On this Throwback Thursday, we look back at the Sex Pistols’ first single, “Anarchy in the U.K.” The song topped the British music charts 40 years ago, in November 1976. At that time, the band consisted of John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) on vocals, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock, who was replaced by Sid Vicious in early 1977. The controversial and stunning band played together for fewer than three years, yet their cultural and musical influence remains.
Alongside bands like The Clash, the Ramones and X-Ray Spex, the Pistols helped create punk rock, an aesthetic and political revolution wrapped in a clamorous snarling cloak, or, to be more precise, a beat-up leather motorcycle jacket layered over a T-shirt held together with safety pins.
A slightly different version of the song appears on their one and only studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, released in 1977.
One early fan letter to the magazine NME, written by a Steve Morrissey of Manchester (yep, that Morrissey), described the band as “bumptious,” “audacious” and “discordant.” In the 1979 edition of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, critic Greil Marcus insisted “[t]here was a black hole at the heart of the Sex Pistols’ music, a willful lust for the destruction of all values that absolutely no one could be comfortable with—and that was why, at his greatest, Johnny Rotten was perhaps the only truly terrifying singer rock and roll has ever known.” Before the band broke up (or before Rotten quit or before Sid was sacked, take your pick), they’d been dropped by two record labels, banned from radio, banned from television and banned from performing live. So they decided to take the act on the road and hit the United States, performing their final concert in San Francisco in January 1978.
There are many books on the story of the Pistols. Most, if not all, are unabashedly biased. Johnny Rotten had to set the record straight not once, but twice, first in Rotten, and most recently in Anger Is An Energy.
Not to be outdone, bassist Glen Matlock also chimed in with I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol.
My favorite take on the band, and the entire era, is Julian Temple's 2000 documentary, The Filth and the Fury.
Where were you when you first heard the Sex Pistols? I was in Mr. Listro’s art class my senior year of year of high school, probably around the time the band ended. Within the next couple years, I bought my first pair of Martens, a motorcycle jacket, shaved the sides of my head and got a few more ear piercings. But that’s a #TBT story for another #TBT. See you in the pit!
But before I go, I'll leave you with an early 1976 performance of “Anarchy in the U.K.” on British television. Such baby faces!