Sex Pistols

Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here‚??s the Sex Pistols

(1977)

Warner


5
With success came acceptance, and the accepted was no longer dangerous. It's weird to think about how in the mid-70's the Ramones were probably the fastest, loudest band in the world. What we now recognize as the standard punk song was then a revolution for the new wave of rock song writers. A gr...

With success came acceptance, and the accepted was no longer dangerous.

It's weird to think about how in the mid-70's the Ramones were probably the fastest, loudest band in the world. What we now recognize as the standard punk song was then a revolution for the new wave of rock song writers. A group of four homely, suburban New York kids funnelled the energy of early 60's rock through their musical ineptitude, creating a clearer extension of the Velvet Underground sound that was at once fun, catchy and somewhat atonal.

A year after the Ramones formed, in Britain, another band of this sort would crop up and play a role just as important in creating the noisiest genre of music ever. Using the same simplistic, catchy music as its base, their lyrics were the most cohesively vile and hate-filled to ever be presented.

But before we get on to "Anarchy in the UK", "God Save the Queen", and other such modern day clichés, I think it would only be appropriate to explore the song-writing and actual talent of the Sex Pistols.

While Steve Jones and Paul Cook represent the "hooligan" side of the band, the one who would pen most of their classic material was bassist Glenn Matlock. An actual musician, he had a clear idea of where to go and how well Jones could play. The sound itself owes a lot to mod rock (ala The Creation, The Who and The Action), Detroit proto-punk (namely, The Stooges and The Alice Cooper Band), and the New York Dolls. If you dissect the music from the vocals on their album and singles, you get some very catchy rock that no one else was playing in Britain as late as '75. Pub rock and prog ruled the day.

The lyrics themselves combined all of the most offensive material Johnny Rotten could get a hold of before hand. Peter Hammill's "Nadir's Big Chance" was an obvious and admitted influence (the title track could very well have been a Sex Pistols song), as well as Iggy Pop and Bowie. Also, The Kinks' political awareness and sing-along capacity were evident.

What is now standard song structure sounded at the time like white noise. The post-Beatles, post-"Tommy" era of pop was mature and all grown up. Non-musicians weren't supposed to try to play; rock n roll in general had largely been mutilated and forgotten. The bands to see were still ELP, Yes, and King Crimson. The fun music was being made in America, and even there, no one was listening.

Rick Wakemen put on a musical ice show based around Arthurian legend.

Never mind that this music was generally boring, mellow, and played to a crowd abusing downers, but it was also very safe. The white guys had made rock n roll theirs, and the white people who'd always been rock's main fan base ate it all up.

Of course a band like the Sex Pistols was going to be shocking. These were the musical standards people lived with. What is now nothing but a catchphrase for fashionable posture, the song "Anarchy in the U.K." was something unheard of. Not only did they play badly live, they also advocated mindless rebellion.

A lot of Americans, in turn, hated it. I believe this is based around the resentment that the Pistols didn't show off workmanship, play a tight set, etc., but I also think a lot of what they got was because of their status as "the real deal". Whereas Lou Reed (and the NY scene in general) were middle-class suburban rebels, Rotten actually lived in the poverty he sang of.

So, of course in a modern context, they will not be understood. Kids my age grow up with pop music that makes the Pistols look like the mastery musicians they despised. Not as many people listen to rock. In fact, rock in its real sense (no post-80's glam metal/Aerosmith/Led Zep crap) is one of the least listened to musics. People in general are clueless as to what rebellion is. The music industry wised up after so many punk-inspired flops in the late 70's. Instead of bands like the Ramones, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols challenging song structure and pop culture, we have Blink 182 indulging in copying crappy "melodic hardcore". We have "math metal", combining the most unlistenable of two worlds to create some truly useless atonal noise. We have the crust scene, that's duped itself into self-importance and self-righteousness. It's easy to ask "why didn't they go indie?", but at the time "going indie" was a process that would assuredly leave a band with nothing but a cult following. For any bands with aspirations of touring, it simply wasn't an option.

And sure, there's baggage that comes with being a Sex Pistols fan who lives in the middle class Great Plains of America (like all of the trendy kids who sport their shirts and whatnot), but if you're in it for the music, it shouldn't really matter. Johnny Rotten proved to have much musical integrity by forming the great PiL, who basically created the bass-heavy post-punk sound. You think a guy who ran a clothing store wrote those songs? Not likely.

So why are The Sex Pistols so important? Because they simply don't make music so urgent, vile, or catchy anymore. It's essential to listen to an recognize for anyone who wants to push the boundaries of pop farther without being pretentious dickheads.