The Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols were an English rock band that spearheaded the London punk scene in the summer of 1976. Their debut single, “Anarchy In the UK,” appeared on EMI that November but was quickly withdrawn after the band cursed on television. After two annulled recording contracts, they signed with Virgin and issued the 1977 singles “God Save the Queen,” “Pretty Vacant,” “Holidays In the Sun” and the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.

They imploded in January 1978 after a brief, shambolic tour of the US south. Singer John Lydon recorded a string of albums with his next band, Public Image Ltd. Original bassist Glen Matlock formed the Rich Kids with Scottish singer Midge Ure. Guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook continued the Pistols name with the 1978/79 singles “Silly Thing” and “The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle,” followed by a namesake mockumentary film.

Despite their brief existence and small output, the Pistols were the catalyst for UK punk and its outgrowth in new wave and post-punk. They were uninhibited by their technical limitations and this stance inspired numerous onlookers to take up instruments for the first time. Bands that formed in their wake include The Clash, The Damned, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Penetration, the Buzzcocks, The Adverts, X-Ray Spex, The Slits, and Generation X.

Members: John Lydon [aka Johnny Rotten] (vocals), Steve Jones (guitar), Paul Cook (drums), Glen Matlock (bass, harmonies 1975–77), John Ritchie [aka Sid Vicious] (bass 1977–78)


The Sex Pistols evolved from The Strand, a garage-rehearsal band formed in early 1973 by Shepherd’s Bush teenagers Steve Jones, Paul Cook, and Warwick “Wally” Nightingale. They named their band after the song “Do the Strand” by Roxy Music, one of Cook’s favorite bands at the time. Collectively, they were inspired by the “lad’s rock” of Mott the Hoople, the Faces, Slade, and the New York Dolls.[1]

Jones and Nightingale acquired most of their instruments through a heist of the Hammersmith Odeon on the final night (7/3/73) of the Ziggy Stardust Tour by David Bowie and his then-backing band, The Spiders from Mars. As Nightingale later revealed, they “took the whole PA, every single one of their microphones. RCA were recording [the concert], so they were Neumann microphones, about five hundred pounds apiece.”[2]

As rehearsals commenced, the three musical novices assumed new roles: Jones (vocals), Nightingale (guitar), Cook (drums). The bass slot was initially filled by Cook’s brother-in-law, Del Noones, while a fifth member, Cecil, briefly joined on percussion. They played a mix of Small Faces covers and two early originals: “Did You Know Wrong,” a Cook-penned love song; and “Scarface,” a morbid number co-written by Nightingale and his father.

In late 1973, Jones and Cook started frequenting a vintage boutique at World’s End on King’s Road called Too Fast to Live, owned by haberdasher Malcolm McLaren and designer Vivienne Westwood. The place sold retro rocker ware, having once catered to ’70s Teddy boys in its prior incarnation, Let It Rock. Enchanted with the clothes, memorabilia and atmosphere, Jones and Cook spent hours at the shop, where they warmed to McLaren and befriended his weekend sales clerk, Glen Matlock.

(more to come)

Image-wise, the Sex Pistols were among the first in a wave of bands — which also included Split Enz, Sailor, Easy Street, Deaf School, Roogalator, Slik, and the Kursaal Flyers — to sport short hair in the post-Beatles era. This, combined with their anti-triangular mode of dress, is often cited as a catalyst in the fashion world’s move away from the scruffy, bedraggled styles of the early-to-mid 1970s and toward the cleaner aesthetic of the following decade.

Notorious for their loud and abrasive approach, the Pistols gleefully displayed limited levels of skill at their respective instruments, a posture that emboldened hundreds of inexperienced onlookers to follow suit.




  1. INC19: “An Interview with Drummer Paul Cook of Sex Pistols and Manraze.” (Nov. 29, 2011)
  2. Savage, Jon. England’s Dreaming

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