Neil Young and the Sex Pistols (and sadly Kurt Cobain) shared a motto, which was ‘It’s better to burn out than to fade away’. The Pistols' dazzling appearance and subsequent disappearance is one of the greatest eruptions that rock has experienced in its entire history, and it is something that is urgently needed today. But let's not deviate, the Pistols produced a series of ‘gobs’ in the form of perfect pop songs, disguised by guitar shrapnel and a vocalist who didn't sing but spat out how bored he was of everything, from the monarchy to interminable 15-minute songs without a single melody. When the matter degenerated and Malcolm McLaren decided to put a guy with no talent at all like Sid Vicious in charge, the Pistols broke up for good, but Johnny Rotten's bark and Steve Jones' electric shocks had already served to bring back to rock & roll the feeling of rebellion and contempt it had originally had.
Perhaps another of the reasons for the band’s rapid demise is that they were very clear that they were never going to surpass their only work, Never Mind The Bollocks, which is one of the most perfect rock albums in existence. The album is a kind of ‘greatest hits’ in which every second, from the sound of jackboots on Holidays in the Sun to that kind of fart with which Johnny Rotten closes E.M.I., it all fits perfectly. So much so that one of the biggest egos in the history of music, Noel Gallagher, said "I've made over ten albums and in my head none of them are up to that... and I'm a pretty arrogant bastard". No wonder our ten favorite Sex Pistols songs belong to that album.
Anarchy in the U.K.
This is possibly the second song in history that has put more guitars in the hands of angry young people, after Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode. Produced with mastery by Chris Thomas (he managed to make a record played by some youngsters who barely knew how to play, sound great). The song sounds absolutely brilliant, with Steve Jones unleashing his guitar, his 71 Gibson Les Paul Custom that had belonged to Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls, doing two solos (something that could not be more punk, since punks, supposedly, hated solos). Johnny Rotten does not beat around the bush either, releasing from the beginning one of the most famous lines in the history of rock: "I am the Antichrist, I am an anarchist", something that sounded scandalous but he added because he could not think of a better rhyme...
God Save The Queen
By the time God Save The Queen was released in May 1977, Glen Matlock, the Pistols' original bassist, was no longer with them. Luckily, he had had time to compose a good part of the riffs and music for many of the songs on the album, the mythical God Save The Queen among them. His replacement, Sid Vicious, was unable to not know one's ass from one's elbow, let alone play the bass, so Steve Jones had to record most of the bass parts on it. The Pistols became the UK's public enemy number one, embittering Queen Elizabeth II's jubilee. This is another perfect song in which many bands, ironically if we consider their lyrics, saw the future of rock & roll.
Holidays In The Sun
The fourth, and last, single release before Never Mind The Bollocks was also the song chosen to open that wonderful album. From the moment that those military boots sound, one has the feeling that a revolution is about to begin, something that is confirmed when Steve Jones demonstrates that with four good 'power chords' and a lot of attitude, better songs can be composed than with ten years at a music conservatory. I'm sure Paul Weller agrees, because to this day he still thinks those four chords were stolen from him and his In The City for The Jam. He may be partly right, but despite the great song In The City, if I had to choose I would go with Holidays In The Sun. It is one of the few songs they wrote after Matlock's departure, although Vicious, fortunately, did not participate in the recording either.
The Pistols' third single, released in July 1977, has one of the least (or possibly most) punk origins in history. The man in charge of creating their well-known riff, again Matlock before being fired, says he was inspired by ABBA's SOS. Beyond that, the song is again an incendiary bomb thanks to the two main weapons of the band, the guitar of Steve Jones, again with the white Les Paul, and Rotten’s shouting. Of course, a good chorus sung at full blast is also fine…
The New York Dolls, and in particular Johnny Thunders, had been one of the great influences on the band, but the Pistols and Rotten in particular were iconoclasts who operated a scorched earth policy – nothing grew in their wake. So in this song they decided to make fun of the New Yorkers and their song Looking For A Kiss. The end of the song is truly explosive with Rotten shouting "A Kiss, a kiss you're sealed with a kiss, Looking for a kiss you're coming to this, I wanna kiss anything, Oh kiss this, batty boy" while Jones goes into ecstasy with his guitar with a solo that couldn't be more Thunders. Of course, Thunders recorded his response to the Brits, London Boys, on an album in which he had Paul Cook and Steve Jones as guests.
Rotten and the Pistols were getting into a rage with the company that signed them - and then fired them - in record time. Jones composed the powerful opening riff and played his black '54 Les Paul Custom on a Fender Twin, leaving behind another of his Chuck Berry-type solos. Rotten enjoys every word and twists them with fury and irony.
One of the band's most powerful songs and with one of its sharpest and hardest lyrics on a subject as controversial as abortion. Jones composed the initial riff, which is played with two guitars, and offered the music for Rotten to stir things up again: "Mummy, I'm not an animal".
Malcolm McLaren, the band's manager, had a store called SEX in London and wanted his guys to write a song called Submission, about sadomasochism and other paraphernalia in the vein of Lou Reed's Vicious, but Johnny Rotten had had enough of McLaren and decided, along with Matlock, to play the ultimate joke by turning Submission into a song about a submarine mission. Musically, it is one of his most classic songs, with a riff that could have appeared on a Doors or Kinks album.
Another song that bears the mark of Steve Jones and that, musically, is a mixture of two of the things he liked most, the New York Dolls and Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, the one that had as a guitarist his role model, Mick Ronson. A simple song, with only two chords and two words in the chorus, but with some great licks by Jones. Lyrically Rotten is ironic about the attention received by a girl, as he has "no feelings for anybody else, except for myself".
There were many people that Johnny Rotten wanted to call a liar, but he was probably thinking of McLaren, in expressing all the rage of a group of young people who were thrown, without any preparation, into the adult world and became a gold mine. Musically, they were once again inspired by the New York Dolls, in particular Puss 'N' Boots, but once again they surpass their references, because Liar is a much better song than the model.