Here are The Sex Pistols performing "God Save the Queen."
Although Punk Rock first appeared in the United States, it wasn't until the Sex Pistols erupted like a broken sewage line from the London underground that punk, as defined in the popular consciousness, was born. The Sex Pistols epitomized punk rock taking music to the brink of destruction by fusing the sounds of early American punk with razor sharp aggression. Their scandalous behavior propelled rock and roll rebellion to new levels while their outrageous attire revolutionized underground and mainstream fashion.
Although many critics and musicians have viewed the Sex Pistols as somewhat of a novelty, their innovations in music, performance, promotion, attitude and appearance have made significant contributions to the continuing evolution of rock and roll.
The story of the Sex Pistols begins in 1975 at a small clothing shop on London's Kings Road. The shop, originally called "Let it Rock," and later "Sex" was owned by Malcolm McLaren, and attracted groups of young bored kids who would just hang out or occasionally buy the leather fetish wear and original styles he and avant-garde fashion designer Vivienne Westwood created.
As McLaren had recently returned from New York where he briefly managed the New York Dolls during their final days, local teens interested in forming bands viewed him as a possible connection to the music industry. When approached by drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones in 1975, McLaren was reluctant to fill their request to manage their group, The Strand, but did agree to help them find a rehearsal space.
Although the two original members had been playing together for nearly three years, using equipment provided, or most likely stolen by Jones, their talent was minimal and their sound unoriginal. After Glen Matlock, who worked at the shop, joined the band Malcolm became more involved. He encouraged them to stop doing the Beatles and early the Who covers, start writing their own material, and above all find a new lead singer. It was around this time the green-haired John Lydon began frequenting the shop.
Although the teenage Lydon couldn't sing a note, he agreed to an informal audition for the band, choosing to accompany an Alice Cooper record from the shop's jukebox. Sporting a homemade "I Hate Pink Floyd" T-shirt, he staggered around looking and behaving like the hunchback of Notre Dame. By witnessing this absurdly entertaining display McLaren and the group knew they'd found their front man and immediately started rehearsing.
After changing their name to the Sex Pistols, and Lydon's name to Rotten (a reference to the condition of his teeth) the band began playing live shows that quickly caught the attention of young malcontents, eager to be a part of something revolutionary. Described by McClaren as a "cacophonous racket", the music didn't sound like much more than noise. But noise was a signature element of the band's sound; simple drumming, three Chuck Berry guitar chords, and deafening volume.
And what the Pistols may have lacked in musical ability they made up for with outrageously over the top stage antics and reckless hostility. Those in attendance at these early shows became increasingly violent as the Pistols tapped into their need to physically exercise feelings of hopelessness and angst. Additionally, their live shows prompted young musicians with no future to form bands. After the Sex Pistols played several new groups would appear on the scene, almost overnight.
As audience size increased the Pistols gained a reputation as one of the most volatile bands in London. Before they had even released a single several of their gigs were canceled foreshadowing their tumultuous future. Since it was quickly becoming apparent the Sex Pistols were instinctively forging a new direction in rock music, Malcolm leapt at the opportunity to manage the band and cash in on their success, much of which was the result of numerous pranks he cleverly crafted in an effort to gain publicity.
Within weeks after their headlining appearance at a Punk Festival organized by McClaren in September of 1976, the band signed their first record contract with EMI and released their debut assault, "Anarchy in the UK." Rotten ferociously uttered the lyrics, which became an anthemic battle cry for the punk subculture,
"I am an antichrist.
I am an anarchist.
Don't know what I want but I know how to get it.
I want to destroy passersby, 'cuz I wanna be anarchy!"
In December of that year the band was booked last minute for their notorious appearance on a popular British television show. Encouraged by interviewer Bill Grundy to "say something outrageous," Steve Jones proceeded to spew a ghastly array of obscenities. The next morning newspaper headlines documented "The Filth and the Fury," encouraging EMI to drop the monstrously offensive punks from their label. Promoters canceled all but three concerts scheduled for their upcoming National tour, the record was banned from radio, and the loathsome Sex Pistols were an immediate international sensation.
After being dropped from EMI, the band replaced Glen Matlock, who actually could play bass, with the belligerent, yet impishly charming and drug addicted Sid Vicious, who could barely stand up half the time, let alone play a note. To promote the release of their second single "God Save the Queen," a scathing commentary on Britain's royal family, the Pistols signed their new contract with A&M records just outside of Buckingham Palace.
Not surprisingly the record was banned before its release, and contract disputes resulted in the label dropping them within days. Two months later the band signed their final record contract with Virgin who quickly released the single. The records cover sleeve was as distasteful as the subject matter, featuring a picture of the Queen's face with a safety pin stuck through her nose in typical punk rock fashion. Since the record was banned from radio, Malcolm devised a scheme to share the new release with eager fans and fearful adversaries. Coinciding with the Queen's Jubilee Celebration on the Thames River, the band performed the song on a riverboat just behind the Queens. All were promptly arrested following the cunning maneuver and the single went to number one.
By November of 1977 the Sex Pistols released their first full-length record, "Never mind the Bullocks- Here's the Sex Pistols." Despite the reluctance of many shops to sell the record, it shot to the top of the charts, and spawned the band's ill-fated 1978 American tour. After just eight shows Rotten announced his departure from the band when he scornfully remarked, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" before walking on stage.
Although less than three years had passed since the Sex Pistols first formed, they were incapable of enduring the excessive pressure of rock and roll excess. The music had become secondary to the image that was more akin to a circus freak show than a legitimate rock act.
By the fall of 1978 Sid Vicious was jailed for the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungeon. While out on bail he died from a heroin overdose signifying the official end of the Sex Pistols. Although Cook and Jones have continued to play music, Johnny Rotten, who changed his name back to Lydon, had the most notable success with his band Public Image Limited. In 1996 the four original members of the Sex Pistols reformed for the well-received "Filthy Lucre Tour."
Page author: A.E.