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History of the Sex Pistols: Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Craig Butler. Formed in London, England in 1972 as The Strand, the Sex Pistols were the true embodiment of the punk rock aesthetic. Together, the iconic lineup of Johnny Rotten on vocals, Sid Vicious on bass, Steve Jones on guitar and Paul Cook on drums were the first punk band to go mainstream – despite intense controversy that surrounded them. The band was together only two years, and released just one album – "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols" – but, they became influential to all that followed. Even after Sid Vicious’ untimely death from a heroin overdose in 1979, remaining members play on. In this video, takes a look back at the history of the Sex Pistols.

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Script written by Craig Butler.

History of the Sex Pistols

They weren’t just pioneers; they were the pure, raw definition of punk. Welcome to, and today we’ll be taking a look at the history of the Sex Pistols.

Early Days

Punk rock band the Sex Pistols started as The Strand in London, England in 1972. The name became the Sex Pistols two years later after guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook were joined by bassist Glen Matlock. Finally, in 1975 the Pistols got their distinctive identity when singer John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten, arrived on the scene, recruited by influential manager Malcolm McLaren.


The Sex Pistols personified the concept of rebellion: their music and personalities defined punk as no other group before or since. Raw, writhing, and totally undisciplined, their work was the essence of the punk aesthetic, with influences from McLaren and designer Vivienne Westwood.

Building a Following

The Pistols built a following with violent gigs at increasingly important venues. Early supporters were labeled the Bromley Contingent, and included future stars like Siouxsie Sioux and Billy Idol.

“Anarchy in the U.K.”

Even then, everyone who saw them knew music was forever changed. Yet amazingly, considering their profound impact, the real Sex Pistols were together for just over two years, released one studio album and only a handful of singles. Signed to EMI in late-1976, they quickly unleashed “Anarchy in the U.K.” The song was a battle cry that caught cultural fire, and spurred others to use music as a political weapon.

The Controversy Begins

Weeks later, the Pistols’ infamous London TV appearance added fuel to that fire, as Jones gleefully tossed off F-bombs. Mainstream press attacked them; EMI dropped them; but that only brought the Sex Pistols more attention. A&M Records snatched them up, and dropped them 10 days later. After finally signing with Virgin, the group began work on their one and only studio album.

Sid Vicious

But differences between Matlock and the rest resulted in his replacement by Rotten’s recruit, John Simon Richie – or Sid Vicious – in 1977. From then on, it was a steady stream of violence, obscenities and scandal.

“God Save the Queen”

Case in point: the Sex Pistols’ second single compared the Queen to a fascist regime. Its defiance spoke loud and clear to a receptive audience of angry youth, and the refrain of “no future” became a punk catchphrase. Even as Britain’s most censored song, the track surged to number two, with many believing the chart was fixed to keep it out of the top spot.

More Controversy

Shortly after, the Pistols played a controversial riverboat show during Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee celebrations that ended in arrests and destruction.

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

Over the next few months, two more singles hit the top 10. Finally in late-1977, the buzzed-about album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols debuted at number one in the UK. A savage attack on the Establishment and good taste, the record’s title made it the subject of an obscenity trial, as “bollocks” is a euphemism for a male body part. Judges reluctantly ruled in the Pistols’ favor.

Sid & Nancy

The group’s first U.S. tour started in early-1978, but was disrupted by political anxiety, illnesses and tensions between volatile members. Sid Vicious’ girlfriend Nancy Spungen was an explosive piece of the puzzle, as the pair had a drug-fuelled, co-dependent relationship.


Things came to a head following a California show, when Johnny Rotten left the band. He later formed Public Image Ltd., while Sid Vicious recorded a solo live album. However, Vicious’ life spiraled out of control after he was accused of his girlfriend’s murder and jailed in New York. The night of his release, February 2nd, 1979, Vicious died of a heroin overdose.

Life After Sid

The others carried on, releasing some successful singles and contributing to the soundtrack of a fictional film about the Sex Pistols: “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.” These works did have their fans, but lacked the intensely-felt ferocity of the “real” Sex Pistols’ records. Eventually, the surviving members reunited for a lucrative 1996 tour, and played together several times afterwards.


Despite their short existence, the Sex Pistols are consistently cited as one of punk rock’s most influential bands. For a group that proudly rallied around the cry of anarchy, they left a legacy that is surprisingly solid and destined to last.

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