Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 3: The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy In The UK"

Artist: The Sex Pistols
Song: "Anarchy In The UK"
Album: Anarchy In The UK (single)
Year: 1976

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

For every revolution in music, there must be a definite starting point, a moment in history that one can point to that unquestionably shows the start of this new era.  While in most cases, especially in music, this moment may not be the first band to play a new style or sound, it is often when a certain band makes the presence of this new musical form impossible for the general public to ignore.  Though one can see such a moment in every style of music, it has perhaps been no more apparent than what occurred during the final months of 1976.  Though The Ramones had already released their legendary debut record in February of that year, as the year came to an end, there was a shout from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean that in many ways "officially" declared the arrival of punk rock.  Love them or hate them, one simply cannot deny the importance of The Sex Pistols to the birth of punk rock, as well as many of the other new genres that followed.  With an attitude and sound that was pure musical chaos, their almost nihilistic approach to music continues to set them far apart from their peers, as well as most of the bands that attempted to follow in their footsteps.  Lasting only a few years before a wide range of issues tore the band apart, the few songs they did release forever changed the musical landscape.  Though many of their songs continue to live at the top of the punk pantheon, one cannot overstate the importance and impact of The Sex Pistols legendary 1976 debut single, "Anarchy In The UK."

The moment the song begins, one quickly learns everything there is to know about The Sex Pistols, as the opening chords from guitarist Steve Jones quite literally echoed across history.  With a powerful, almost regal tone, few songs have better "announced" the presence of a new band and sound in the way that is found on "Anarchy In The UK," and it is much the reason the song quickly rose on the UK charts.  Jones quickly drops into the songs' unmistakable, driving and crunching riff, and it is in the simplicity of this progression that one can quickly understand why the song had become one of the most covered songs in history.  Using little more than the power chords of the A and C scales, The Sex Pistols made no apologies for their lack of musicianship, and yet there is an authenticity in this simple arrangement that would largely define the punk rock movement.  "Anarchy In The UK" is also one of the few Pistols songs to feature Glen Matlock on bass, and it was in fact Matlock who wrote a majority of the song.  The heavy, yet full drumming sound of Paul Cook is where one can find some of the more "non punk" sounds of the band, as he is not playing especially fast, and he bucks the trend of punk drummers having a very dry sound.  The combined sound of the three musicians was unlike anything else previously recorded, as their is a superb contrast of an almost lazy sound, yet the band is very much tight throughout all of "Anarchy In The UK."

As good and unforgettable as the music is on "Anarchy In The UK," there is no question that the song is all about the vocal performance and lyrics of the legendary Johnny Rotten.  On this song, Rotten (AKA John Lydon) introduced the world to his trademark snarl, and the level of "snot and sarcasm" that can be found in his voice remains unmatched to this day.  Caring little for "actual singing," Rotten rants and yells across the track, yet it manages to work perfectly with the overall mood that the band as a whole has created.  Yet even though Rotten is making bold statements and calling for a complete social deconstruction throughout "Anarchy In The UK," there is an undeniable smirk in his voice, and there is the hint that though he may believe in what he is singing, he is not taking it all that seriously at some level.  This strange, almost playful sound in his voice pushes the song to a point where one can almost see the band mocking the very social scene which they would become the icons of, and one can imply a unique genius within this juxtaposition.  Truth be told, there are few lyrics from any point in history that have become as memorable as the opening lines when Rotten rants, "...I am an anti-christ, I am an anarchist, don't know what I want but, I know how to get it..."  These words in many ways defined both the attitude and perception of the emerging punk movement, and the accuracy and honesty in the statements are the reason the vocals on "Anarchy In The UK" remain so iconic more than thirty years later.

Strangely enough, while the song and band have both become legends, within a few weeks of the release of the single, The Sex Pistols were booted off of their label, EMI.  In total, they were on the record label for less than three months, and one can point to how perfectly "Anarchy In The UK" pushed the buttons of English society as the reason that EMI felt the need to distance themselves from the band.  In many ways, one can see this moment as the embodiment of punk rock, as few instances more clearly show the "dangerous" stereotype that was placed on the style, much in the same way that hip-hop music would be labeled a decade later.  The opening chords of "Anarchy In The UK" can be seen as the "calling card" for the arrival of punk rock, and nearly every hardcore or punk band since has no choice but to cite The Sex Pistols as one of the major influences on their sound.  While there is no question that they were NOT the "first" punk band, or even the first of the new era of punk, one would be hard pressed to find another single that had similar impact across the world, or better defined what it meant to be punk at that time.  Though many see the song as little more than a group "overdoing everything," the band is quite tight throughout the song, and it is perhaps the feeling that the song could collapse at any moment that makes The Sex Pistols' monumental 1976 single, "Anarchy In The UK," such an unforgettable moment in music history.

No comments: