Remembering the Sex Pistols
It has been 15 years since the group changed pop music forever
God Save the Queen
Their first single, ”Anarchy in the U.K.,” was a warning shot. Released in November 1976, the snarling anthem put Britain on notice that the Sex Pistols had arrived. But their second single, the incendiary ”God Save the Queen,” released May 27, 1977, just in time for Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, was a direct, apocalyptic hit. Beginning ”God save the Queen: the fascist regime,” the song was banned from radio in England, but it still managed to sell 150,000 copies in five days. Then on June 7, at the height of Jubilee festivities, the Pistols rented a boat called the Queen Elizabeth and held a floating concert on the Thames. The police sent out launches to pull the plug, which sparked a riot with 11 arrests. Punk had made its mark.
Managed by boutique owner Malcolm McLaren, the Pistols were lead singer Johnny Rotten (a.k.a. John Lydon), bassist Sid Vicious (John Simon Ritchie), guitarist Steve Jones, and drummer Paul Cook. The timing of their cry of rage and frustration was perfect. In May of ’77, U.K. unemployment was at 5.4 percent, the worst since World War II (”There’s no future, in England’s dreaming!” wrote Lydon in ”Queen”). In November 1977 the band released its one and only album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, which hit No. 1 in Britain. But as the leading punk band, the Pistols were cultural guerrillas with no political agenda. After such chart success, where could they go?
To the U.S., of course. At the end of their chaotic six-city American tour that winter, the Pistols imploded in January and went their separate ways. Vicious, accused of stabbing and killing his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, in New York’s Chelsea Hotel on Oct. 11, 1978, tried to commit suicide and finally OD’d on heroin a few months later. Lydon formed a successful postpunk band, Public Image Ltd., and is now writing his autobiography, due next year from St. Martin’s Press. Never Mind the Bollocks was voted the second-best rock album of the last two decades by Rolling Stone in 1987 (after the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). And unemployment in the U.K. has risen to 9.4 percent.
May 27, 1977
Moviegoers watching Star Wars traveled to ”a galaxy far far away.” Readers, meanwhile, were confined to a prison cell in John Cheever’s best-seller Falconer. ”Sir Duke,” Stevie Wonder’s tribute to Duke Ellington, topped the charts.
God Save the Queen