When music, fashion, art and attitude collided head-on in London in late 1975 the Sex Pistols were the outcome; some have suggested it was inevitable. Managed by Malcolm McLaren – who with his girlfriend and business partner ran SEX – a fashion shop in the Kings Road, the Pistols were for them, at least initially, little more than a marketing tool. They had originally been called The Strand, and soon after becoming the Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten – who had been nicknamed as such by the band – and bass player Glen Matlock wrote Pretty Vacant. It was soon after that they played their first gig, in November 1975, at Saint Martin’s College, where they supported Bazooka Joe (named after a popular bubblegum) – a band that featured Stuart Goddard, who later found fame as Adam Ant.
With stage gear supplied by SEX, they were soon regulars on the London scene, helped in no small part by Jamie Read, an artist friend of McLaren’s who created the band’s iconic logo, posters and punk art that still resonates today. After a February 1976 gig supporting Eddie and the Hot Rods at the Marquee Club in London’s Soho a New Musical Express review quoted guitarist Steve Jones as saying, “Actually we’re not into music. We’re into chaos.” More gigs around London seemed to prove the point, culminating in a residency at London’s 100 Club from May.
In July The Damned supported the Sex Pistols and later in the month, the Pistols recorded a number of demos including Anarchy in the U.K. By September they played Europe before returning to London to play at the 100 Club’s ‘festival’ of Punk. The following month EMI signed the band and after some less than successful sessions Chris Thomas, who had mixed Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, was brought in to produce the first single. Anarchy in the U.K is a blatant mixing of pop and politics and it caused waves, not least from the iconic ripped Union Jack poster that was used to promote it. It was during the promotion of the single that their infamous TV appearance took place. It was Steve jones that got into the row with presenter Bill Grundy, not Johnny Rotten as many now think. According to record plugger and music industry legend, Eric Hall, the only reason that the Sex Pistols were on the show was because they were a late substitution for Queen whose singer, Freddie Mercury had a dentist’s appointment.
After a riotous tour of Holland, EMI released the band from their contract, which was followed by Glen Matlock leaving the band; he went on to form Rich Kids with Midge Ure, later of Ultravox. He was replaced by the man who invented pogo dancing, John Simon Ritchie, known to the world as Sid Vicious. In March the Pistols signed to A&M Records and in a cunningly conceived PR stunt outside Buckingham Palace; cunning because their new single was to be God Save the Queen, they created yet more headlines. However within weeks, and despite ten’s of thousands of copies of the record already pressed, A&M dropped them following a fracas at the label’s office. A week or so later Vicious made his live debut with the band and two months later they signed their third contract, this time with Virgin. God Save the Queen came out a few weeks later when it rocketed to No.2 on the UK charts.
A series of singles through the rest of 1977 and into 1978 all made the Top 10 in Britain which all helped Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols make the top of the album chart for two weeks in November, only to be replaced by The Sound of Bread. . .the ironies of pop!
The Sex Pistols’ US tour in January 1978 ended in complete shambles with fighting and drugs accompanied by just about every other rock ‘n’ roll excess. Three days after the last gig in San Francisco, the band broke up. Johnny Rotten once more became Lydon and formed PIL and Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose in February 1979, not long after his girlfriend had been stabbed to death. Two weeks later The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, an album soundtrack to their unreleased movie came out and made the top 10.
Having first offered hope to a generation that was feeling pretty hopeless, the Sex Pistols ultimately met a tragic end but they also inspired many others in the belief that anyone can make it. They were, and are, for many the quintessential rock band, but that really does depend on when you were born.
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.