hen one thinks of punk, the Sex Pistols come quickly to mind. Originally to be called The Swankers and The Strand (after the Roxy Music song), Paul Cook (drums), Steve Jones (guitar), Glen Matlock (bass; replaced by Sid Vicious early in 1977) and John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten; vocals) would become the Sex Pistols; one of the most known punk acts in history.
The name for the group was Malcolm McLaren's creation derived from a T-shirt featured in his S&M shop of two gay cowboys.
Cook and Jones were regular members of Malcolm McLaren's 'Sex' boutique on London's King's Road. McLaren would soon join on as their manager and with his experience with the New York Dolls on his resume, he was well qualified to oversee the rise and fall that would become the Sex Pistols. After getting the sneering Johnny Rotten to join them, they went out to perform local gigs, including supporting spots for Joe Strummer's 101ers and Siouxie Sioux (Siouxie And The Banshees). In mid 1976 visitors to London's, 100 Club, (still located at 100 Oxford St.) would become one of the most infamous in punk gigs for it was here at an all-day punk show that one Sid Vicious (Real Name: John Simon Ritchie) came into the picture who was allegedly the perpetrator behind a glass throwing incident that saw one girl blinded and a fight among the crowd. But controversy would surround the act everywhere they went like the bad haircuts they sported, and with barely one single under their belt they had gained legendary status.
Their debut with 'EMI' (who initially signed then to a two year contract on Oct. 8, 1976) was the now famous Anarchy In The UK, single, a track that had already shocked viewers of the So It Goes TV Pop show. For their efforts they earned 40,000 pounds when it was released that November. The angst filled single went to 38 UK before it was unceremoniously withdrawn following their performance on the news/chat Thames Television's TV program Today with host Bill Grundy. During the program Jones swore at will; the resulting tabloid press over the next four days then had a field day over the incident causing the "moral majority" to once ask "why must we subject our pop kids to this filth", an old refrain that had even grown tired by then. 'EMI' took the safe route and quickly cancelled their business relationship with the band. Forced to legally buy out the remaining contract, they wrote off the sales advance already paid to the act as a bad debt. Grundy wasn't so lucky as the TV incident ended his career. Around the same time Matlock was also sacked for being "too nice", his replacement being the aforementioned Vicious, a man who proved to be a punk anti-hero/caricature who was suitably violent to suit the needs of McLaren.
A six figure sum was the order of the day for their signing to 'A&M' in March 1977 but the marriage was one of the shortest in recording history for protests from other label artists, a broken toilet, inappropriate language and touching of staff, and the antics at the post-signing party proved the case. After only six days, they were labeless again, but managed to keep the loot again! The only recording that managed to get squeezed out in that short time, God Save The Queen (1977), became another infamous single that made it to UK 2 on the same year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee. Of course, this occasion merged with the song's two fingered salute to her Majesty and all she stood for made the act public enemy #1; nonetheless the charts showed its blacked out name at the number 2 position. A famous picture promoting the disc shows Queen Elizabeth II with a safety pin attached to her nose. The original pressing of the record was quickly withdrawn with all remaining units destroyed over the controversy but not all the discs were accounted for and they quickly became a highly sought after collector's item getting prices far above the original 50p price tag. When it was picked up and re-printed by 'Virgin' for a 15,000 pound advance, the only record company that would have anything to do with the act, it's sales continued to quickly outstrip Rod Stewart's latest #1 hit. The track was banned on the radio, however, so when the Queen's entourage took a tour along the Thames, the band hired a boat and float up the Thames river behind her through the center of London and played the track live. Not surprisingly, the stunt ended in chaos with the Police and howls from the "moral majority" awaiting them on shore.
With the success of two more singles, Pretty Vacant and Holidays In The Sun, making top 10 in 1977 their debut album Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols (1977) finally emerged with the band getting a clear #1 UK and a 106 US The album boasted their past hits with new items like Bodies and a kiss-off tribute to their former employer titled simply EMI, helped push it through the cash registers. The album met with its share of controversy, however, as several retailers refused to stock it not to mention the dismissed charges that the word "Bollocks" on the title violated an outdated 1889 British law titled the Indecent Advertisements Act.
Now on the verge of collapse, the Sex Pistols fired the last silver bullets on a chaotic tour of the US that witnessed them taunting the southern Cowboys and cursing at will, not to mention Vicious' even worsening heroin problem. The act deliberately avoided cities like New York that would have been more open to their antics. The train wreck finally came to a halt at the Winterland Ballroom San Francisco with the now famous phrase "Don't you feel you've been cheated?"" quoted by Rotten moments before his final departure from the stage. Lyndon (he now reverted to his natural name) went on to form Public Image Ltd. while the splintered remains of the act jetted off to Rio De Janeiro to record a single with Ronnie Riggs, and the resulting No One Is Innocent (A punk Prayer By Ronnie Biggs) single made top 10 in 1978. Vicious, however, was absent from the recording for he was hold up in a New York hotel with addict girlfriend Nancy Spungeon. Finding time to record a cover version of Paul Anka's My Way would result just prior to his heroin overdose death the following year. But death was the final chapter for recently before he had been released on bail for his charge of the murder of Spungeon.
Sex Pistols fans had one more glimpse of the act in late '79 with the belated release of their historical documentary film The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle and an accompanying soundtrack album, produced shortly after the break up with the remaining members. Although the film had a paper thin story line and featured the glaring absence of Matlock, not to mention its downplay on Rotten's role, it was nonetheless a hilarious look at punk's most infamous band. That same year a posthumous release of a Vicious cover track of Eddie Cochran's C'Mon Everybody made the charts while Virgin continued to flog the Sex Pistol's dead corpse with multitudes of short-live acts and compilations as well as unpublished material like Sid Sings (1979) and Flogging A Dead Horse (1980), many of these attempts involved the members, including the Cook and Jones founded Professionals. The line-up of Rotten, Jones, Cook and Matlock would reform in 1996 to engage on what many considered a new and more blatant commercial attempt at reclaiming their past glory with the Filthy Lucre tour and accompanying live same-titled album, now very much a parody of themselves. The new act would linger on, mostly as a live group, beyond the millennium even appearing at Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition in 2003 for the Grand Ole Fair's 125th anniversary.
February 24, 2006, the Sex Pistols's four original, surviving members and Sid Vicious, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they refused to attend the ceremony, calling the museum "a piss stain".
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|Active Years||1975-1978, 1996-2003, 2002-2008|
|RRCA File Code||UC000320|
Artists mentioned in this article:
|The New York Dolls|