Sex Pistols Images, Pictures, Photos:
Genre: Punk, Alternative/Punk, Old-School Punk
Original Members: Steve Jones (guitar), Paul Cook (drums), Glen Matlock (bass) and Johnny Rotten (John Lydon, vocals)
Sex Pistol's career was extremely short-lived (lasting from November 1976 to January 1978), their impact on rock 'n' roll - and popular culture as a whole - is absolutely immeasurable. By now the story of their birth is legend. Manager Malcolm McLaren owned a small boutique, original bassist Glenn Matlock (later replaced by Sid Vicious) was an employee. Guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and vocalist Johnny Rotten were regulars. Soon the simple coupling of Jones' aggressive guitar work and Rotten's total irreverence for authority had galvanized a growing legion of disgruntled, lower class youth and earned them an official ban across their home country. More than that (and at risk of aligning them with Situationism, Marcus-style), the Pistols were an assault on the norm by its outcasts, a powerful force that made kids around the world (and, paradoxically, the corporate music establishment) feel OK about rebellion. They may not have invented Punk rock, nor operated on the principles that would later define it, but there wouldn't have been a Punk rock movement without them.
Managed by Malcolm McLaren, owner of London boutique SEX (and briefly manager of The New York Dolls), the Pistols were formed in 1975 by shop assistant Glen Matlock and itinerant shoplifters Paul Cook and Steve Jones. Originally calling themselves The Swankers, they were soon renamed the Sex Pistols. A fan of the French Situationist art terrorists of 1968, McLaren wanted to insert a similarly provocative, anarchic presence into the cosy pipe-and-slippers world of rock music, which was then dominated by the hippy leftovers of British prog rock and American country-rock. To achieve the desired high-profile reaction, he knew he needed somebody quite extraordinary to front the band.
The search was concluded when McLaren's assistant (and future Clash manager) Bernie Rhodes spotted a green-haired Johnny Rotten (né Lydon) wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt emblazoned with the legend "I Hate", and invited him along to audition for the band.
In the Roebuck pub near Malcolm's Kings Road shop, Lydon belted out a deliberately ridiculous version of Alice Cooper's "Eighteen", and an impressed McLaren invited him along to a rehearsal the following week at a Rotherhithe pub called The Crunchy Frog. The other band members, however, had taken an instant dislike to Lydon and, when he arrived to find they hadn't bothered turning up, he called McLaren and told him to "Fuck off!" It was hardly the most auspicious of beginnings, but somehow the band gelled into Malcolm's dream of the most stroppy, subversive and downright obnoxious rock band of all time. Rotten soon confirmed Malcolm's faith in him, bringing to the group an idiosyncratic sense of style and a quick-witted, vituperative personality that would make the Pistols a phenomenon rather than just a band.
Already equipped with top-range musical equipment courtesy of Cook and Jones's light fingers, the Pistols began playing London art colleges, and by early 1976 their rough rock sound and abrasive attitude was attracting a small but fervent following of exhibitionist misfits, the seeds of a scene in the making.
Centre stage at all times was Rotten. With few role models, he presented a persona of nihilistic, amphetamine-fuelled contempt that proved utterly compelling, with a vocal style best described as a ferocious sneer – not conventional star qualities, but ones destined to make himthedefinitive icon of punk rock. The on-stage anger transferred itself to the audience, and before long Sex Pistols gigs became marked by a pervasive undertow of violence – some caused by the band, some by those they'd succeeded in provoking. They were soon banned from London clubs such as Dingwalls and The Rock Garden, circumventing the ban by putting on their own gigs at unorthodox venues like Islington's Screen on the Green cinema, and even doing an inmates-only show for prisoners at Chelmsford Prison.
After headlining the 100 Club Punk Festival in September 1976, the band were signed to EMI a month later for a £40,000 advance. After the Grundy incident that December, their infamy was assured – as, too, was the inevitable backlash that followed. The Anarchy Tour – on which they were supported by The Clash, The Damned and the Heartbreakers – was all but wrecked by widespread cancellations, as their debut single "Anarchy In The UK" survived radio and retail blacklisting to reach #38 in the UK charts by the year's end.
After releasing one album in 1977, the band headed over to the U.S. for a tour in January of 1978; it lasted 14 days. Rotten left the band after their show at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom on January 14, heading back to New York; he would form Public Image Limited later that year. McLaren tried to continue the band but Cook and Jones soon turned against him. In the two decades following the Sex Pistols' implosion, an endless stream of outtakes, demos, repackagings, and live shows were released on a variety of labels, which only helped their cult grow.
In 1996, to celebrate their impending twentieth anniversary, the Sex Pistols reunited, with original bassist Glen Matlock taking the place of the deceased Sid Vicious. The band embarked on an international tour in June of 1996, releasing the Filthy Lucre Live album the following month. Four years later, Julien Temple (who helmed the band's first movie, The Great Rock & Roll Swindle) directed the documentary film The Filth & the Fury.
Rock bands with real cultural significance are extremely rare, but the Sex Pistols were the genuine article. All aspects of youth culture, from music and manners to fashion and graphic design, were irrevocably altered in their wake. What's all the more remarkable is that, in the pre-promo video era, fewer people saw their original incarnation than might watch Travis play one medium-sized stadium today. The UK music scene, reflecting the national mood of the time, was stagnant and hidebound, crying out for a dose of something new, and the Sex Pistols duly obliged, re-establishing the moral panic that had once made pop so exciting to kids and alarming to their parents.
The original band reformed for a tour in 1996 and it was documented in another Julien Temple's film, The Filth And The Fury. They reunited again in 2002 and the reissued "God Save The Queen" went to UK #15.