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The Sex Pistols weren’t Mozart, but they conveyed their attitude and feeling extremely well in their music, especially on songs like “Anarchy in the U.K.”
However, their lyrics weren’t as blunt as you’d think. When they sang about anarchy in the U.K., they weren’t talking about wreaking havoc on everything for no reason.
How the Sex Pistols came up with ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’
In 1976, the Sex Pistols released their debut single, “Anarchy in the U.K.” The band’s original bassist Glen Matlock and frontman John Lydon were instrumental in the song’s creation. Matlock came up with the tune’s grinding guitar riff, and Lydon added the lyrics.
In 2017, Matlock told Rolling Stone, “Around the summertime, we were rehearsing and once again I said, ‘Does anybody got any ideas?’ And I had a go at Steve, ’cause I felt I was pushing the band along a bit, but that time he had something, which wasn’t much.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you come up with something?’ And I had half an idea for a big overture, and I just started playing that descending chord progression and everybody picked up on it and said, ‘Where’s it go next?’ And I sort of geared it as we went along.
“John, it happened, had a bag of lyrics – just sheets of paper in a plastic bag – and he pulled something out and he said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you to come up with something because I’ve got this idea.’ Everybody had been talking about this guy, Jamie Reid, who did our artwork, and he was a bit of an agitprop kind of guy about anarchy. And John had written these lyrics.”
Behind the driving beat and blaring guitar are Lydon’s lyrics about anarchy. However, they’re not as straightforward as you’d think.
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The Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ isn’t about destroying things for no reason
Contrary to popular belief, the Sex Pistol’s “Anarchy in the U.K.” isn’t about wrecking things for no reason. In fact, Lydon thinks anarchy is a luxury, and the punk band never had many luxuries.
“I have always thought that anarchy is mind games for the middle class,” Lydon told Rolling Stone. “It’s a luxury. It can only be afforded in a democratic society, therefore kind of slightly f***ing redundant.
“It also offers no answers and I hope in my songwriting I’m offering some kind of answer to a thing, rather than spitefully wanting to wreck everything for no reason at all, other than it doesn’t suit you. I’ve always got to bear in mind I’m part of a community called the human race and an even tighter community called culture. Why would we want to destroy these things willy-nilly?
“I didn’t realize how many professional anarchists were out there – and still are. Oh, my God, Marilyn Manson declared himself as an anarchist, this is how absurd it can get. A boy in makeup in a corset don’t cut it for me; Alice Cooper did, but that’s it. One of them is enough in my life.”
Danny Boyle, director of the upcoming limited series Pistol, perfectly explained the Sex Pistols’ vibe. He told the Guardian that the band exuded such attitude because they were sick of turning into their fathers.
He said, “And what the Sex Pistols introduced, by their profanity and disrespect and vileness, was a break point that said: ‘No – you can do whatever the f*** you want with your life. If you want to waste it, waste it. Be vacant, be futile, be f***ing hopeless, disgust everyone. But it’s yours – you do what you want with it.’”
That’s what Lydon is singing about in Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.”
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Lydon said Matlock hated the song’s lyrics, but Matlock said he doesn’t
According to Lydon, Matlock felt weird about the lyrics in Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.”
“The phrase ‘I am an antichrist/ I am an anarchist’ really upset Glen Matlock a lot, and I couldn’t understand why he picked that. He was, I don’t know if ‘harsh critic’ would be the words, but he was always looking for the softer touch. That’s what leads to the fractional-ism between Glen and me.”
Matlock agreed that he didn’t like the lyrics, but only because the two lines don’t rhyme. “It’s not true that I didn’t like the lyrics,” he said. “The only line that always made me wince was, ‘I am an antichrist/ I am an anarchist’ – they don’t rhyme, and it always gets me. Songs that don’t rhyme properly gets me somehow.
“It had nothing to do with the sentiment. But if you then want to go onto a whole sociopolitical argument about whether it is a good thing to have real anarchy in the U.K. and whether that’s ever going to happen is another matter. But I was quite proud to be onstage singing that song.”
The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” remains one of their most popular songs. Who knew the punk band wasn’t singing about tearing things apart for the hell of it?
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