Unpopular Opinion: The Sex Pistols Suck and It's All John Lydon's Fault

Doesn't he just make you yearn for nuclear armageddon?
Doesn't he just make you yearn for nuclear armageddon?

Some time ago, I contributed a blurb to our “Worst Bands of All Time” list about The Sex Pistols. What ensued was a round of, “Oh, he can’t possibly think this, this is hipster clickbait trolling, everyone loves this band, anyone who says otherwise is full of shit, blah blah blah blah.”

No, really. I hate The Sex Pistols. When I first got into Real Punk (TM), two of the first bands I looked up were the Pistols and Dead Kennedys. Both left me thinking, “Is this punk? Because if so, punk is kind of boring.” It wasn’t until I first heard Bad Brains and Minor Threat that I found something that finally scratched my itch.

Every couple of years I go back and check out Never Mind the Bollocks again to see if I’ve missed something. Being more adult now, I can take a more nuanced approach to such things.

It’s not the Pistols that suck, as such. They’ve got killer, Faces-on-coke riffs. Steve Jones can do no wrong and Paul Cook pounds his drums with furious but precise intensity. I could spend some time here beating up on Sid Vicious, but why bother? It’s not as if he impacted the band’s sound in any way whatsoever.

The Sex Pistols have one problem and one problem alone: John Lydon.

As I’m not a PiL fan, either, John Lydon has never been anything to me but some irritating old fart who is famous for the clothes he wore 40 years ago. These days he makes butter commercials, appears on reality shows and gives his two pence worth every time someone makes yet another punk documentary. He might well be the most punchable face in all of punk-rock history, which is a tall order. If we could somehow strip his vocals off and replace him with someone capable of pulling off what he’s trying to do (my vote would be for Stiv Bators), the Pistols would have made one killer record.

None of this would really bother me that much if the Pistols weren’t enshrined as some kind of punk-rock progenitors, when there are about a million other, worthier targets of the attention. There’s a whole crop of “Who started punk rock?” bands that would-be punk archaeologists bring out whenever this conversation happens at bars, from The Stooges all the way back to The Kingsmen and Link Wray. “Handsome” Dick Manitoba claimed that it was The Dictators because they brought “the spirit of wrestling” to punk. The Dead Boys were arguably the first band to define themselves not as a lunatic fringe of mainstream rock but something in violent opposition to it.

You don’t have to opt for the semi-embarrassing earnestness of The Clash to find an alternative to the Pistols in British punk, either. Want manic, Slade-esque intensity? There’s The Damned. Want the British take on Ramones-y, '60s pop kitsch? You’ve got The Rezillos. Want to see an obviously huge future star just starting out? Throw some Generation X on the turntable. Want some nervy yet danceable pop energy? Shake your ass to The Vibrators. Want raw riffs and political intensity? Stiff Little Fingers did it better than the Pistols ever did.

The Sex Pistols were formed so Malcolm McLaren could sell clothes. We can all stop pretending that they made some earth-shattering contribution to rock music history. 


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