In '75 bassist Glen Matlock was working in Malcolm McLaren's "Sex" fashion retail shop in London. McLaren was nursing the notion of creating a truly revolutionary Rock group. Guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook were recruited. Both hung around the store regularly.
McLaren wanted to hire Television frontman Richard Hell to sing but the group balked. Probably not wanting to simply be sidemen for an established performer they held out for an unknown. The desire for a fresh, raw, angry face - not to mention voice - proved to be an inspired course. Enter John Lydon. Soon to be re-tagged Johnny Rotten, Lydon won the gig by singing along with the store's jukebox (Alice Cooper's "School's Out").
The band's first show was as an opening act for Bazooka Joe (with vocalist Adam Ant). The Sex Pistol's debut "Anarchy In The UK" may not have been the first Punk release but it was out when it counted. The combination of Jones' guitar and Rotten's sneering vocals drilled it. Soon the band achieved enough recognition to warrant being a last minute replacement for Queen on a TV program. Goaded into saying something foul by the show's host, Jones obliged. His profanity shocked the British TV audience and got the show's host sacked. Also, Lydon was arrested for possession of speed. Losing its nerve, EMI soon dropped the band. However, the Sex Pistols did get to keep their advance.
In short order, bassist Glen Matlock was out (allegedly for liking The Beatles) and Rotten's longtime friend, street dweller and semi-competent musician, Sid Vicious (Simon Ritchie) was in. Vicious not only managed to live the Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle to the hilt, he even wrote a couple of new chapters.
The next stop was A&M Records. This arrangement lasted a matter of hours. Their behavior at A&M's corporate headquarters got them bounced. Again, they kept their advance. Finally, they landed on Virgin Records and released "God Save The Queen." This coincided with Queen Elizabeth's jubilee celebrating twenty-five years on the throne. McLaren arranged for The Queen Elizabeth (the ship) to sail up and down the Thames River playing the Sex Pistol's music. Of course, there was trouble and arrests.
In late '77, just in time for Christmas shoppers, the LP "Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols" was unleashed. Controversy and turmoil reached a fevered pitch. So-called moralists were outraged and few record shops promoted the album. Then there was the ill-fated U.S. tour, which was in trouble from the start. The topper came when Sid and his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon went sideways in a New York. Vicious was arrested for killing Spungeon while in a serious drug haze. Out on bail, awaiting trial, Vicious fatally OD'd, managing to elude the New York justice system. The film "Sid and Nancy" documented their decline.
Lydon figured the ride was over and bailed. McLaren tried to keep the Sex Pistols going but Cook and Jones had other ideas. Lydon went on to form Public Image Limited and Love Spit Love. In the '90s the Sex Pistols re-formed and toured with Matlock back on bass.
An interesting sidebar came to light in '10. Namely, Rotten almost landed the lead role in the '79 film, Quadrophenia, which was based on The Who's '73 Rock opera. That certainly would have been an "interesting," if likely unworkable, choice. According to the film's star, Phil Daniels, casting for the film's protagonist - Jimmy - came down to him, Rotten, and another actor.
So how did he beat out Rotten? According to Daniels, acting ability may not have been the deciding factor. "I think they maybe couldn't insure him," offered Daniels. "That was one of the stories. It would have been a bit of a different film [if he'd got the part]." No doubt.
On a more upbeat note, Lydon received BMI's Icon Award in '13. "John Lydon is a true icon whose influence on music, fashion and art has been felt around the world," said Del Bryant, president of BMI.
Originating the "crash and burn" School of Rock, the Sex Pistols weren't around all that long but still managed to make their mark. It all comes down to their debut "Never Mind The Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols." Raw, angry and featuring "God Save The Queen," this is it. It also contains "Anarchy" and "Pretty Vacant." "The Great Rock & Roll Swindle," includes both live and studio tracks. While continuing the Sex Pistols' manic drive, it's a step down from their debut. Of all the live albums floating around, "Live At Chelmsford Top Security Prison," is the best. Solo outings by Sid Vicious and Steve Jones are forgettable. Manager McLaren did a little better with two decent albums "Fans" and "Round The Outside! Round The Outside!" Lydon fared best of all with Public Image Ltd.