THE SEX PISTOLS – “Pretty Vacant” / “No Fun” (Virgin VS 184) July 1977
“In 1962, nobody really wanted a band looking like us and playing what we wanted to play, because the people running the music business couldn’t understand anyone wanting to hear it.” – Mick Jagger
The Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant” – In case anyone’s forgotten, 15 years have elapsed since then and things really haven’t changed that much, eh kidz!!
There are certain all-too-rare occasions when, without warning, a record comes hurtling out of left field . . . stops you dead in your tracks, floors your expectations, simply SHOCKS you, and promptly sets the adrenalin pumping around your system at ten times the normal speed.
It happened to me (and I’m certain I’m speaking for countless others), the very first time I heard Little Richard frantically scream “Awopbopaloobop”, Chuck Berry motorvatin’ through ‘Johnny Be Goode’, The Kinks brutalising ‘You Really Got Me’, Keith Richard’s fuzz guitar intro to ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, the psychotic delirium of Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’, the we-ain’t-gonna-take-no-more-of-this-crap angst of The Who’s ‘My Generation’, the Velvets’ cacophonic ‘Sister Ray’, the contempt with which Dylan spat out ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, hearing The Stooges’ ‘1969’ being played immediately after CS&N’s ‘Marrakesh Express’ one humid morning over a New York radio station a couple of weeks after Woodstock, Television’s surreal ‘Marquee Moon’ . . .
I experienced the same feeling this Friday when I received an acetate of The Sex Pistols’ third single, ‘Pretty Vacant’. With few exceptions up until now the ’70s have been a concept: take an idea then build a band (like Kiss or Aerosmith) around it and cold-bloodedly exploit it for every dollar it’s worth. That’s, of course, if you have a taste for yesterday’s warmed-up leftovers!
The Sex Pistols are an exception quite probably the only rock band currently living and working in the present. Not last month, not next year, but NOW – whilst all around them their immediate competitors, especially those embraced by New Wave-ism, are lost in various half-cocked fantasies of what a 1977 rock ‘n’ roll band should be like.
Contrary to expectations, The Sex Pistols turn out to be not merely somebody’s idea of a band called The Sex Pistols, but the genuine article. What The Sex Pistols have in common with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Keith Richard, Townshend, Dylan and Iggy – I’ll even throw in Wayne Kramer – was that when they stood on the threshold of their respective careers – for a brief moment – not only were they devoid of illusion and pretension but they had their finger firmly on the pulse of a generation.
We have that situation recurring at this very minute. Picture yourself trying to describe the sheer overwhelming impact of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, ‘My Generation’, ‘Raw Power’ or even ‘Dancing In The Street’. Truthfully, there aren’t words. And unless you’re terminally insensitive, you can’t possibly fail to recognise the numbing shock of reality when, on such rare occasions as these, it presents itself with all the subtlety of an earthquake.
The Sex Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant’ is one such instance. With this disc, the Pistols positively cream their closest competition with muscle to spare. Forget about the acceptable face of outlaw chic. The Sex Pistols are a band virtually unable to perform before a public who helped to create them. It’s a vacuum in which no other band has until now, found itself thrust.
As a result of this dilemma, the only positive outlet for their frustrations is the comparative isolation of the recording studio and it’s from there that ‘Pretty Vacant’ – the music, the noise, the intense atmosphere – boils over in sheer anger and desperation.
People have been trying to get back to this pitch of intensity throughout the ’70s and the cumulative desperation seems finally to erupt on this seminal single. Apart from anything else, ‘Pretty Vacant’ establishes that The Sex Pistols are not one-and-a-half hit wonders, and there’s nothing about this record that should prevent any shop from stocking it, any radio station from keeping it off the playlist except bloody-minded bigotry.
However, I’m sure that someone will find a ‘suitable’ excuse for, as we have all been made aware (during this Jubilee year) both The Establishment and a good number of citizens of this Sceptered Isle are riddled with prejudice and hypocrisy to the extent that The Sex Pistols have been virtually branded the Ni**ers Of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
In the face of media backlash, which has had quite the opposite effect than that intended, The Sex Pistols continue to gain momentum. In fact if the heat were suddenly switched off, perhaps the desperation with which they approach their vocation might dissipate.
You see, The Sex Pistols are so much a part of the present social climate that next year they may be a spent force, maybe the Old Farts of The New Wave, maybe (if some people have their way) dead.
However, let the future take care of itself. Whatever the outcome, we’ll never ever forget 1977 in the same way we forget 1973, 1974, 1975 and most of 1976! For the time being, I long for that Thursday evening when I switch on BBC1 and see Savile gawp into the camera, “Err-eh-err-err, it’s Number One . . . it’s Top Of The Pops . . . it’s ‘err-eh-err-err, them Sex Pistols lads with ‘Pretty Vacant’ . . . ‘err-eh-err-err.” (NME)
The beat of the street continues and this time who dare ban it? There is sod all anyone could find to complain about this, but I’m sure someone will come up with something or other.
Expect to see it high up the charts anyway. We don’t give stars for singles anymore, but if we did this would score a few, not for the sake of it, rather because of it.
“And we don’t care”, says John Lydon. “one of these days they’re gonna crucify me,” John Lennon said that. (Record Mirror)