The Sex Pistols (1976) © Bob Gruen /
The Pistols discography is a nightmarish, messy affair. Although They released onlY four singles and one album in their lifespan, for a mere total of 16 tracks officially put out until they acrimoniously split after the infamous concert at the Winterland, S.F. on January 31st 1978.
After that Glitterbest (Malcom Mc Laren’s management company) and Virgin, still shocked by the death of their golden eggs chicken, flooded the market with: singles of the late incarnations of the Pistols with Ronnie Biggs or Tenpole Tudor filling in for Johnny Rotten, greatest hits, Sid’s songs, soundtracks of “The Great r’n’r Swindle” on 1 or 2 Lp’s, with different covers and various permutations of tracks and other barrel scraping items.
But, ladies and gentlemen, that’s not what we are here for. We mean it, man… So we’ll discuss only prime Sex Pistols stuff: their true legacy recorded when they were still a working unit, more or less until Malcom and Johnny fired Glen and hired the almost inept Sid Vicious on late December 1977.
The Pistols at work in 1976
Since then they were highly unproductive. In their last year not a single new song was penned, being the sensitively titled “Belsen was a gas” an old Sid’s song, most likely written for the Flowers of Romance and “Religion” (later recorded for P.I.L.) only rehearsed during the ill-fated North-American tour of early 1978 and so never properly recorded. “E.M.I.”, their final joke on Sir John Read’s major label, and “New York”, a blatant insult to David Johansen and Sylvian Sylvian (the latter should have been Pistols guitarist and leader, had he followed Mc Laren when the New York Dolls splitted in Florida in 1975), were already ready and fully developed when a couple of weeks after Glen’s sacking the band regrouped and entered at the Gooseberry and Wessex studios to cut six tracks with their soundman Dave Goodman in the second half of January 1977.
The Pistols with Dave Goodman
The following month began the painstakingly process of recording “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols”, under the supervision of Chris Thomas. After the 1992, 1996 and 2012 rerelease of the album as well as the “Suck This” and “Sexbox” sets, we have different mixes, demos and alternative versions of the 12 songs of the album, but up now no proper outtakes are emerged. CreativelY the Pistols were over. Mc Laren’s attempt to had it produced by Syd Barrett and the scene of him and the Pistols mob banging at the door of the Chelsea Cloyster reclusive host is Spinal Tap at its funniest.
On September 1977, weeks before “Never Mind The Bollocks” was officially released, the famous bootleg “Spunk” (then officially printed many times since 1996), was largely available in London, acting as a proper Sex Pistols first album. It contains raw versions of many Pistols classics from the Dave Goodman (the usual suspect for this illegit release) sessions.
The Pistols at Wessex Studios cutting “Anarchy in the UK”
In a way they were better, especially on the vocal department, lacking the mannerism that a more and more frustrated johnny rotten shows in the virgin album. But they were also deprived of the punch and the power reached by the production work by Chris Thomas, who along Steve Jones layered tons of guitars on one of the most -quite ironically, isn’i it?- overproduced r’n’r album ever. Otherwise “Spunk” is an awesome snapshot of the band: The Sex Pistols thrashing their way in full glory.
A more accurate glimpse at the 1976-early 1977 sessions shows a band pumped by Cook’s Moonesque drumming, by a guitar that is pure Chuck Berry via Johnny Thunders, by Glen Matlock’s melodic basslines and fronted by an incestuos mix of a Shakesperean wicked Richard III and a spastic reject from Dicken’s London. Add to the receipe a manager-svengali coming as countercultural agit-prop and prime mover soaked in early r’n’r imagery crossed with Carnaby Street Mod etiquette and post 1968 Situationism. They were misfits, thugs and cockney hooligans deeply rooted in Hi-NRG r’n’r:
They pulverize mod classics as “Substitute” by The Who and the Small Faces’ “Watcha Gonna Do About It“; Freakbeat hits as their take on The Creation’s “Through My Eyes“; garage pop Ditties as The Monkees’ “(I’m not Your) Stepping Stone” and Dave Berry’s “Don’t Give Me No Lip Child“. And they were strongly connected with late Sixties-early Seventies american r’n’r bands: the New York Dolls (via Malcom), The Stooges (Lydon was among the 150ish who attended their unique London concert back in 1973) and the Modern Lovers, hommaged respectively with a fantastic cover of “No Fun” and a so-and-so take of “Roadrunner”.
Here’s a timeline. And Here‘s the Real Sex Pistols!