Although their life as a punk band lasted just a few years in the late 1970s, the Sex Pistols had a lasting impact on both punk (see entry under 1970s—Music in volume 4) music and music in general. As a leading group in the British punk scene, the Sex Pistols combined the raw sound of loud guitars, bass, drums, and snarling vocals with an aggressive attitude that challenged conventional society and bordered on anarchy (denial of the authority of a government or an established society).
Formed in late 1975 by boutique owner Malcolm McLaren (1946–), the band consisted of guitarist Steve Jones (1955–), bassist Glen Matlock (1956–), drummer Paul Cook (1956–), and singer John Lydon (1956–), who went by the name Johnny Rotten. Matlock was later replaced on bass by Sid Vicious (John Simon Richie, 1957–1979). In November 1976, they released their first single, "Anarchy in the U.K." Their sound was abrasive. When combined with Rotten's lyrics, which confronted British society, the band attracted immediate attention, not all
of it positive. The band even attacked the British queen herself in the song "God Save the Queen."
Although they had legions of fans among young people, the Sex Pistols' music was soon banned by British authorities, which only added to their bad reputation and thus their fame. They released only one album, Never Mind the Bullocks, in 1977. They toured the United States in January 1978, a tour that lasted only fourteen days. The pressures of stardom and notoriety and their own chaotic behavior proved too much for the group. Bassist Vicious was indicted for the murder of his girlfriend, and he died of a drug overdose in 1979. Rotten, reborn in the form of his real name, John Lydon, formed his own band, Public Image Ltd.
Although the Sex Pistols' time as a band was short, their impact has been long lasting. They were not the best musicians, nor did they produce a great quantity or variety of music, but they inspired countless punk bands to form in Britain. Their one album reduced rock and roll (see entry under 1950s—Music in volume 3) to its bare essentials and restored its early spirit of rebellion and youthful anger. More importantly, their attitude of rebellion fit the mood of British youth culture in the late 1970s as good jobs became harder to find. That same attitude proved immensely appealing to many young people in the United States, and the Sex Pistols had a large following there as well. Long gone though they may be, the band's work remains a hallmark in the history of rock and roll.
For More Information
God Save the Sex Pistols.http://www.sex-pistols.net/ (accessed March 26, 2002).
Marcus, Greil. "Anarchy in the U.K." In The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. Edited by Jim Miller. New York: Rolling Stone Press, 1980.
McNeil, Legs, and Gillian McCain. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. New York: Grove Press, 1996.
Savage, John. England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.
Temple, Julien, director. The Filth and the Fury (video). Los Angeles: New Line Home Video, 2000.