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Listed: 20 Punk Moments that Shook the World | reviews, news & interviews

Listed: 20 Punk Moments that Shook the World

Listed: 20 Punk Moments that Shook the World

A miscellany of disruptiveness to mark the 40th anniversary of ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’

The Sex Pistols on 23 May 1977, the day of filming the promo video for 'God Save the Queen'. Earlier, when stopped by police John Lydon gave his name as Dave Vanian – the Damned's singer

Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols was issued on 28 October 1977. It’s an anniversary worth marking. Forty years is a long time and the decades between then and now have not reduced interest in the band or the punk rock maelstrom surrounding them.

Naturally, yet another reissue of the album has just appeared – an unnecessary repackaging of 2012’s 35th-anniversary limited-edition configuration – but although British punk rock was kicked off by the Sex Pistols, they were not the whole story.

Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex PistolsThis romp through 20 memorable moments could be all about Johnny Rotten’s band and nothing else. Instead, it chronologically cherry picks from the wider, fast-moving, always changing story. The timeline is limited to the point the Pistols packed it in and before, and it is written from a British perspective.

Contradictions are rife. What was portrayed in the ever-hungry music press as an outsider’s musical movement was constantly shaking hands with the mainstream. The Sex Pistols signed with EMI. The Clash did so with CBS. Bands appeared on Top of the Pops. Of course they did all this. They wanted to sell records. Touring was a traditional vehicle employed to also help do so.

Yet punk rock was disruptive. But the initial hell-for-leather momentum could not be maintained. Given the agitation endemic to 1977, it was no surprise that the Sex Pistols imploded just over three months on from the release of their sole album. The surprise was that they lasted that long.

Issue the Manifesto

“I hate shit. I hate hippies and what they stand for. I hate long hair. I hate pub bands. I want to change it so there are rock bands like us.” The 24 April 1976 issue of music weekly Sounds carried a two-page spread dedicated to an unsigned band which had played fewer than 20 live shows. Their singer, Johnny Rotten, had forceful views. His band was the Sex Pistols.

On The London Weekend Show, broadcast 28 November 1976, Johnny Rotten once again airs his views about hippies

Start a Movement

The Sex Pistols’ show at the Nashville Rooms on 3 April 1976 was pivotal. They were billed with rootsy pub circuit regulars The 101ers whose frontman Joe Strummer told Jon Savage: “They were light years different from us. It took my head off. I understood this was serious stuff.” Brian Robertson – later Brian James – and Chris Millar (later Rat Scabies) were there too, scouting the audience for prospective members of a band they wanted to form. The Clash and The Damned formed as a result of this show.

Name it

British punk rock got its name – the tag had usually been applied to ‘60s garage rock bands and ones influenced by them – the week of 7 August 1976, when Melody Maker’s Caroline Coon wrote that “the British punk scene was well under way.” “British punk rock” was, she said, a “gloriously uninhibited melee.”

Propagate it

Oxford’s Street’s 100 Club hosted what was advertised as a two-day “Punk Special” on 20 and 21 September 1976. Suzie & the Banshees (sic), Sub Way Sect (sic), Clash and Sex Pistols played. So did Parisians Stinky Toys, The Vibrators, session guitarist Chris Spedding, The Damned and Buzzcocks. Pistols’ follower Sid Vicious threw a beer glass at The Damned. It hit a pillar and shards ended up in an audience member’s eye. Punk’s growing reputation for violence was codified.

Listen to the Sex Pistols’ blistering 100 Club “Punk Special” set

Promote it

The Sex Pistols’ first single, “Anarchy In The UK”, was issued by EMI on 27 November 1976. On 1 December they – with attendant acolytes – went on London-region news and chat TV show Today to promote the 45 and their national tour. Host Bill Grundy egged them on and, gamely rising to the challenge, the Pistols became national news.

Watch the Sex Pistols on Today

Bypass the Mainstream – Do It Yourself

“Anarchy In The UK” was on EMI, Britain’s biggest mainstream label. The Damned’s “New Rose” – British punk’s first record – preceded it into the shops on the independent label Stiff. But that imprint was not run by the band. With their entirely self-generated Spiral Scratch EP, issued in late January 1977, Buzzcocks had done it themselves.

Chase Controversy

Although they pre-existed punk, The Stranglers were adept at tracking the moment. During their support slot to The Climax Blues Band on 30 January 1977 at The Rainbow, their guitarist Hugh Cornwell’s T-shirt looked as though it sported the Ford logo. The word in the centre was actually “fuck”. The Greater London Council duly banned them from venues which they licensed.

Watch a 1977 Dutch TV appearance where The Stranglers take a less-then serious approach to miming “No More Heroes”

Deny the Past

The Clash sang “No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones in 1977”. When bassist Glen Matlock was sacked from the Sex Pistols in February 1977, the band’s manager Malcolm McLaren telegrammed the NME’s Derek Johnson with the reason: “Glen Matlock was thrown out of the Sex Pistols so I’m told because he went on too long about Paul McCartney.”

Ignore Limitations

Punk gave platforms to performers who could not play. Literally so. Members of the 100 Club punk festival version of Siouxsie & The Banshees could not play. Initially, it was the same with The Slits. In America, the same applied to The Germs.

Listen to an extract from a June 1977 Germs show

Get on the telly – Punk on the Box Part One

The Damned were the first Brit-punk band to appear on a mainstream TV pop show. On 26 February 1977, they were seen miming their single “Neat Neat Neat” on Supersonic. It was (and remains) peculiar: an appearance uniting absurdity, aggression and recklessness.

Watch The Damned on Supersonic

Get on the telly – Punk on the Box Part Two

The Jam – caught up in punk – were the first punk (ish) band to appear on Top of the Pops. On 19 May 1977 they were seen miming their debut single “In the City”. Genuinely exciting.

Watch The Jam promote “In the City” on Top of the Pops

Spread the Word

The Damned toured the UK with Marc Bolan’s T.Rex in March 1977. They then played America. In May, The Clash were on the road in Britain with the White Riot-’77 tour with the bill filled out by Buzzcocks, The Slits, Subway Sect and (to begin with) The Jam. Brit-punk had become inescapable.

Challenging Lyrics – Part One

The Sex Pistols inspired other bands to write songs which weren’t “moon, June, spoon.” “White Riot”, The Clash’s debut single, was inspired by summer 1976’s Notting Hill riots. Issued on 18 March 1977, it declared “White riot, I wanna riot, white riot, a riot of my own.” Subsequently some whites would, indeed, riot.

Watch the live promo film for The Clash’s “White Riot”

Challenge the New Orthodoxy – Part One

In the NME of 7 May 1977, The Jam’s Paul Weller said of the Queen: “She’s the best diplomat we’ve got. She works harder than you or I do or the rest of the country. All this change-the-world thing is becoming a bit too trendy.” NB: Despite the headline saying of Weller that “he’ll vote Conservative in the next election”, he was not quoted as saying this in the text.

 Challenging Lyrics – Part Two

Siouxsie & The Banshees recorded a demo for Track Records on 12 June 1977. It included "Love in a Void”. Sample lyric: “Too many Jews for my liking". They then recorded it in November for the BBC as part of their first John Peel session and, in June 1979, issued it as a single – the latter with the lyric altered to “too many fools for my liking”. The rewrite did not erase their idiocy.

Listen to Siouxsie & The Banshees’ demo version of "Love in a Void”

Get on the telly – Punk on the Box Part Three

The BBC had banned the Pistols' “God Save the Queen” single but its follow-up was not proscribed. Consequently, Top of the Pops screened the “Pretty Vacant” promo video on 14 July 1977. Effectively and practically, this was one of the moments confirming punk rock could be commodified and seen as yet another trend.

Watch the “Pretty Vacant” promo video

Challenge the New Orthodoxy – Part Two

The London station Capital Radio broadcast The Punk and His Music on 16 July 1977. John Lydon played listeners his favourite records. A lot of reggae was spun. So were Tim Buckley, David Bowie, John Cale, Can, Captain Beefheart, Kevin Coyne, Pete Hammill, Nico and Lou Reed. Nothing punky in the then-current sense, then. The man known to the world as Johnny Rotten had come out as an aesthete.

Listen to an extract from The Punk and His Music

Analyse the Movement

On Wednesday 3 August 1977, the BBC Two current affairs programme Brass Tacks tackled the thorny subject of punk rock. “I am a Christian” declared Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley to the addled-headed Welsh priest who’d led a protest outside a Sex Pistols show. Bizarrely, one of its two producers was named Brian James – not The Damned’s guitarist of the same name. Essential viewing.

Watch the Brass Tacks punk episode

Challenging Lyrics – Part Three

The Adverts' magisterial “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes”, released 12 August 1977, was lyrically bold. It drew from and extrapolated the story of American murderer Gary Gilmore, who had been executed in January 1977.

Watch The Adverts mime “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” on Top of the Pops

Challenging Lyrics – Part Four

“Orgasm Addict”, Buzzcocks’ debut single for United Artists (issued on 4 November 1977), was audacious. Nothing like this – its subject was addicted to wanking and wanted to fuck as much as possible – had previously been issued on record in Britain. This was way beyond The Who’s “Pictures of Lily”.

Listen to Buzzcocks’ “Orgasm Addict”

Getting Out While the Going Was Not-So-Good

The Sex Pistols’ American tour was a mess. Its final show, at San Francisco’s Winterland on 14 January 1978, became the band’s last.

Watch the Sex Pistols’ swan song

The man known to the world as Johnny Rotten had come out as an aesthete

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