Some pioneering punk rock in my B100 favourite tunes list now, as the Sex Pistols deliver “Anarchy In The UK”.
Perhaps one of the most influential singles of all time – and a song that still sounds snarlingly exciting even for those of us too young to remember its initial release and resulting furore. For a band that only released one proper album (and four accompanying singles), the wonderfully derivatively innovative Sex Pistols are still viewed as the standard bearer for gleefully controversial rock statements. Although their other singles run it close, debut “Anarchy In The UK” stands out as my favourite Pistols tune: a raucous declaration of intent from the get go as its ferocious guitar line and drum rolls give way to Johnny Rotten’s sneering “…right now…” intro before the iconic “I am an anti-Christ, I am an anar-chist” opening couplet unleashes the swaggering beast that is “Anarchy In The UK”.
Sex Pistols were originally signed by EMI on 8th October 1976, with “Anarchy In The UK” released the next month, on 26th November 1976. However, the single stalled at number 38 in the UK charts after the infamous Bill Grundy TV incident of 1st December 1976. Making front page news and proving that any publicity isn’t necessarily always good publicity, this sweary encounter lead to many mainstream music stores delisting the record and packers at the EMI plant refusing to handle the single; such factors obviously not helping sales, at least not in the short term.
Growing controversy meant that the Pistols parted ways with EMI in January 1977, signing with A&M Records on 10th March 1977 for all of six days before then moving again, this time to Virgin Records in May 1977. Three more classic singles which were all UK top 10 hits soon followed – “God Save The Queen”, “Pretty Vacant” and “Holidays In The Sun” – before debut album “Never Mind The Bollocks…” was released on 28th October 1977. However, Johnny Rotten quit the band after a disastrous US tour in early 1978 after an ill-starred performance at the San Francisco Winterland Ballroom, infamously asking the audience as he left the stage: “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
Some ill-fated and frankly preposterous recordings with the three remaining Pistols at this stage (Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Sid Vicious) followed, with the single “No One Is Innocent” notoriously featuring ex train robber Ronnie Biggs as a vocalist. After having been charged in New York with the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen in October 1978, Sid Vicious’ truly murky death from a heroin overdose on 1st February 1979 fully derailed any more potential exploitation of the Sex Pistols “brand” by Machiavellian manager Malcom McLaren, apart from the belated release of 1980’s “The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle” film. “…Swindle” director Julien Temple would later revisit the Pistols with 2000’s more traditional (and to my mind, far more watchable) documentary “The Filth And The Fury”.
But the Sex Pistols story didn’t end there – as to general astonishment, the original four Sex Pistols reformed in 1996 for the “Filthy Lucre” tour. This included a Finsbury Park show during Euro 96 when the Pistols were introduced on stage by Stuart Pearce (famously a big punk fan) as well as the less likely figure of Gareth Southgate, three days before missing that vital penalty in the semi-final shootout. I caught them live the following month at the Phoenix Festival on 21st July and wasn’t expecting a great deal, but Johnny Rotten remained an energetically charismatic frontman and it was certainly a lot of fun to actually encounter the Pistols playing the classics, especially without the pressure of having specifically gone to just see them. A couple more subsequent tours followed but I had no desire at all to see the Pistols again – fair play to them for wanting to make some cash from their legacy, but far better to mainly remember Sex Pistols as swaggering young guns, rather than hoary older howitzers.
VIDEOS AND OTHER STUFF
- Other great Sex Pistols songs include: Pretty Vacant, God Save The Queen, Holidays In The Sun, Bodies.
- Recommended reading: “England’s Dreaming” by Jon Savage is the definitive biography on Sex Pistols (and punk rock in general): a fantastic read.
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