The Sex Pistols

Not to be confused with the Celibate Rifles

Strongest album: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols
Must to avoid: Everything else

It goes without saying that, possibly excepting the Beatles and Dylan, the Sex Pistols are the most overanalyzed act in rock history. No, scratch that; Dylan and the Beatles had long, fruitful, and amazing years, while the Sex Pistols left only one patchwork album of singles - which makes the Sex Pistols the indisputably most overrated band in history, unless the Velvet Underground count. Too much has been written about this motley collection of low-life yobs already; you already know more than you want to about them, you know exactly what you think, and why should anyone care?

Well, there are a few reasons to care, but let's start first by demolishing a few myths:

1) The Sex Pistols couldn't play. Okay, so John Lydon doesn't have the best voice in the world, and Sid Vicious couldn't play bass. Paul Cook was a weak drummer, but he wasn't incompetent, and when the original bass player Glenn Matlock (who could play, and wrote most of the songs) was in the band, they had a decent rhythm section. But then there's the matter of Steve Jones. Whoever spread the lie that he was just another untuned garager didn't pay a damn bit of attention: Jones was a GREAT guitarist, spraying ripped-off licks with more venom and genuine hooks than Keith Richards and Johnny Thunders combined - he couldn't solo, but like the influences I just mentioned (who couldn't solo, either) he's one of the genuinely great rhythm guitar players, of which rock and roll is always in too much of a shortage of. If you want true incompetence, listen to your average hardcore or indie rock record.

2) They invented punk. This one's too much of a sitting duck. Let's see, the Ramones debut: 1976. The Stooges' debut: 1969. The New York Dolls' debut: 1973. Pere Ubu was releasing singles in 1975 that were much more out there and truly revolutionary than the Pistols. The entire CBGB's scene was already in full bloom by the time the Pistols played their first show. Even Australia had its own punk band, the Saints, before the Sex Pistols.

3)Okay, so they didn't invent it, but they were the best punk band, then. Bull. Let's exclude everywhere except England in 1977 for now, 'cause if I started listing every punk band better than the Pistols I'd be up here all night. As every child knows, the Clash were light years ahead of the Sex Pistols. As every youth in the U.K. knows, so were the Jam. You want revolutionary? Wire's Pink Flag is five times more original than Never Mind The Bollocks. The Buzzcocks wrote better melodies and played faster. Heck, I might even make a case for the Damned being better (not at first, but they progressed). The Sex Pistols were twenty times better than the Slits and the Stranglers, though.

4)They were just tools of Malcolm McLaren. Ha! Remember Bow Wow Wow? I rest my case.

5)They were all hype. No, the Stone Roses were all hype. Perhaps the most influential thing about the Sex Pistols, unfortunately, is that they initiated a career path for subsequent British bands: get your name in the papers, build up a whirlwind of anticipation built on a handful of live shows and singles, back your career ambitions up with a sharp sense of style and vague pronouncements about how your band is the future of pop, and then disappoint everybody with a debut album that doesn't live up to what the NME wrote about you. By this time the hacks at the U.K. weeklies are too invested in you to back out now and say that we were wrong, the Verve aren't doing anything the Stones didn't do better with "Angie". No, they've got to pretend that you, Oasis, are really as great as you claim you are. Step Two is to launch you out into the real world, i.e. the States, where consumers (for all the bad things you can say about them - stupidity, conservative hatred of anything original or new) care first about the actual music and the image only peripherally (in the U.K. this is reversed). Do you make it or not? 9 times out of 10, no, because ever since the Sex Pistols the U.K. music industry has been built on hype and image first, and music second. That's the most damaging influence the Pistols have had - they were able to back up their hype with some good music, but most of the bands in their wake haven't (hey, just what did happen to Adam and the Ants?).

So why should I listen to these yahoos, anyway? Well, even if they weren't the best or first punk band, they were the ones that got all the attention, and therefore were the ones who sparked the beginnings of a lot of great bands (and a lot of mediocre ones, too, but you can say the same of the Beatles). A lot of the bands inspired by the Sex Pistols turned out to be better than their inspiration; a lot turned out to be dumber, too. But, love them or hate them - or if you're like most people, come down somewhere in the middle - they did have an influence, and some of it was a good influence. Their recorded output doesn't do justice to the band, but let's look at it, shall we?

Oddly, I didn't find much useful web presence for the Pistols - and most of the pages I did find were pretty annoying (quite hyping their lame reunion cash in). Ah well, Never Mind the Sex Pistols isn't bad.

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977) ****1/2

I'm going to have to justify assigning this LP the extremely high grade. You see, on my page listing the most overrated albums in rock, this LP made the Top 10. I've already spoken at length in my intro as to why I feel the Pistols get overrated by otherwise sensible folk. There are a few other reasons this record isn't as great as it's supposed to be. Like, for instance, the fact that there are only three good songs on side one: "Holidays In the Sun," "Bodies," and "God Save the Queen." The rest of side one ranges from the just-OK ("No Feelings") to the abysmal ("Problem"). Side Two is a bit better, and it contains "Anarchy In the U.K." - but it also includes "New York", a fag-baiting attack on a band that was much better than they. Also, the sound is muddy - compare the sharp bite of The Clash, if you dare, which also contained tighter songs and playing. Which brings me to another point: the song structures are bloated - it takes these guys four minutes to make a point most other good punk bands could make in a minute and a half. Is the music original? No; it sounds like Brain Capers-era Mott the Hoople played in double time.

But I had to have a few reasons for rating this record so highly, didn't I? Well, I just mentioned four of them in my first paragraph. And let's include "Pretty Vacant" and "EMI" too, only not so much since they're a shade lesser. You need this record for these six songs - everything else on the record sucks, but those six songs are as pure a slice of rage and nihilism and pure rock excitement as it gets. "Holidays" takes its main melody-riff from the Jam's "In the City," but otherwise the two songs have nothing in common; Johnny Rotten wails in the voice of a tortured East German trying to escape over the Berlin Wall, wondering whether he might have been better off in the Holocaust, wondering whether it would've been cool to be a Nazi running death camps and killing people. Okay, so chalk up highly offensive use of suspect imagery as another bad influence the Pistols had - Nazi Punks, Fuck Off! as the Dead Kennedys say. Do you believe in the right to choose? Even if you're a staunch feminist, "Bodies" still retains its primordial power, as frightening a portrait of self-loathing and disgust with the human body as anyone has come close. "God Save the Queen," is the only Sex Pistols song I'll ever believe in because its shock power derives from the fact that they are just telling the goddamn truth - stupid Brits, worshipping a meaningless figurehead and feeling all goshdarn patriotic when their country is going to hell, and "No Future" actually turned out more prophetic than you'd like to believe. "Anarchy in the U.K." may be just bravado, the lyrics a string of Situationist cliches McLaren scribbled off the graffiti in May '68 Paris, but wow, what a timeless anthem - "Anarchy!" may be stupid and meaningless as a political philosophy, but it sure sounds cool for kids to scream, just like "School's Out Forever!" (the first song Rotten sang at his audition).

And there you have it - a record half full of rock classics, and I do mean that in the classic rock sense, that won't change your life and will probably disappoint you, especially if you've already heard the Ramones and a dozen other bands, but that needs to be heard. You'll get sick of this and might never want to hear it again, but the first 100 times you will be transfixed - if violence and hatred transfix you, of course. I suppose it depends on your personality. I suppose there are people to whom this record means everything. I'm not one of those people. I get pissed off, too, but not all the time. So I'm saying that if you are full of anger, then buy this and listen to it and it'll add some more fuel to your java. If you're happy and sunny and don't ever get mad, then something's wrong with you - seriously, you need therapy. How can you love if you can't hate? In other words, Prozac smiley faces need not apply. Real people ought to at least give this a listen, though.

The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle (1980) ***

The title says all. This isn't a Sex Pistols album, really, but a Malcolm McLaren album starring special guests the Sex Pistols. It's a comedy record, and there's no guarantee you'll sit through all of it, and I can guarantee that after you've heard it all you won't want to hear at least half of it ever again. I mean, disco medleys of the Pistols' hits and a sensitive folk rendition of "Anarchy In the U.K." (in French) are cute to hear once, like a lame Saturday Night Live gag, but when those gags come on during reruns it's time to get up and grab a glass of ice tea out of the fridge, and find me that bag of Doritos while you're at it. "Substitute" isn't as good as the Who's, but "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone" is definitive in a way that the Monkees could never have imagined. Both Paul Cook and Steve Jones sing and write some surprisingly solid numbers, which are also surprisingly agression free - "Silly Thing" is as charming as prime Buzzcocks! By this time Rotten had jumped ship, so for that "edgy" touch the lads hooked up with Great Train Robber and Brazilian exile Ronnie Biggs, which resulted in - surprise! - two decent tunes, "No One's Innocent" and the title track, even if neither one is as good as anything on Bollocks. Heck, nothing here is, but you haven't lived until you've heard this album's highlight, Sid's mangling of "My Way". "Belsen Was A Gas" is a sick, morbid, and EXTREMELY OFFENSIVE joke that I wish they would've gotten lynched by an angry mob of Jews for - I can just picture McLaren now, "Now boys, howsabout that tour of Isreal? Get us lots of headlines, it will!" "I Wanna Be Me" is an OK '76 B-side. And that's it: there are over a dozen more songs, but they all suck. Rent the movie instead - I've never seen it, but it's got to be better than the rest of this CD.

Oh, before I forget: there are about two hundred other Sex Pistols albums out there that I haven't listed. Don't buy any of them. Every Sex Pistols album besides Bollocks is a complete rip-off and waste of your money and time. Good night, and god bless.

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Reader Comments


There might have been little punk bands around, but the sex pistols invented the look of punk. According to sources, they were the biggest punk band around then. so there! hah! saying they aren't the biggest back then is fucking wrong. and hey, I think they were pretty good players. john lydon had an awesome voice, drums were good, and sid invented the pogo. and steve jones is awesome.

Someone who doesn't know what he's talking about writes that "there might have been little punk bands around, but the sex pistols invented the look of punk."

Not true. Mclaren stole the look from Richard Hell.

As far as other "little punk bands around", I guess... except that I'd hardly call the Ramones, Iggy Pop, and the Clash who "little punk bands".


The Sex Pistols were the most brilliant band around in the late '70s, laughing at the dinosaur rock bands like Led Zeppelin and The Who. The had the sharpest frontman in ANY band in ANY era of music; Johnny Rotten, whose sheer intelligence is as underrated as the whole band in general. They had a junkie bassist called Sid Vicious (who couldn't play, let's face it), a brilliant guitarist and a capable drummer, but they all had style, anger, humour, looks, and irony. The Clash were NOTHING!! Absolutely NOTHING compared to the Pistols, and speaking of influence: The Clash were formed for ONE single reason. They saw the Pistols and jumped on the wagon, just like every other so-called PUNK band in the whole world. The punk movement turned into a joke in no-time, and the Pistols jumped off! They didn't wanna be stars, and they stopped being it by stop playing. It's as easy as that.

Have you ever seen the Pistols live on tape? Best live band in the world without any doubt. You can't get any better! Or do you think watching Mark Knopfler standing there on stage "dig my life", boring twat music is better?

Stooges, New York Dolls, Ramones...Yes! They influenced the Pistols! BUT: The very word punk was invented by an American journalist called Caroilne Coon, and indeed not by the bands you mentioned. I look down on the wall-to-wall leather jacket and mohowk that punk became. It could had been the perfect riot, but ended up being nothing at all, if not an excuse for American kids to scare their parents with their snobby and polished NOFX and Offspring-albums.

Get a life, rock & roll...(AFTER the Sex Pistols...)

Sex Pistols is as important in rock history as The Beatles and The Doors. Paul McCartney even wanted to record an album with them, but the rejected. The Clash would not had done that! (Imagine Shea Stadium with Linda McCartney on strings and Paul on bass "Ahhh... London calling...")

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?