SEX PISTOLS:God Save The Queen 7"(Virgin,1977)


"Oh God save history
God save your mad parade
Oh Lord God have mercy
All the crimes are paid"


“Malcolm(McLaren)was there to sell clothes, basically. You know, he was selling fashions. He sold rock n roll fashion and the best way to sell rock n roll clothes was to have a band.”                    

Slowly I began to move around NY and found a small bar called CBGBs.It seemed to be a scene and there was one character in the corner. His name was “RICHARD HELL”. I noticed his T-shirt was very cleverly designed. Being a haberdasher from the Kings Road, I was very enticed by this T-shirt. Holes very carefully arranged in it. And him playing this song, which was his song, called “Blank Generation, I began to adore the idea of new rock n roll through them.


“There was literally no future.." 


SAILIN´ON: Sex Pistols, live at the Jubilee Boat Trip, 1977.

PUNK was promoted to be a reinvention of rock, music so genuine it deserved to step off the mother ship and build a boat of its own, just to set ashore again, on the mighty sea of genres and tags. Soon it sailed down the Thames river in London, on an official day for the the royal jubilee in June 1977.

We are talking about the infamous Jubilee Boat Trip down the Thames river of London inner city, the 7th of June, 1977. SEX PISTOLS, live and loud on a floating party. The ordinary adult citizen of London was probably deeply disturbed at what he saw came drifting by: Punks in leather and bondage, hair dyed in shock colors, raving around on deck of the rented boat, drunk and drugged up, most of them either dancing or fighting to a sinister sound of rock n roll. This took place during the silver jubilee of the most treasured official icon of England, Queen Elisabeth II. Just as they wanted to make sure they were on the wrong side of every public notion of acceptable behavior, they also picked the same day as the real birthday of the Her Majesty. 10 days prior to the ill fated boat trip, SEX PISTOLS released a single, God Save The Queen (Virgin,1977), with following lyrical statement regarding the very same queen: 

“..she ain t no human being…”.

It took absolutely no one by surprise that PISTOLS never made it through their set before police arrived and arrested both management/style council, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood,and band on the spot. Tabloid media was of course present, both in the boat and waiting on shore, eagerly rubbing hands in joy by the thought of the social pornographic feast to come. Speculative headlines in the biggest fonts available. No other country in the world knows the vulgar art of tabloid news and gossip better than the Brits.

If the first media stunt, the scandalous appearance on a BBC TV show in 1976 (see previous post on the Bill Grundy show), made the term “punk” available to an audience outside the tiny clique of London punk pioneers,the Jubilee Boat Trip was the event that made the word dwell on everybody's lips for a while. Held together with the impact of the music, the wonderful outrage of it all, “punk” became a sensational thing mid way to 1977, all across the nation, soon growing into the size of a global trend. Naturally, SEX PISTOLS became the (un)official face of the phenomenon, the obnoxious frontiers of a “cultural revolution”, much reminiscent of the role THE WHO or SMALL FACES had for the mods or GRATEFUL DEAD or GONG had for the hippies.

Why did they take on such a "catastrophic" journey on the river that day in June? Was it for the hell of it, somehow thinking they only took part of the celebration? Was it by accident, picking the absolute worst day for a drunken drugged up journey on the river? Was every participant in the PISTOLS camp primarily a a political activist , more than anything else? Were these people a bunch of comrades, fed on altruistic idealism and radical political conviction, preparing for an all out war on the entire system, vaguely pointing in direction of the utopia “Anarchy In the U.K”? Were Johnny Rotten,Steve Jones,Paul Cook,Glen Matlock,Malcolm Mclaren, Vivienne Westwood and Jamie Reid(PISTOLS designer) cultural terrorists, on a mission to bring back the pop cultural expression and the means of artistic production, to the people once and for all? 

This is a suitable example for a closer examination of what the term punk, as music and (sub)culture, originally was all about and not, since it demonstrates a practical situation which reveals some of its true nature. In a decennial marked by the many different streams of terrorism, violent change, up rise of revolutionary forces all over the globe, this might also be the perfect idea of a PR stunt and a pop cultural hype masked as a political act of sociocultural disobedience.


Shortly after this event, God Save The Queen, despite being banned by BBC due to lyrical content and artwork, ranked as No. 1 on the UK hit list. For a brief moment, punk was pop and pop was punk. And being the undisputed flag ship of what was introduced to London as “punk”, at the “Punk Special” event at 100 Club(SEX PISTOLS,THE CLASH,SIOUXIE & THE BANSHEES,STINKY TOYS,SUBWAY SECT,THE DAMNED,THE VIBRATORS and BUZZCOCKS), SEX PISTOLS became the synonym of the new genre tag. 

Later that year, in October 1977, they released their classic album, Never Mind the Bollocks (Here's The Sex Pistols), a milestone rock album that has become a regular on every all time best list, by fans as critics, generally ranked among the 10 best out of 50 or 100. As formative influence on the genre punk, it would be foolish to even suggest another album being able to measure up to it. Before the break up in 1978, they played several legendary shows in US, paying back some of the deuces from what they “stole” from THE STOOGES, NEW YORK DOLLS,RAMONES etc. Mclaren managed to keep the boat floating until 1980, squishing every vital drop out of the dying horse, preparing a feast on the carcass that once possessed all the seductive power and force known to the world of rock n roll. 

The results of the years in between ROTTENs departure and the ultimate demise of the Flogging A Dead Horse album of 1980, were some fairly good B-singles, 3 legendary music videos with SID fronting the band and a classic punk movie, the mockumentary The Great Rock N Roll Swindle (collaboration between Mclaren and Julien Temple. ROTTEN benefited largely from the PISTOLS hype when he launched his PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED, so did also the ex-PISTOL GLEN MATLOCK and his new band, RICH KIDS, and I presume neither COOK or JONES would have been offered half as many guest appearances or slots in various projects(THE PROFESSIONALS etc)during the 80s without their background from the rock institution of SEX PISTOLS. Malcolm McLaren was able to give life to a long list of successful projects thanks to his big achievements with the band and the short lived hype of punk that however seemed to have a crucial effect on the stylistic explosion of the 80s. Vivienne Westwood became the first lady of British fashion, as well as a highly respected designer of international scale. These were the results of the hype that accelerated much thanks to the Jubilee boat trip. If the John Dee of Derek Jarmans Jubilee(1977) was to take this rat pack of brilliance beyond that boat trip down the Thames and into that Golden future of individual careers, don t you think they ought to find motivation enough for the trip in this itself? Yes, the trip being a metaphor for punk.

FRIGGIN IN THE RIGGIN: Jubilee boat trip of 1977.
FRIGGIN IN THE RIGGIN: Jubilee boat trip of 1977.

So let us establish the possibility once and for all: the boat trip(punk) can be read as another promotional stunt, first and foremost to serve personal agendas, not a call for revolution or political endorsement. Show business in the grey zone of what is legally right and wrong, yet another trick up the sleeve of the pop impresario to come, Malcolm McLaren, in the crash and burn history of the PISTOLS. Yes, it was indeed what you may call a very unconventional marketing technique, at least in those days, but that was of course exactly the beauty and success of it. Their main goal was to stir up as much attention as possible, feed the fire of the hype initiated in 1976, when punk was officially introduced to the capitol of England. This episode, which apparently had just as much in common with terrorism and direct action as promo tactics, was a manoeuvre set into action to maximize the total effect and outcome of the SEX PISTOLS saga, including both commercial interests, as the cluster of personal agendas. Ironically, the last punch line of “God Save The Queen”, “…no future for you, no future for me…”, was soon to partly provide a future for everyone aboard, except from SID VICIOUS, whose fate already had been sealed by the black lipstick of his heroin(e).


CHAOS IS KING: Punks inner Sanctum.

 "Actually we're not into music. We're into chaos."
Steve Jones of the SEX PISTOLS(NME,1976)

This interpretation goes well along with the many PISTOLS slogans and titles,like “Cash From Chaos” and “The Great Rock N Roll Swindle”. How it could be possible to ignore the amount of honesty found in these two lines, thinking the wasteland left behind by the originators of punk could bear any permanent ground for another utopia? Like there was nothing learned from the lesson of failed idealism of counter culture? McLaren underlined the whole point in these two slogans, in addition to others, such as “Never Trust A Hippy”, but it was clearly not enough to avoid fundamental misunderstandings.

The last testimony of this approach to a dissection of the phenomena of punk, was given in the Julien Temple and Malcolm McLaren 1980 motion picture/mockumentary, The Great Rock n Roll Swindle. The last PISTOLS release, the singles collection this blog took its name from, Flogging A Dead Horse (Virgin,1980), was yet another hint in the exact same direction. And why should we not believe his version of the punk story? After all, he was the one responsible for releasing the untamed beast named punk that exploded through the slick surface of cultural industry, turned its ugly head around to descend down again. If we dare to resist the temptation of an escape into the world of dreams and idealism, what else could have motivated him but his own creative and commercial career? The thought of Mother Theresa?

The hype of punk in 1977, would be unthinkable without McLaren and his crucial function as originator, manager and impresario. McLaren should know what he was talking about, being the one to collect all the loose threads, literally speaking, and weave them into the one and same garment. The one famously sported by JOHNNY ROTTEN, the “Destroy” long sleeve he wore in the “God Save The Queen” video, perhaps the most glorious moment in the whole history of punk.

I WANNA BE ANARCHY: Rotten at video shoot 1977.

While McLaren and his team designed the blueprint of punk,  an old hippy had watched the whole scenario from a hideout collective in the countryside. On the telly he originally had voted against on last referendum meeting in the collective but as you know, and often gets to hear all about, old habits die slowly and he was only human after all. Unable to change himself down to the emptiest mundane deed as he was, he still believed, almost expected, the entire society to change over night. Perhaps he sometimes had his clear moments, admitting to himself that he already had his teenage rebellion off the list and probably should just grow up, but he never got the idea out of his dreamy head. The possibility of taking part in yet another “revolution” was something he simply could not let go. However, the official “Anti-Hippy” attitude in punk was indeed an obstacle:

”…We don t care about long hair, I don t wear flares…”

Hence, to be credible enough to join the crowd up front at THE CLASH show at Roxy, singing along to their “Hate & War”, he would have to sacrifice his public allegiance to the “peace & love” bullshit, cut his hair short and get rid of the old rags, the beads and the flowers. After some serious thinking, he probably thought to himself he was getting bald soon anyway, far too old for his ideals and also hair length. Well, at least the latter. So the old rug came off, a small price to pay to be able to jump on a bandwagon that could extend his vacation from society, his “pretty little vacant”.

MAKE CRASS, NOT CASH: Punk necromancy, CRASS,1979.

However, his conversion was a bit too late for making the first generation of UK punk bands, and his musical skills too weak to impress an audience already spoiled with albums like PISTOLS Never Mind the Bollocks,THE CLASH debut and THE DAMNED Damned Damned Damned album. In fact, as 1977 started to run out, there was a sense of change in the musical/cultural atmosphere in the London/UK punk scene. Bands were getting more technically adept, egos more ambitious and personalities more mature in their musical tasts. Those who wanted to go further, attaining a future musical career that would last for more than 6-12 months, had already started to move out of punk and into a much more delicate and challenging musical terrain, whether you call it Post-Punk or New Wave, WIRE,THE BANSHEES,THE PRETENDERS,THE FALL and MAGAZINE,to mention just a few. So the ex-hippy started to sweat, because there was not time or talent enough to make such a quick progress, he had to stick with the template that was still open to whatever came along without any specific requirements, except NOT being a boring old fart:  

Yes that's right, punk is dead,
It's just another cheap product for the consumers head.
Bubblegum rock on plastic transistors,
Schoolboy sedition backed by big time promoters.
CBS promote the Clash,
But it ain't for revolution, it's just for cash.
Punk became a fashion just like hippy used to be
And it ain't got a thing to do with you or me.

Well I'm tired of staring through shit stained glass,
Tired of staring up a superstars arse,
I've got an arse and crap and a name,
I'm just waiting for my fifteen minutes fame.
Steve Jones you're napalm,
If you're so pretty (vacant) why do you swarm?
Patti Smith you're napalm,
You write with your hand but it's Rimbaud's arm


These lines were those to open the hippy hijack of punk, or more correctly the corpse of it. A pathological project by by nature, one could say. An unholy though very politically correct act of necromancy, waking up the dead horse buried at the edge of the forest named post-punk, evoking the filth and the fury all over again. A Saint Vitus dance on shaky bones, while the skull grew a Mohawk, just like the logo of another band also engaged in the same Horror Business as CRASS, THE EXPLOITED. Do not let yourself get fooled by the difference in their slogans, one saying punk was dead and the other not. Basically, they were both ghouls of a golden past that seemed to linger on in their minds. These rituals of punk necromancy, rushed on to by the new born punk community of CRASS in the fall of 1977, never met much resistance or even attention. People had moved on and punk was soon old news, nobody could not care less, whether revolution was called off or if it ever was on.

PUNK´S NOT DEAD? The Exploited logo.

The key to the success of punk as a major trend impulse in popular culture, was partly the impact of a extraordinary rock band, that also had one of the most potent conglomeration of style sensibility,marketing know how and social skills behind them from day one. SEX PISTOLS remains the perfect punk band, perhaps the only band that was possible to tag as "punk" rock, with reference to the carefully constructed nature of the chaos that apparently was running loose and believed to be the ruling state of the spectacle. The main reason why some still thinks of it a child of chaos, could be that the effect of it, lowing the technical threshold for starting your own band, fanzine or whatever, was turning into such a stylistic colorful mess as soon as it exited punk and transformed into post punk/new wave.

Ultimately, synchronized to the case of Gaia being a child of Chaos, we might consider Eris(the Greek goddess of chaos and strife) the true ruler of this universe, hence its driving force. Chaos is however possible to stage, a simulation that often is equipped with a hidden function on top of the obvious symbolic homage: blur the ontological link to the established order, either talking government,business,corporations or fraternities. Jamie Reids collage for the God Save the Queen single cover, strikes you as an impulsive product of a hasty and unprofessional kind, the ad hoc substitute method to apply when you re in lack of a typewriter, but still insist on your message to remain faceless. By 1977, such a typographical Do-It-Yourself technique would either suggest you were a criminal(kidnapping was catching up during the 70s) or just another teenage rebel, a single individual without any access to the conventional equipment necessary for printing/publishing in those days. The many different cut out letters from (mainstream) papers and magazines, presumably chosen on random, placed side by side in a specific order of context, constitutes a sense of chaos in their sheer form. A dislocation of identity, as well as the quite obvious pointers to a vague feeling of hostility, rebellion and danger, thanks to the "black mail" link in typographical style. Reid, already a trained artist and designer by 1977, seemed to have struggled to find the right means to cover up for this fact, making sure to apply a certain graphical rawness that probably was a bit of a no no in those rather streamlined days of the trade. If you study the details, how well they function altogether aesthetically, you might come to understand that this is far from being a lucky coincidence in the midst of a raging chaos.   

The end result of this underground punk reanimation that accompanied the shift from the 70s to the 80s, is a fundamental confusion of what the original punk phenomenon was all about. How many times have you not heard a snotty punk kid disclaim the punk credibility of a mainstream punk act like GREEN DAY, despite the fact that they are much closer to what punk was in the beginning than any anarchopunk band will ever be? Put the blame on CRASS, SUBHUMANS,CONFLICT, DISCHARGE and The Filth And the Fury. These people were the ones to identify punk as a sociopolitical reaction to the sad social, economical and political state of their respective societies and political rule, reduce it to just another medium for a cynical political cause.


Ironically, this revisionism on film,The Filth And the Fury(2000), is made by the same man who also bears the credit for The Great Rock N Roll Swindle. 20 years after Julien Temple submitted to a total strip down of the not so idle machinery of punk on film, he now projected a quite different contribution to the debate. The Filth And the Fury takes on a heroic role right from the start, showing the urban wasteland of an England under the rule of the iron woman, Margaret Thatcher. Garbage floating over, one strike after the other, unemployment and riots in the streets. A voice over insinuates a correlation between this social realistic nightmare and what this prologue soon fades over in, “Anarchy In the U.K”, with live shots from 100 Club and The Roxy; social and political frustration is echoed in the chaotic mayhem of poging punks on the dance floor, like if the politically motivated youngsters suddenly had found the right way to express their common political cause. The true story tells another tale. The pogo dance came to life as a violent physical response of an amphetamine fueled SID VICIOUS, reacting to the sound of SEX PISTOLS at the dance floor of 100 Club before he joined the band himself. And SID VICIOUS was, by no means, an individual who dabbled in politics, never mind the swastika on his t-shirt. Neither was his future band mates in the PISTOLS, no matter what they try to claim these days to escape the true story and to free themselves from the crucial helping hand from their creators, a Luciferian motif that in fact runs much deeper in this case than I thought to begin with. However, that s another investigation and story. There was in fact a rumor going around in those days, saying neither Steve Jones or Paul Cook knew the name of the British prime minister in their early PISTOLS days.

McLaren, Westwood, Reid, SEX PISTOLS and other central member of the original 1976-77 punk scene in London, were the original pioneers in all aspects related to punk. Fashion-wise, Westwood / McLaren dressed up all central figures of the scene, such as SEX PISTOLS,THE CLASH,THE BANSHEES and GENERATION X, female icons such as punkette and poser, Jordan, who wore anything Westwood handed her of bizarre outfits, and many more. Allegedly SID VICIOUS was the first punk to ever wear safety pins. Even the concept of “anarchism” was first penned by SEX PISTOLS, on their brilliant 1976 single, Anarchy In the U.K (EMI), while the very first official punk release in England, was the New Rose single of THE DAMNED, released on Stiff Records, October 22, 1976. The first band to release an independent single was THE BUZZCOCKS with their classic Spiral Scratch EP,New Hormones,1977. You will not find any political agenda in any of these, technically speaking, originators of punk. THE DAMNED is very clear on what they conceive as "politics":

"...Give me fun, not anarchy..."


Malcolm McLaren is the inevitable starting point for any investigation of the genealogy of punk as the world know it. After all, he was the one who went to NY in time to be exposed for many impressions that came to be crucial for his translation of the NY groove to the format of Mersey Beat. We will return to his important visit to NY later on, aiming at an even bigger task: Tracing the blood lines, over seas, of what came to be known as “punk”.

Well, what can be said of the young Malcolm McLaren in the early 70s? Half-educated from art school, as he got expelled from more than one school. He took on designing his own clothes, a talent which later proved to get him far. Like many other young men at the time, he was fascinated by the many radical impulses still swarming around in the aftermath of 1968. His interests was however more fixated on the aesthetic sides of it, exploring the field of political language, iconography, symbols and how you could take any element out of context and apply it into new frames, in double meaning. He and his friend, the earlier mentioned Jamie Reid, shared an interest for the Situationist movement and many of their ad hoc campaigns, especially the absurd and provocative aspects of them.

McLaren & Westwood explored several conceptual stores/ boutiques before ending up with a shop that had a assortment containing fetish clothes, in latex, leather and plastic, bondage accessories from a to z, mixed in with their own remarkable design. The couple had already started to incorporate elements from the extreme political symbolical language, religious icons(often in a rather blasphemous manner), some images borrowed from pop art etc. in the design of their own clothing line way before the PISTOLS saga began. They found a formula they would stick to, and by 1977 the first collection signed the couple Westwood/McLaren, materialized. The world had not yet seen such designer clothes, neither in shape, color or shock value. It looked a bit like the self styled, customized, uniform of an urban guerrilla. One that had not decided yet, which political direction to follow.  in fact , the persons who sported these clothes seemed to have extracted every political connotation and meaning from the many extreme symbols he or she wore on sleeve: A perfect metaphor for the crisis of ideology and absolutism in the postmodern world. 

21st CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN:  These 3 items from the brilliant SEDITIONARIES (1975-79) fashion collection of McLaren / Westwood are, literally speaking, perhaps the only “political legacy” of original  punk. You might try to extract or detect something hidden underneath, a consistent  political program or a common ideological platform; London hipsters with a revolutionary agenda, who only used their fashion design to prepare the masses for the big takeover. The only problem seems to be, in the bouquet  of opposite ideological symbols which sort of  neutralize each other, the political non- meaning of displaying symbols that neutralizes each other, and leaves the “political message”  trapped in in-between state of every ideological extremity known to modern man. The long sleeve shirt to the left, wore by members of both SEX PISTOLS and THE CLASH, is probably the most suitable item to illustrate the deconstructive use of political propaganda as an important ingredient in the visual profile of punk:  McLaren/Westwood drains the force of meaning charged in the shapes by placing the symbols and slogans of the extreme opposites in the political landscape side by side on the very same line applied to an. This is a typical modus operandi for the post modern reconstructive designer, robbing or stripping these graphic elements of the previous substance and function, but at the same time immensely profiting from their controversial halo of associations. Clever strategy?   

After a failed attempt at updating the image of NEW YORK DOLLS by dressing them up in red MAO uniforms, which he thought would be the biggest outrage in a country where the fear of a red planet still was a mighty force in the public domain, the observant and reflected McLaren made sure to suck in all impressions he was exposed to, memorizing them down to the smallest detail. He spotted RICHARD HELL in a corner of CBGB, wearing a torn shirt McLarens trained eye could see was carefully customized. The spiked hair style was also a feature he simply borrowed from HELL. The typical use of artist names within punk was also a NY feature. Most important of all, the simple, fast and furiously catchy performance of RAMONES, left permanent marks on McLarens interest, and they had just the perfect sound he later would try to translate into his own musical project.

To be continued...

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