Sex Pistols: biography
“The Sex Pistols left behind more history than music”, the critic Greil Marcus wrote about The Sex Pistols and their influence on the global culture. The British punk group existed for three years, recorded one album with a mediocre vocal, and determined the development of music for several decades.
Their lyrics, aggressive tunes, flashy manners, and scandalous behavior expressed the protest that had been growing ripe among the non-establishment circles. The Sex Pistols’ radicalism was more social than purely cultural and made the band famous all over the world despite the modest legacy.
The history of the group. The group members
The famous London store Let It Rock can tell the history of Sex Pistols. The fashion designer Malcolm McLaren and his colleague Vivienne Westwood opened it in 1971 and expressed the protest against capitalist ideas by teddy boy clothes; this subculture stood against the traditional society.
A couple of years later, the designers changed the collection for rockers; the legendary slogan “Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die” appeared. The renewed boutique transformed into the place for the non-mainstream youth.
The beginning musicians Steve Jones and Paul Cook frequented it. The young men had already had their own group, The Strand, along with their school friend Wally Nightingale. The group did not achieve much success during their first year. In 1974, Jones began to promote The Strand, and McLaren’s shop was the place where the target audience was hanging out. Thus, he asked the store owner to collaborate.
McLaren saw the opportunity to fulfill his urge for provocations and became the group’s manager; The Strand was renamed into Sex Pistols soon.
The bass guitar player Glen Matlock joined the group with the designer’s assistance. The young man worked part-time in his store and received his music education at Saint Martin’s School of Art.
McLaren spent the winter in the United States and then returned to his home country, inspired by the collaboration with New York Dolls. He decided to become something equally provoking in the U.K., and The Strand gave a nice ground for experiments.
McLaren initiated Nightingale’s leaving and persuaded Jones to play the guitar; he started searching for a vocalist. The designer rejected many candidates and finally invited a 19-year-old passer-by to the auditions. The young man’s look attracted him: a ragged T-shirt with the words “I hate Pink Floyd”, green brushed-up hair, and mad eyes. His name was John Lydon.
The candidate sang with a record of Alice Cooper’s song. Although the newbie was out of tune often, he was accepted. Thus, Johnny Rotten joined the group. His stage name came from the nickname that Steve gave to Lydon because of his bad teeth.
The legendary name dates back to fall 1975 when McLaren’s boutique was renamed into SEX and specialized on fetish fashion products. As the manager said in his further interviews, he wanted the group’s name to express both danger and attractiveness. The first concert took place on November 6 at St. Martin’s College. This day marks the band’s official biography.
In a year and a half, the group earned its popularity in Great Britain and beyond. The bassist and the creator of ten out of 12 songs from the first album Glen Matlock left. As McLaren announced, he got rid of the musician because Matlock was a fan of The Beatles; the bassist insisted that he quitted as he wished. According to Julien Temple’s documentary The Filth and the Fury (2000), the tense relationship between Matlock and Rotten caused it.
Soon, Rotten brought his art college friend Sid Vicious to the group; his real name was John Simon Ritchie. By that moment, Vicious was familiar with the group members: they had met at McLaren’s store. Vivienne Westwood wanted him to be the vocalist instead of Rotten.
In March 1977, Sid started the rehearsals with the group. The Sex Pistols members were disappointed: the newbie’s music skills were poor. However, his behavior, provocative looks, and hooligan manners perfectly fitted the group’s image. McLaren decided to have the musician in the band, but Vicious did not participate much in the album’s recording.
In 1978, the group had a tour in the USA and split up. Later, the band (Paul Cook, Steve Jones, and Johnny Rotten) reunited several times and gave large shows and tours.
By the first concert at Matlock’s college, the group had nothing but themselves. They borrowed the musical instruments from the rock group they opened the show for and played rock’n’roll covers on the recent songs. In fact, they performed only three: as the instrument owners saw how the insane band treated them, they switched off electricity to interrupt the chaos.
Sex Pistols were furious, but they had to obey. The next few days, the group gave five more concerts in London schools.
The song “Pretty Vacant” was the first own work; promotion materials were distributed. In 1976, Sex Pistols began to play in clubs; 100 Club was the major ground. Thanks to the musicians, the number of visitors increased from 50-60 guests to 600-700. Sex Pistols did not have TV and radio rotations, yet they quickly earned their underground popularity.
Journalists took an interest in the punk rockers. In summer 1976, one of the British channels broadcast the group’s show with the legendary “Anarchy in the U.K.”. The daring lyrics, eccentric singing manners, and provocative looks attracted the media’s attention; critics wrote about them, and other musicians were inspired by Sex Pistols. In a while, the team performed in Paris and participated in the first punk festival organized by 100 Club.
Recording companies noticed the promising artists. On October 8, in the morning, a representative of EMI Records met McLaren; the contract was signed in the evening of the same day. A month and a half later, Sex Pistols released the single “Anarchy in the U.K.” that debuted from the 38th position in the British music chart. Thus, people far from the underground got acquainted with the group’s art.
The British government treated the song as an extremist work and banned it from airing. As EMI Records faced the social resentment, it stopped producing new copies; the single disappeared from the chart.
The rockers finished the stormy year with the stormy TV appearance. They were invited to Bill Grundy’s show; the first minutes brought the conflict between the host and the musicians. The artists did not hesitate to use swear words while Grundy insulted them and their fans. Eventually, the TV presenter was fired, and Sex Pistols’ concerts of the upcoming tour were canceled. 24 cities expected to hold the shows, but only seven did. It was more than enough for the anarchists’ image.
At the end of January 1977, EMI Records received complaints from hotels: the musicians destroyed their property. The company canceled the contract. McLaren managed to attract A&M Records and sign a new agreement, but one visit of the group was enough for the Americans: they changed their mind and decided not to collaborate with Sex Pistols.
Virgin Records that belonged to the famous British entrepreneur Richard Branson helped the musicians present the single “God Save the Queen”. When the workers of the company saw the album’s cover – the queen with her lips pinned – they refused to work. Only long negotiations changed the situation.
The song was one of the most inappropriate ones in the history of British music. BBC refused to broadcast it because of censorship; private radio channels did not include it into their playlists as well. The single topped the sales but remained the second song in the national chart for ethical purposes.
In November 1977, Sex Pistols had their only album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols released. It became platinum in the USA and Great Britain; the Netherlands gave it the golden status.
In December, the musicians held the concerts supporting the album; they went to America at the beginning of the next year. Because of the bad organization, the shows did not have many audiences and failed. At the beginning of 1978, the group split up.
In 1996, Rotten, Jones, and Cook had a big tour that lasted for six months. In the 2000s, they also participated in several shows; the last one took place in 2008.
There have been no more talks about the group’s reunion.
Malcolm McLaren died in 2010.
Glen Matlock collaborates with the group The Faces.
John Lydon lives with his wife in California; he used to work on television and presented a book of poems in 2017. He voiced the villain character in the animated movie Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; John Cena and Lena Headey also took part in the project.
Paul Cook is a member of the group Man-Raze.
Steve Jones presented his autobiography Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol in 2016.
- 1977 – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols