Sex Pistols, The

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Sex Pistols, The

Sex Pistols, The, the archetypal punk rock band. Membership:Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), voc. (b. London, England, Jan. 30, 1956); Steve Jones, gtr., voc. (b. London, England, May 3, 1955); Glen Matlock, bs. (b. London, England, Jan. 30, 1956); Paul Cook, drm. (b. London, England, May 3, 1955); Glen Matlock, bs replaced in February 1977 by Sid Vicious (John Simon Ritchie) (b. London, England, May 10, 1957; d. N.Y., Feb. 2, 1979).

The Sex Pistols quickly gained notoriety in Great Britain for their adamantly incompetent playing, cynically vituperative and anticommercial lyrics, and deliberate onstage vulgarity. Reacting to the complacency and blandness of established popular musicians and the policies of the music industry in general, the Sex Pistols intentionally sought to shock and agitate fans out of their musical apathy with tasteless acts of outrage, antagonism, and hostility. They were almost instantly transformed from unknowns to the most publicized and scrutinized rock band in the world in less than a year, without having even released an album. They scored their first recorded successes in Great Britain with “Anarchy in the U.K.” and the controversial “God Save the Queen” in 1976–1977. Introducing the shocking, irreverent attitude and style of punk to America, the Sex Pistols essentially disintegrated after their overpubli-cized debut American tour of early 1978. Nonetheless, Sid Vicious continued to draw massive media attention for the alleged murder of his girlfriend in October 1978 and his drug-overdose death in February 1979, dramatized in the 1986 underground movie classic Sid and Nancy. Lead vocalist Johnny Rotten, one of the most acerbic and provocative figures in rock, persevered with Public Image Ltd. (PiL) after the demise of the Sex Pistols, but he never expanded his following beyond that of a cult.

The Sex Pistols were formed by entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren in August 1975 with vocalist Johnny Rotten and three former members of the Swankers, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, and Paul Cook. They played their first engagement in November and quickly generated outrage and havoc with their cynical and nihilistic songs and tastelessly hostile and abusive performances. The subject of rapidly spreading notoriety, the Sex Pistols signed with EMI Records in October 1976 and soon scored a smash British hit with the widely banned “Anarchy in the U.K.,” written by Matlock. However, they were dropped by EMI in January after swearing on BBC-TV, an incident that won them front-page news coverage.

Disputes between Matlock and Rotten led to Matlock’s departure from the Sex Pistols in February 1977, and he was replaced on bass by Sid Vicious, a former member of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Flowers of Romance. Picked up by A&M Records in March, the group was immediately dumped by the label and subsequently signed to Virgin Records in May. Their first release for the label, Matlock’s sarcastic “God Save the Queen,” became a smash British hit despite its banishment from radio. Their debut album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, was issued in late 1977 (on Warner Bros, in the United States) and included “Pretty Vacant,” “No Feelings,” and the vitriolic tribute to their first label, “EMI.”

In January 1978 the Sex Pistols made their first American tour, accompanied by media coverage unseen since the advent of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. After the group’s final engagement at Winterland in San Francisco on Jan. 14, 1978, before the largest audience of their career, the Sex Pistols fell into disarray. Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, and Paul Cook later recorded a crude version of Frank Sinatra’s theme song, “My Way,” and by April Johnny Rotten (now using the name John Lydon) had formed Public Image Ltd. (PiL) with former Clash and Flowers of Romance guitarist Keith Levene. Recording their debut British album in 1978, the group released several albums through the early 1990s. Drummer Martin Atkins joined PiL in 1979 and became a mainstay in the ever-changing group. Rotten published his autobiography in 1994. Steve Jones and Keith Levene later recorded solo albums, and Jones formed Havana 3 A.M. with guitarist Gary Myrick, singer Nigel Dixon, and former Clash bassist Paul Simonon in 1991.

Sid Vicious was charged with the Oct. 21, 1978, stabbing death of his American girlfriend Nancy Spun-gen at N.Y.’s Chelsea Hotel, but he was found dead of a heroin overdose in a Greenwich Village apartment on Feb. 2, 1979, at age 21, while out on bail. Their “romance” was dramatized in the gritty, raunchy, yet engaging 1986 movie Sid and Nancy, cowritten and directed by Alex Cox.


the sex pistols : Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the S. P. (1977); Live at Chelmsford Top Security Prison (1990); The Great Rock V Roll Swindle (1992). PUBLIC IMAGE LTD ,: Second Edition (1979); The Flowers of Romance (1981); This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get (1984); Public Image Ltd.(1986); Happy? (1987); 9 (1989); Greatest Hits So Far (1990); That What Is Not (1992). KEITH LEVENE : Violent Opposition (1989). STEVE JONES : Fire and Gasoline (1989). HAVANA 3 A.M .: Havana 3 AM. (1991).


B. Gruen, Chaos: The S. P. (London, 1990); J. Savage, England’s Dreaming: S. P. and Punk Rock (London, 1991).

—Brock Helander