Personalities | The Sex Pistols | Seventies | Rock

Although they existed for just over two years and released only two albums, The Sex Pistols had more impact on the British music scene than any band since the 1960s. To the public they represented the face of punk.

The Sex Pistols came together in London in 1975 under the aegis of Malcolm McLaren (born 22 January 1946) who was running an ‘anti-fashion’ boutique called Sex in Kings Road with his partner, clothes designer Vivienne Westwood. Having unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate the ailing career of US proto-punks the New York Dolls, he turned his attention to a band featuring one of his shop assistants, bassist Glen Matlock (born 27 August 1956), guitarist Steve Jones (born 3 September 1955) and drummer Paul Cook (born 20 July 1956).

Raw, Volatile And Sneering

McLaren introduced them to singer John Lydon (born 31 January 1956) who had no previous experience but his green hair and sneering, cynical attitude was just what McLaren was looking for. He called them The Sex Pistols while the band called Lydon Johnny Rotten. Drawing on their own (and McLaren’s) heroes – The Faces, The Stooges and The Who – The Sex Pistols developed a raw, volatile set, dressed in bondage clothing with safety pins and spikey hair. They attracted a small but dedicated following including the self-styled Bromley Contingent, some of who would later form Siouxsie and The Banshees and Generation X. A Manchester show inspired future members of The Buzzcocks, Joy Division and The Smiths.

In October 1976, The Sex Pistols signed to EMI and released a single ‘Anarchy In The UK’ that barely scraped into the Top 40. The group’s notoriety was assured when they appeared on an early evening TV show presented by Bill Grundy who goaded them into swearing. In the media furore that followed EMI revoked their contract.

Matlock, who had written most of the songs, was fired in March 1977, allegedly because he ‘liked The Beatles’. He was replaced by Sid Vicious (born John Beverly, 1957–79). Later that month the band signed to A&M at a ceremony outside Buckingham Palace but that contract was rescinded within days, allegedly after pressure from the label’s staff and artists.

Vicious And Rotten

In May 1977 The Sex Pistols signed to Virgin and released ‘God Save The Queen’, coinciding with the Silver Jubilee celebrations. It was banned by the BBC and some retailers but still sold a reported 150,000 in the first week. It reached No. 2 in the chart amid a widespread belief that it had been kept from the top.

Airplay restrictions were lifted for ‘Pretty Vacant’, which got to No. 6, but the band had to tour the UK under assumed names to avoid being banned. After another Top 10 single with ‘Holidays In The Sun’ The Sex Pistols released Never Mind The Bollocks (1977), which went straight to No. 1. In Nottingham, a retailer displaying the cover was arrested under the Indecent Advertising Act although magistrates ‘reluctantly’ dismissed...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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