Ah, once again it’s those lazy, hazy (dare I say crazy?) days of summer when a young man’s thoughts turn to hydroplanes and water cannons. And The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. And lime rickeys. But mostly to the Swindle.
Punk rock was doomed from its beginning. Any art form that’s do-it-yourself, non-mainstream rebellion against commercial art is eventually going to become codified and commercially successful on some level, thus transforming into the very thing that it mocks. The Sex Pistols, who defined punk rock, also defined the death of punk. Formed in 1975, dead in 1978, the Pistols’ influence is immeasurable, but their existence was quite short.
I’ve come to realize that by the time I was listening to the punk rock in Suburbia, USA (which was before most of my suburban contemporaries) it was no longer even a going concern. In January 1978, Johnny Rotten quit the Sex Pistols. He wanted to create groundbreaking music, not something that fit into the punk formula. It was probably another year before I even discovered the Pistols, dead on arrival.
The lads only put out one official album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, but it provided fodder for a generation of musicians. Harkening back to a simpler time in the rock & roll world, a time of three chords and reckless abandon, the Pistols’ music provided welcome relief to the ever-more-complex album-oriented-rock of the 70s. Suddenly, it was okay for anyone to make music, to make a record. This above all else provided immeasurable influence on future musicians.
In addition to Never Mind the Bollocks, a variety of unofficial and semi-official releases have surfaced over the years. One of these is Live & Loud, a recording from the Pistols’ last show (other than reunions), January 14, 1978. Perhaps not the best collection to use as an introduction to the band, this raw recording does give the listener a chance to hear the seminal punk band live, 40 years after the fact!
After this performance Mr. Rotten quit the group, but the rest of the band carried on long enough to record a few songs for Malcolm McLaren’s 1980 mockumentary, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. McLaren was the Pistols’ manager, having created them in much the same manner as the Monkees had been put together 10 years before. The posthumous movie purported to be about the Sex Pistols and McLaren, but it was actually more along the lines of A Hard Day’s Night. And, perhaps most importantly to Sex Pistols fans, it included footage of the band.
The film’s soundtrack is a veritable melting pot of genres and quality, ranging from raw Sex Pistols demos to a disco Pistol medley to Sid Vicious croaking his way through Frank Sinatra territory. It’s not really an album that one sits down with to enjoy song after song. Rather, it’s a spectacle filled with piratey choruses, French folk music and a generous helping of covers. The disc appeals to me in the same way as Eraserhead or a nine-car pileup on the interstate: I can’t seem to look away.
So as the sun rises high in the sky and threatens to boil the whites of your eyes, keep cool with the Pistols. I think we can all agree that they said it best in their song Bodies:
I’m not a throbbing squirm
P.S. Don’t forget the lime rickey.