An infamous, seminal British punk band that almost single-handedly saved the world from lame 70s power ballads with a single album. You might argue that the regular crew at CBGB's would have risen to the occasion had the Sex Pistols never existed (and pretty much did anyway), but if you do argue that, I'll cover my ears with my hands and shout 'LALALALALALALALALA!!!!!!!' The best thing about the band is that they have enough stories to fill ten seasons of VH-1's 'Behind the Music'.
The band germinated in 1972 when childhood friends Steve Jones and Paul Cook started hanging out at a clothing store on the King's Road run by Malcolm McLaren. The two boys had formed a band called The Strand with another friend named Warwick Nightingale, using equipment Jones had stolen off the touring trucks of other bands. McLaren found a place for the group to practice, and even recruited one of his part-time workers, Glen Matlock to play bass. A major setback in the group was that none of the members were any good at singing. During the search for a singer, Nightingale left, and McLaren changed the nature of his store from clothing to fetish wear. This attracted John Lydon, a green-haired teenager whose foul teeth soon earned him the name Johnny Rotten from Jones.
Lydon was never completely sane. At the age of 7, he had contracted meningitis, which had essentially wiped his brain and forced him to start his life over again. McLaren asked Lydon to sing along with Alice Cooper on his shop's jukebox, and Lydon's interperetation quickly won him a place in the band. Borrowing a line from one of the T-shirts he sold, McLaren renamed his new band The Sex Pistols.
McLaren claims (but one should never take any of his claims at face value) that he had intended the band to compete with the likes of contemporary vanilla boy bands such as the Bay City Rollers. Most of their early work was covers of stuff by 60s bands like The Small Faces, but Lydon's frequently filthy improvisations of the songs, and the band's lack of talent, tended to give them an unsettling edge. At the band's first gig as an opening act for Bazooka Joe (with Adam Ant) in 1975, the plug was quickly pulled on the group.
Despite the rocky start, the Pistols got other gigs, and slowly began to build a devoted following, which tended to get violent during the band's acts. In September of 1976, they headlined with Siouxsie and the Banshees at a punk festival at London's 100 Club, which was attended by A&R guys from EMI. In early October, they signed with EMI and recorded their debut single 'Anarchy in the UK'.
The group might have faded into obscurity at this point had they not been brought in as last-minute replacements for Queen on Thames TV's Today Programme on December 1, 1976. The group showed up five minutes before the show went live, piss drunk and with several groupies in tow, including Siouxsie Sioux. No one was sure who was in the band, so the whole crowd was put out onto the set in front of Bill Grundy, the show's host. In a live interview, Grundy tried to humiliate his guests by provoking them to say something outrageous on the air. Jones happily complied with a drunken string of obscenities, after Grundy tried to "chat up" Siouxsie (she was 19 at the time; he was 57), as the rest of the band pawed up the groupies. The result? Front-page screamer headlines in every tabloid in the UK. The Sex Pistols became a household word in England. Unfortunately, many gigs were also cancelled, and EMI was prompted to drop them.
In early 1977, Glen Matlock left the group, due to his mutual disgust with Lydon. He was quickly replaced by John Ritchie, AKA Sid Vicious, an old roommate of Lydon's who had never played bass before, and who never really learned afterwards. In March, the band was picked up by A&M Records, and signed their new contract outside Buckingham Palace in recognition of their first single to be recorded with the label, 'God Save the Queen'. However, they never recorded it for A&M. Before the ink was even dry, the group had trashed the lobby of the recording company and was kicked off the label. They went to Virgin Records in May to make their final record deal, and released God Save the Queen, the band's tribute to Queen Elizabeth II during her Jubilee year. It was, of course, promptly banned; unlike the usual jingoistic fare presented by everyone else, the Pistols' song accused the British government of trying to brainwash the populace, and predicted 'No Future' for the country. To drive their point home, they chartered a boat on the Thames and played their song at top volume on the river until they were forced ashore and arrested by the police.
The Pistols released two more singles, "Pretty Vacant" and "Holidays in the Sun," before releasing their one and only album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, in November of 1977, which quickly shot to number 1 on the charts, despite the fact that many stores refused to carry the album, and the name itself had been censored from the billboard listings; at position number 1, there was simply a blank space.
The pressure was definitely on the band at this point, and they had to schedule a secret tour around England to get around many of the bans that had been placed on the group. They tried an American tour, but that was also disastrous. On the theory that they didn't want to preach to the converted, the Pistols took their cross-country tour through the deep South, at one point playing a double-ticket with Merle Haggard. In 1978, when they finally got to Winterland in San Francisco, they played their usual full set, then an encore: a cover of Iggy and the Stooges' "No Fun". Then Lydon snarled "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" and announced that the Pistols had played their last venue.
This was for several very good reasons: Sid had acquired a nasty heroin addiction from his skank girlfriend Nancy Spungen, an ex-hooker who used to be a groupie for the New York Dolls. Lydon stayed by Sid and tried to support him, but the two were getting distanced from Jones and Cook, who had never really liked the newcomer Lydon, and who had hated Sid. And their manager McLaren wasn't paying them their fair share, or even returning their calls. Later, McLaren admitted that he never really had control of the group.
After the Pistols split up, Jones and Cook continued to record songs with McLaren, including some original music for The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, McLaren's own surrealistic and largely false take on the life of the Pistols. They did some recording with other musicians and eventually became session artists. Sid Vicious recorded a cover of Paul Anka's "My Way" in 1978, then stabbed Nancy and died of a heroin overdose in 1979 while awaiting trial for the murder in New York. Lydon went on to form the forgettable band Public Image Limited, and had limited success.
In 1996, Jones, Cook, Lydon, and Matlock reunited as the Sex Pistols for the Filthy Lucre reunion tour in the UK and the United States. You, the readers of the future, may hear many people say that this was just a cheap attempt at cashing in on their image by rehashing their old songs. I am here to tell you that the Pistols made no secret of this, and that all of us that went to the concerts was fully aware of this. Besides, there were about 8 other bands on the ticket in Milwaukee, and they still rocked.
After the reunion tour, Lydon has found a new life in the public eye. He hosts a television show on VH-1 called Rotten TV. He also hosts a radio show called Rotten Day, which can be heard cybercast on Saturdays at eYada.com. He doesn't like it when callers ask him about the Sex Pistols.
Thanks to Virgin Records' site at www.virginrecords.com/sex_pistols/nevertrust.html, Julien Temple's film The Filth and the Fury, and the website for the film at www.filthandfury.com