Members: Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, Paul Cook, Sid Vicious, Wally Nightingale, Del Noones, Stephen Hayes, Jim Mackin, Steve New, Nick Kent
Active: 1975-1978, 1996, 2002-present
The Sex Pistols were a shortlived but iconic and highly influential English punk band. While their English contemporaries such as The Clash were perhaps more politically motivated, The Damned more versatile, and Buzzcocks had more astute pop sensibilities, the Pistols achieved more recognition through their iconic punk rock passion and flamboyancy, and no other punk band of the era made such a lasting impression on British popular culture.
On 24 February 2006, the Sex Pistols were officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As expected, they refused to attend the induction
Originally called The Strand (in reference to a song by Roxy Music), the band was formed during 1972 by Paul Cook (drums), Steve Jones (vocals) and Wally Nightingale (guitar). Other early members included Stephen Hayes (bass) and Jim Mackin (organ). In 1973 the band members began to frequent a 1950s-themed clothes shop, Let It Rock, which sold Teddy Boy clothes in the Kings Road, Chelsea area of London. Here they met the shop's manager, Malcolm McLaren. Jones, being aware that McLaren had some connections within the music business, asked if he would be interested in becoming the group's manager, although at the time McLaren declined. Del Noones, who they met at the shop, was recruited to replace Hayes on bass. By 1974, the group called itself The Swankers and played its first gig at a birthday party of a friend of Cook's at Tom Salter's Caf? in London. They also began rehearsing in a studio called the Crunchy Frog, near London's docklands. Noones left the band shortly afterwards because he was becoming unreliable and not turning up at rehearsals
The remaining members recruited bass player Glen Matlock. By early 1975, Jones and Nightingale had begun arguing about what direction the band should take. Nightingale then left the group, and Jones replaced him on guitar. Johnny Rotten, who was another of the clientele of the by-now renamed and restyled SEX boutique, showed up at the shop in August 1975 wearing a homemade 'I Hate Pink Floyd' t-shirt. He was asked to audition by singing along to Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen". He passed.
NME journalist Nick Kent played briefly with the band and introduced the other members to bands such as The Stooges and The Modern Lovers. He left shortly after to pursue his career as a journalist. After Kent's departure, Paul Cook felt that Jones might not be good enough alone on guitar and placed an advertisement for another "Whiz Kid Guitarist". Steve New answered the advert and played with the band for a few weeks, but left because the Pistols decided that they needed only one guitarist McLaren became the new group's manager and was asked to think of a name for the group. Among the list were Le Bomb, Subterraneans, The Damned, Beyond, Teenage Novel and QT Jones and his Sex Pistols ("QT" was taken from the postcode area in which both Mclaren and Jones lived.) QT Jones was dropped shortly afterwards, and the Sex Pistols were born. The name was, no doubt, intended to bring to mind the male sex organ, but McLaren has stated that he wanted the band to be "sexy young assassins" (in later years band members frequently accused McLaren both of cheating them financially, and of claiming credit for things that were not his idea as well as falsifying the bands' history). Under McLaren's guidance, the band were initially influenced in part by the New York Dolls and the Ramones. McLaren had given guitarist Jones the Les Paul guitar used by NY Doll Sylvain Sylvain, and the torn-shirt, spiked-hair look of Richard Hell, then bass player for Television. All of these figures were pioneers of the New York City punk, and later New Wave music, scene. Rotten and his circle of friends (coincidentally all also called John) walked into the arrangement already possessed of a similar style - a grungey version of the 'soul boy' fashion affected by fans of Roxy Music. McLaren also claimed that he wanted the Sex Pistols to be "the new Bay City Rollers".
The band played their first gig under their new name at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, where they were shut down before finishing their first song, on 6 November 1975. It was arranged by Matlock as he had been made by default this college's social event organiser as he was studying there at the time. The other band playing was called Bazooka Joe, whose bass player was Stuart Goddard, later known as Adam Ant. This gig would be followed by other performances at colleges and art schools for the remainder of 1975 until early 1976, when they started playing at clubs (like the 100 Club) and pubs (like The Nashville). On 3 September 1976, they played their first concert outside of Britain, when they played at the opening of the Club De Chalet Du Lac in Paris. After that they went on their first major tour of Britain, lasting from mid-September to early October (and including a performance at Chelmsford Prison), which got them noticed by EMI.
EMI AND THE GRUNDY INCIDENT
Following a showcase gig as part of London's first punk festival at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, the band was signed (for a large advance) to the major label EMI. The Sex Pistols' first single, "Anarchy in the U.K.", released on 26 November 1976, served as a statement of intent -- full of wit, anger and visceral energy. Despite a common misconception that punk bands 'couldn't play', the evidence of live recordings of the time reveal the Pistols to be a tight, competent and ferocious live band.
However, it was the band's behavior which created their first national exposure: on 1 December 1976, the group and their close circle of followers, the Bromley Contingent, created a storm of publicity in the UK when, goaded by interviewer Bill Grundy, Johnny Rotten used the word "shit" and guitarist Steve Jones called Grundy a "fucking rotter" on Thames Television's live early evening television programme Today after he had made a rather inept attempt at 'chatting up' Siouxsie Sioux. Although the programme was only seen in the London ITV region (and although Matlock had, aparently unnoticed by Grundy, been the first to utter the word 'fuck'), the ensuing furor occupied the tabloid newspapers for days afterwards. The Daily Mirror famously ran the headline "The Filth and the Fury", while the Daily Express went with "Punk? Call it Filthy Lucre" -- both titles adopted by Lydon's sense of irony for Pistols' projects many years later (a film, and a tour, respectively). Grundy was suspended for two weeks and the Today programme was cancelled two months later.
The shambolic 'Anarchy Tour' of the UK followed, with the majority of the concerts dogged by a hostile press and cancelled by local authorities, and many of the rest ending in states of semi-riot.
SID VICIOUS JOINS THE BAND
After the end of the 'Anarchy Tour' in December 1976, EMI decided it was too dangerous for the Sex Pistols to be in the UK, so they got the band some gigs at the Paradiso in Amsterdam in early January 1977. After getting some bad publicity at Heathrow Airport on their return, EMI finally had enough and dumped the band on 27 January 1977. The Paradiso gigs would be the last with Glen Matlock on bass, as in February, Matlock parted company with the band. According to legend he was sacked because he "liked The Beatles" - but Steve Jones later claimed the reason was that Glen (being of a different upbringing) had never really been "one of them", and that he was "always washing himself", besides. Matlock himself now claims to have quit voluntarily (probably due to increasingly acrimonious clashes with Rotten, with whom he'd never been particularly comfortable). This latter story seems most likely (and is seemingly endorsed by Lydon, as well, in his statements in a later film). He was quickly replaced by Rotten's friend and "ultimate Sex Pistols fan" Sid Vicious (real name John Simon Ritchie) of The Flowers of Romance, famously endorsed as a member by McLaren for his looks and "punk attitude" despite his very limited musical abilities. According to Jon Savage at live performances his amplifier was often turned down or off, and most of the bass parts on the band's later recordings were actually played by guitarist Steve Jones or Matlock, who according to Lydon, had been drafted in as a session musician. Vicious made his debut with the Pistols at the Screen On The Green in London on 3 April 1977, footage of which appears in Don Letts' film The Punk Rock Movie.
GOD SAVES THE QUEEN
The band signed to A&M Records on 10 March, in a ceremony outside of Buckingham Palace. They later went back to the A&M offices for a party, at which the Sex Pistols' unruly behaviour included Jones and Cook chatting up all the secretaries, and Vicious trashing the Managing Director's office whilst vomiting on his desk (according to Lydon, Sid had somehow injured his foot and was "bleeding all over the place", as well). As a result, A&M dumped the Pistols within a week (on 16 March). On 12 May, the Pistols signed their third and final record deal with Virgin Records, with the promise of total artistic control.
The group's second single, released by Virgin on 27 May 1977 was "God Save the Queen", a stinging attack on the ideals and institutions of Britain, delivered in Johnny's trademark sneer. The song is summarized in the line "There is no future ... in England's dreaming," which became a de facto position statement for British punk. The song was widely perceived as a personal attack on Her Majesty, and seemed to be personally offensive to most of his countrymen. Rotten however stated that the song was not specifically aimed at the Queen's person at all ("God save the queen/We mean it man!"), but was written to attack the 'old order' of British Society. Coming at a time when deference to royalty was still a predominant trait in both the establishment and the country as a whole, it caused tremendous public outcry, and the record was quickly banned from airplay by the staid BBC, whose Radio 1 dominated music broadcasting at the time. As Rotten later remarked, "We had declared war on the entire country -- without meaning to!"
Nevertheless, in the week of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee, the record officially reached number two in some UK charts. However, the number one spot was, tellingly, left blank in some listings. Many believe, with evidence, that the record actually reached number one, but the charts had been rigged to prevent such a spectacle. At least one radio station announced the song as number one, but stated that they would not play the record, as they had been advised it might cause unrest, especially during the national celebrations.
Meanwhile, the Pistols themselves decided to mark the Jubilee, along with the success of their record, by chartering a party boat, upon which they sailed down the Thames, past Westminster and the Houses of Parliament, performing their live set (which was, of course, intended to include God Save the Queen). As usual, the event ended in chaos; the boat was raided by the police, despite being licensed for live music, and McLaren, the Pistols and most of their entourage were taken into custody. It was arguably all good fun and a great publicity stunt, but matters took a distinctly uglier turn when young punk followers of the Sex Pistols became victims of physical attacks in the street by 'pro-royalists', and Rotten himself was assaulted by a razor-wielding gang of 'Teddy Boys' outside the Pegasus pub (which was a music venue at the time) close to Newington Green, Islington, who, it seems, didn't see the humour of the Pistols' antics. This delayed the tour of Scandinavia by a couple of weeks, which would have started at the end of June, but because of the attacks, it started in mid-July. This was followed by a secret tour of the UK at the end of August (known as SPOTS, Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly), with the band playing under pseudonyms to avoid cancellation.
NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCK
The promise of the band's early singles was eventually fulfilled by the group's first album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, released on 28 October 1977. The album included singles "Pretty Vacant" (released on 2 July 1977), an ode to apathy, and "Holidays in the Sun" (released on 15 October 1977) - Bruce Foxton, bass player for The Jam and Stiff Little Fingers later alleged in a 1990s book that the riff had been stolen from the Jam's "In the City" single.
Again the Sex Pistols faced controversy when a record shop in Nottingham was threatened with prosecution for displaying the album's 'obscene' cover, although the case was overturned when defending QC John Mortimer produced expert witnesses, including Professor James Kinsley, a professor of linguistics at the University of Nottingham, who were able to demonstrate that the word "bollocks" was a legitimate Old English term originally used to refer to a priest, and that although the word is also slang for the testicles, in this context it meant 'nonsense'.
LAST UK GIG
The Sex Pistols' final UK performance was at Ivanhoe's in Huddersfield on Christmas Day 1977, a benefit for the families of striking firemen. Despite the band's state of disintegration by this time, the gig was considered by some as a vindication of their anti-establishment stance when they were, for once, united with what might be viewed as their true constituency, the dispossessed British working class. They played two shows, a matinee and an evening show. Tickets for the latter were furtively sold for a secret venue, announced shortly before the gig as a tactic to avoid the attentions of local councillors and the like, who had cancelled many of the Pistols' other shows. Those waiting outside for the second show were given turkey sandwiches from the remains of the meal laid on for the strikers' families. The atmosphere in the evening show was counter to the negative publicity that had been generated towards the band by the tabloid press; before the show, Johnny Rotten mingled with the crowd wearing his pith helmet, and the good humour of the matinee (which was a benefit played for free) lingered on. Years later the promoter of the evening show confessed that the Pistols never cashed his cheque.
THE END OF THE BAND
Early in 1978 an American tour was booked by McLaren. Originally they were scheduled to begin the tour in December 1977, beginning with a performance on Saturday Night Live, but due to the members' minor scrapes with the law, they were unable to receive passports in time. (Elvis Costello and the Attractions went on instead). The two-week American jaunt was an exhausting, badly-planned, dispiriting experience for all concerned (Vicious was beaten by the bodyguards hired to protect him, Rotten had a fierce head cold, and the band's performances were plagued by bad sound and physically hostile audiences, mainly at unlikely venues in the South), and on the final date at Winterland in San Francisco on 14 January, the disillusioned Rotten quit, famously asking "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" from the stage before walking off.
On 17 January 1978, Rotten announced the break-up of the Sex Pistols. He later claimed to have been bluffing, but McLaren, Cook and Jones left for a working vacation in Brazil, and Vicious left for New York, leaving Rotten stranded without airfare in America. Warner Bros. paid his passage back to London, courting him as a solo artist.
McLaren had been attempting to make a film featuring the Sex Pistols and in 1977 had hired director Russ Meyer to make such a film. The film, titled Who Killed Bambi? was scripted by McLaren and Roger Ebert but only a day and a half's worth of shooting was ever achieved.The next
attempt was in the summer of 1978, Cook and Jones helped McLaren make The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle which was directed by Julien Temple. The movie was McLaren's fictionalised account on the band's history, claiming he controlled and manipulated the band from start to finish. The soundtrack had Jones, occasionally Cook or Vicious, and sometimes Edward Tudor-Pole, trading on their vocals and engaging in McLaren-concocted gimmicks -- such as recording two songs on the album with notorious British criminal Ronnie Biggs.
POST SEX PISTOLS
After leaving the Pistols, Johnny Rotten reverted to his given name of John Lydon, and formed Public Image Ltd. with his old friend Jah Wobble (born John Wardle), a previous contender to replace Matlock. This group was signed by Virgin and Warner Brothers (in the UK and US respectively). Vicious meanwhile relocated to New York and continued to gig as a solo performer, recording an album that many consider substandard. He was shortly afterwards arrested on 12 October 1978 for the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, in New York City and died of a heroin overdose on 2 February 1979, before his trial. It was revealed in Sid's suicide note that he and Nancy had had a death pact, that she had killed herself and he must uphold his end of the bargain.
A fictionalised account of Vicious's relationship with Spungen was later recounted in the 1986 film Sid and Nancy (dir. Alex Cox). Lydon has publicly dismissed this film, stating that it has little to do with the reality of what actually happened.
Cook and Jones continued to work as something of an 'instant band,' doing many dates as session musicians, and later forming The Professionals, whose records are in a strong continuum with the duo's post-Rotten 'Pistols recordings. Glen Matlock was involved in various projects, the most noteworthy being The Rich Kids, which featured Midge Ure, later of Ultravox, on vocals. Malcolm McLaren went on to manage Adam & the Ants and Bow Wow Wow, and later scored a number of hits as a solo artist. Paul Cook is currently playing in the band Man-Raze.
In 1987 Lydon took McLaren to court in order to gain control of the Sex Pistols copyright and to sue him for "all the criminal activities that took place". After a long drawn out case Lydon won and set up Sex Pistols Residuals (a company t/a for Rotten, Jones, Cook, Matlock, and the estate of Sid Vicious) which gained complete ownership of all the band's master recordings; all the copyrights to the music publishing of the songs; and ownership of all film footage and the name Sex Pistols. This made the documentary The Filth and the Fury possible and the film was released in 2000. The film, directed by Julien Temple, was an attempt by the band to tell the story of the Sex Pistols from their point of view.
The surviving members of the Sex Pistols reunited for the six month 'Filthy Lucre World Tour' in 1996 including a headlining slot at that years Phoenix Festival, two gigs (one at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in England, 'Pistols at the Palace', and one in the US) in 2002, and the three week 'Piss Off Tour' in North America in 2003. They are also planning to do a concert in Iraq and a Japanese tour in the near future.
In November 2005, it was announced that they would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an honour that the surviving members turned down with an "obscene gesture" and a comment to the Hall of Fame to "kiss this". On March 9, 2006 the band sold the rights to their music to Universal Music Group. The sale was criticised as a "sell out.
1977 - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols
1979 - The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle
1979 - Some Product: Carri on Sex Pistols
1980 - Flogging a Dead Horse (compilation)
1992 - Kiss This: The Best Of
1996 - Filthy Lucre Live
2002 - Jubilee: The Best Of
2002 - Sex Pistols Box Set
2004 - Raw and Live