of 1996, releasing the Filthy Lucre Live album the following month. Four years later, Julien Temple (who helmed the band's first movie, The Great Rock & Roll Swindle) directed the documentary film The Filth & the Fury.
Already anthemic songs are rendered positively transcendent by Johnny Rotten's rabid, foaming delivery. His bitterly sarcastic attacks on pretentious affectation and the very foundations of British society were all carried out in the most confrontational, impolite manner possible. Most imitators of the Pistols' angry nihilism missed the point: underneath the shock tactics and theatrical negativity were social critiques carefully designed for maximum impact. Never Mind the Bollocks perfectly articulated the frustration, rage, and dissatisfaction of the British working class with the establishment, a spirit quick to translate itself to strictly rock & roll terms.
The Pistols paved the way for countless other bands to make similarly rebellious statements, but arguably none were as daring or effective. It's easy to see how the band's roaring energy, overwhelmingly snotty attitude, and Rotten's furious ranting sparked a musical revolution, and those qualities haven't diminished one bit over time. Never Mind the Bollocks is simply one of the greatest, most inspiring rock records of all time.
Words - Steve Huey
Keep in mind that this was not a genuine Sex Pistols album but the soundtrack to Julian Temple’s mockumentary movie (in 2000 he directed The Filth and the Fury the documentary about the Sex Pistols) – as much about Malcolm McLaren as it was about the band. Of the twenty-four tracks on the album a third are by the same band that recorded Never Mind The Bollocks. These are generally covers and include Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode, Substitute from the Who and Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner. There’s a French busker somewhat incongruously belting out Anarchy in the UK in his native tongue, along with Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs giving us, No One Is Innocent (The Biggest Blow), and Malcolm McLaren covering Max Bygraves – you couldn’t make it up. And there’s also Sid Vicious giving us his take on ol’ Blue Eyes’s, My Way – you definitely couldn’t make it up!
These 15 tracks were cut before Never Mind the Bollock with original bassist Glen Matlock and producer Dave Goodman. Many fans prefer the raw Spunk versions of such Pistols anthems as "Submission", Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen."
Words - Al Campbell
Filthy Lucre Live is a 1996 live album by the then recently reformed Sex Pistols. The album was recorded live at London's Finsbury Park on 23 June 1996 during the band's Filthy Lucre Tour.