Sex Pistols and British Punk
Sex Pistols - British Punk - Music and Fashion
The Sex Pistols formed in 1975 out of a band called The Strand created by school boys Paul Cook and Steve Jones. They were joined later by bassist Glen Matlock and singer, John Lydon.
Both Jones and Cook created music themselves out of frustration for the glam rock movement in the UK at the time. Whilst not yet punk music, it was certainly not the sort of pop music being played on British radio stations.
The Strand pestered Malcolm McLaren, a well-known impressario in London to manage them but he was not interested until he came across Johnny 'Rotten' Lydon wearing a 'I Hate Pink Floyd' teeshirt in the King's Road. McLaren thought he maybe offered something a bit different to the musicians doing the rounds at the time.
Lydon was asked to join The Strand by McLaren and British punk rock was born.
Had Lydon not joined, punk rock may have looked and sounded very different.
The British Invasion
Whilst The Strand were nowhere near good enough to create an impact in London, then the heart of the music scene, the addition of Lydon made them a very different band - John Lydon was an anarchist, a troublemaker, a fire starter. He was the reason the British invasion started - the world was ready for something completely different.
British punk was not just about the music. Sex Pistols, even now, were seen as a political band and the Sex Pistols and British punk was a 'movement' as much as it was a new music craze.
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Sex Pistols' Influence in the 1970s - British Punk Is Born
In 1976, Britain was not in the best shape.
The year before, power cuts had brought Britain to a standstill and jobs became harder and harder to come by.
Many people felt disenfranchised and this was most prevalent on the many council estates up and down the country.
The Sex Pistols were all born on council estates and they all grew up on the estates.
At the time of The Strand's formation, Steve Jones and Paul Cook saw their band not only as a way out of the poverty and unemployment but also in a small way, as a sort of mouthpiece for themselves and the other kids on council estates all over the UK.
Within the band, Glen Matlock, their bassist, was considered the 'brains'. Matlock had studied art at St Martin's College and wrote most of the Sex Pistols' early songs. He also wrote most of their only acknowledged album 'Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols'.
British punk was unlike anything ever heard before. It brought together all of the influences of rock n roll, mod rock and especially late 60's pop and added to them an aggressive vocal style.
The songs made famous by The Sex Pistols, like 'Pretty Vacant' and 'God Save The Queen' were considered in bad taste and the flavour of the lyrics was certainly anarchic.
Sex Pistols were all about performing live music and they performed extensively in the summer of 1975 and throughout 1976, first in pubs in London and then more extensively in Britain.
Gigs were loud and Sex Pistols infamous lead singer, Johnny Rotten basically shout/sung the lyrics, leapt about the stage energetically and whipped the audiences into a frenzy.
Sex Pistols gigs became famous for the band wrecking their kit and fighting with the audience.
Sex Pistols followers, among them 'the Bromley Contingent' of Siouxsie Sioux, Billy Idol and Steve Severin were known for their outrageous clothing, often purchased at Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's shop 'Sex' on the Kings Road, London.
It is noteable that many of the people who went to see Sex Pistols formed British punk bands of their own.
Their influence cannot be overestimated; like a rock thrown into a pool of stagnant water, the Sex Pistols caused a necessary ripple effect across their own generation. Music would never be the same again.
Some of the influence was creative, some of it was pretty rotten!
British Punk - Under The Influence
In late 1976, the Sex Pistols appeared on the Today programme, a live show and used the F word.
Although only shown in London, the TV show was featured on the national news and suddenly the Sex Pistols became infamous and maybe also, famous!
Their first single 'Anarchy In The UK' reached #38 in the UK charts on the back of the TV performance.
A quick look at the charts from late 1976 reveal a rather tame picture. For example, in the week 'Anarchy In The UK' was released, Showaddywaddy were at #1 in the UK with 'Under The Moon of Love', an old rock and roll cover. At #2 were Chicago with 'If You Leave Me Now'.
A quick trip through the Top 40 will show you that 1976 had a few legends still in the throes of making their mark - Queen, Elton John, ELO, Abba, The Who and Barry White all feature.
Now imagine a radio station trying to find a good slot to play 'Anarchy In The UK' given what else was on their play lists. Sex Pistols followed by Neil Diamond? Sex Pistols after 'Dancing Queen'.
Soon enough, the Sex Pistols were joined by other British punk bands - most of them under the influence of Sex Pistols themselves.
1977 Charts don't look very different but amongst the Top 100 songs of 1977 are 'Pretty Vacant' by Sex Pistols and 'Peaches' by The Stranglers.
Also in 1977, the Damned and The Clash began their long careers, first in punk and then in indie rock.
Siouxsie and The Banshees, X Ray Specs, Buzzcocks, The Slits, Sham 69, The Adverts and The Ruts were among the more successful bands but British punk became huge.
In many senses, British punk was a subculture embraced by young people and rejected wholeheartedly by older people, appalled by all of the violence, bondage clothing, subversive thinking and spitting.
Britsh punk was about 'No Future' - it was an out and out rejection of all that was happening in Britain in the late 1970s. It was a nihilistic vision of a country that young people did not recognise any more.
It was not just a rejection of music - it was a rejection of culture and patriotism.
Queen Elizabeth II celebrated 25 years as monarch in 1977 and Britain celebrates in style with street parties and a public holiday.
But there were many in Britain who saw the jubilee celebration as a sort of papering over the cracks - Britain was in a bad way but the British tried to cover it all up with a royal celebration, tables laid the length of council estate streets and lighting beacons around the coast.
Sex Pistols, among other British punk bands sang about rejecting the conventions the British had lived under since World War 2. As a generation, the children of the 1970s seemed to be facing an unexciting future - the 60s, a time of joy, creativity, sexual liberation and musical innovation was but a distant memory, the 70s seemed to have little to offer in comparison.
In some respects, the political parties were not providing any evidence of a future recovery and so punk rock was created out of a dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Sex Pistols were at its forefront but that kind of energetic fury can never last long!
And it didn't. British punk was like a firework set off into the sky; many people watched its launch and they watched it fizzle out as quickly as it had sparkled.
The Sex Pistols broke up in 1978 but their influence lives on...
The Sex Pistols' Legacy - British Music In The Last 35 Years
The Sex Pistols still continue to split opinion. Some contemporary (and also some 70s journalists) have called them an elaborate 'fake', a creation of Malcolm McLaren who himself reportedly said he created them 'to sell trousers'.
McLaren and Westwood owned a boutique which became a haunt for young people keen on its subversive style; McLaren claimed for many years that he 'invented' punk to make money, pure and simple. He claimed it was part of a philosophical movement at first but changed his tune once he fell out with the band.
However, John Lydon who broke up the band has always rejected this, claiming that there was already a 'movement' among young British people dissatisfied with the political landscape and that punk rose out of this as a natural phenomena.
For him and the other Sex Pistols, punk rock was a natural thing to do; it was the working class youths' means of complaining and they wanted other young people to hear their complaints.
Did anyone really listen to British punk rock for the music? Most of it was pretty awful at first.
People listened to the message it conveyed. The fashion that went with it was like fashion in any age; a 'look at me everyone' way of attracting attention; it certainly achieved that with its rubber, bondage and vandalised images of British royalty.
What it did was energise a pretty stagnant music scene - and its influence can still be heard today - from seeing the Sex Pistols live in 1976 the following bands were formed:-
- The Buzzcocks
- The Fall
- The Smiths
- Joy Division
And there must be many hundreds of bands out there who, when asked who influenced them, would surely say 'Sex Pistols'.
Punk rock still exists today but is it really 'of its time'?
The British punk rock which exploded with the Sex Pistols, Damned, The Clash and The Stranglers was born out of a cultural shift.
It was born out of rejection of the status quo, rejection of a failing society and also born out of a desire to break free of a way of being 'British', an attempt to break the consensus of a largely unchanged and unchanging post-war way of life. Young people, in particular, felt left behind in a country being run by people old enough to be their grandparents.
Sex Pistols were and are not to everybody's taste but they remain a huge cultural force in British music; whether they were fake or not, they shook the world out of its musical stupor and changed the course of popular music forever.
Many thanks for reading.
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