Sex Pistols and British Punk

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By Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 - negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang 2.24.01.05, bestanddeelnummer 928-9663 (Nationaal Archief) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativ | Source

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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By Sex_Pistols_GSTQ_Promo.jpg: Warner Bros. (corporate author); unknown photographer derivative work: Benzband (Sex_Pistols_GSTQ_Promo.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Were you a teenaged punk rocker in the 1970s or did you discover Sex Pistols later?

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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!

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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...

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Do You Have A Favourite Punk Band?

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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:-

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.


How Much Do You Know About British Punk Music?

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Comments 28 comments

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

I totally get your point about suddenly being 16 and music sort of being a core part of you as a person. I started work at 16 and didn't go to uni until I was in my early thirties so my experience of punk really was at a basic level, parties in peoples' maisonettes and youth club 'disco'. Punk was in my life but I had eclectic tastes so it was never the be all and end all to be honest. I bet uni was great from a music point of view - loads of bands did uni gigs, probably some of their best (Cocteau Twins, Nirvana for example).


Just History profile image

Just History 3 years ago from England

Excellent analysis however for some of us the political emphasis was lost- brought up in middle class families away from the poverty and unrest of the poorer estates with high unemployment. We were there for the music, the bands that played the clubs and pubs and when I went to Uni the campus . I think that our generation exploded and criticized- I still hate being told what to do.....................At 16 the world changed ; music changed and I think that we became harsher- my own children are softer and more caring......We just didn't give a ...........for anything - took nearly a decade for that to wear off !


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

web923, I often get that video message too. You could always go to YouTube directly. I think it's a glitch with videos. Thanks anyway, for your comment - sorry it wasn't as interactive as planned :o)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Thanks Dianna. I think they were very influential though of course, a bit of an acquired taste.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

I am really lost when it comes to punk music styles, but your share here as educated me on this style of music. Great job, as always, on writing this topic.


web923 profile image

web923 3 years ago from Twentynine Palms, California

I'm not a fan of punk and can't say that I ever heard this group,but the Hub was extremely well done! Enough so that it triggered my curiosity enough to click of the video; unfortunately I got mostly messages that the window was too small for the video to play. Awesome and Up!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Michelle, whether people like the Sex Pistols or not, they cannot deny their influence on others' music.


midget38 profile image

midget38 3 years ago from Singapore

If there was a rock and roll hall of fame that lauded alternative music, the sex pistols's songs would be on the list of those who shaped it!! Without these bands, no grunge, etc either. Thanks for sharing, Jools, another comprehensive and well-written article!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Maria, thanks for reading. I agree with you about Declan - and the more of his songs you hear, the more you realsie just what a great songwriter he is! Punk was never my cup fo tea but I LOVE The Smiths so I do thank punk's influence to get Johnny Marr and Morrissey to get together.


e-five profile image

e-five 3 years ago from Chicago, Illinois, USA

OK, I'm sensing some resistance in the comments to the idea in this hub that Sex Pistols had as much influence as stated. Even if you believe that other punk bands were better, or if you believe that punk was a musical dead end, one has to acknowledge that without Sex Pistols there would be no Clash, Smiths, or much of Alternative Rock. One can quarrel with the legitimacy of the holistic genesis of Sex Pistols, but their influence is undeniable.


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 3 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

Jools,

Lemme say this, there is a time and a place for punk...I do have a soft spot for The Clash and LOVE The Smiths. I'll let it go at that...except Declan will always be a sweet punk honey to me!

You, my dear, are eclectic and always a fun read! UP and ABI...


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Julie.....I just proved how much I like you and enjoy your writing style. Your hubs are ALWAYS an interesting treat......But, my dear friend from across the pond.......Punk? Sex Pistols? Mmmmm not so much, honey.

I do not relate, do not like and thus, I surely know pretty much nothing about punk......except of course, that for me, it's definitely not Andrea Boccelli or Van Morrison or Gene Pitney.......

But I'm still voting this UP and U & I. !!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Thanks VInaya. They are not everybody's cup of tea :o)


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal

Though not a fan of Sex Pistols, I have often listen to their music. There were lots of things I did not not, thanks for this wonderful article.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

nuffsaid, 88% well done :o)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mike, thanks for your comment. I listened to The Ramones but I don't think I 'got' them - they had long hair, how was that punk?


nuffsaidstan profile image

nuffsaidstan 3 years ago

Nice Hub, loved Punk, 88% not bad!


Mike Robbers profile image

Mike Robbers 3 years ago from London

I used to like The Clash, The Undertones and of course... The Ramones from the other side of the Atlantic that is!

77% on the quiz, not bad eh? :)

Thanks for the hub, I enjoyed it a lot.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Martin, many thanks - 'disco punk'????? I am intrigued!


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 3 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you for this. Arlene and I were ex-disco punkers at the People's Temple and the Back Door. Favorite - Jim Carroll.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Trevor, many thanks for your comment and you are right - they did start a whole new phase of popular music.


TrevorBasile profile image

TrevorBasile 3 years ago from Rockaway, NJ

Great Article on a band that broke the barriers of music!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mary, many thanks for your comment -punk was definitely an acquired taste - I was too much of a square to really appreciate it when I was young....I'm even squarer now :o)


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

I'm a little old for Punk, but I'm not dead yet so do know about it. It isn't my style though here and there a good singer emerges.

As always Jools you've led us through the maze and brought us out smarter!

Voted up and interesting.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Bill, it had its time in my life but it was short lived :o) I like 'music' and I could never bring myself to call punk that!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

You have done your regular great job of reviewing the music scene. Julie, no matter how hard I try, I cannot like punk. Sorry! :)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

e-five, I was 14 when I first heard Anarchy in The UK and I hated it! But I loved The Stranglers, The Clash, The Members and The Undertones which all came along a bit later. All of my friends loved the Sex Pistols and it was all that we played at parties and such. I used to really love The Tubes and had a boyfriend who was a big Devo fan! I bet San Francisco was jumping!


e-five profile image

e-five 3 years ago from Chicago, Illinois, USA

Bravo. Great hub. I was a 14-year old living in the SF Bay area (before it would be called Silicon Valley) listening to The Tubes (a local band), Iggy Pop (The Idiot album had just come out), David Bowie, and just getting into Roxy Music when I first heard about Sex Pistols... it was around January 1977 when America first became aware of them.

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