6000 Songs: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK

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Rob
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6000 Songs: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK

Postby Rob » Sun Apr 03, 2016 3:47 pm

This topic is part of the weekly 6000 songs, 6000 opinions. In this, every week another song from the Acclaimed Music song top 6000 is selected for discussion. The song is chosen completely at random, through random.org, making the selections hopefully very varied. The only other rule in this is that after an artist has had a turn, he can’t appear for another ten weeks. The idea for this topic came to me because I wanted to think of a way to engage more actively with the very large top 6000 songs that Henrik has compiled for us, while still keeping it accessible and free of any game elements. Yes, that’s right, no game elements. You are free to rate the song each week, but I’ll do nothing with this rating. I want it to be about people’s personal reviews and hopefully discussions. So in reverse to other topics on this site I say: “Please comment on this song, rating is optional”.

“Don’t know what I want/ But I know how to get it”

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26. Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK

The facts:
Year: 1976.
Genre: Punk.
Country: United Kingdom.
From the album: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.
Acclaimed Music ranking: #19.
Song ranking on Acclaimed Music in the artist’s discography: 1st.
Ranks higher than Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones, but lower than Go Only Knows by The Beach Boys.
Place in the Acclaimed Music Song Poll 2015: #79.


The people:
Produced by Chris Thomas, Bill Price & Dave Goodman.
Lyrics by Johnny Rotten.
Lead vocals by Johnny Rotten.
Backing vocals Steve Jones & Glen Matlock.
Guitar by Steve Jones
Bass by Glen Matlock
Drums by Paul Cook

The opinion:
I’ve alluded to it before, but Rock music criticism is a strange beast. Look for example to the place The Sex Pistols hold in rock history. It is not exactly uncommon in arts that controversial outsiders become emblems of change. Far from it. Similarly, in a time when modernism and postmodernism already changed the way we looked at proficiency in art, it wasn’t weird to see such a thing happening in pop music. If punk hadn’t hit in the seventies, something similar would have happened at another time, I suspect. Yet in most arts there are still a lot of people who miss the proficiency. For many, the incredible detail in painting someone like Rembrandt managed is still held as a highpoint in visual arts. In comparison, the musical talents of, say, the members of Yes have never truly regained appreciation. The Sex Pistols and other punk bands have become something of a standard of true rock.

Although I like punk and think it’s a wonderful way to take rock I never completely understood the almost complete rejection of prog-rock by music critics and the Godly embracement of punk rock as the True Path. There is a place for both of them I think, but it is weird to look at a barely talented band like The Sex Pistols as a gang of musical prophets.

It’s a sign of the time, of course. The Sex Pistols were a very relevant band, in- and outside of music. Mostly outside of music, though, because most of their music was banned in the UK at the time and therefore didn’t even have the possibility of becoming hits. Outside the UK they were never that big, which is understandable, because their lyrics, although containing a universal feel of danger and violence, are filled with details that only the English really understand. Johnny Rotten had it in for the British establishment in particular. Besides, he has a very pronounced accent that I can’t always follow. A lot is lost in translation for people outside of the UK, even if they actually speak English.

Yet this specificity is also part of the appeal of The Sex Pistols. It is probably what fuelled them, Johnny Rotten in particular. He lashed out at things he knew and targeted things that angered him. For me, the attraction to The Sex Pistols comes mostly from Johnny Rotten‘s vocals. He’s not so much a singer as a violent dog with rabies, trying to bite everything that even slightly provokes him. He growls and snarls with anger, though at the same time he seems to be the happiest dog with rabies ever. He is clearly having a ball. Another gift Rotten had was a great feeling for sarcasm and funny lyrics, which helps him immensely to make his growling appealing.

I’m of mixed feeling about The Sex Pistols overall output (and there isn’t exactly much of it). I always like the energy and in the right mood I can really appreciate their loose approach. Yet, Anarchy in the UK is the only one that completely works for me all the time, outside of its album and outside of its context. It’s were everything that makes this band great come together and perhaps the only song of them were all band members seem to be better than usual, without compromising their sound. The song has swagger, punch, furious energy and above all attitude that few punk songs ever have matched. Besides, it’s one of those few overtly political songs that is completely entertaining, with Rotten spewing off insults and strange questions in all directions. Punk works the best when it combines anger with humour, at least for me.

I mostly praise Johnny Rotten here. That seems like a snark towards the other band members and actually it kind of is. Musically, The Sex Pistols never had quite as much their own identity as, say, The Clash or Ramones. Sure, Jones’ barely-held-together guitar is part of the appeal, but I think without the attitude, humour and snarl Johnny Rotten brought to the band they would never have become perhaps the biggest symbols of the punk movement.

Of course, there is more to punk than the music. I think the importance is almost bigger socially (in the United Kingdom, at least) than musically. In that view, The Sex Pistols were key in starting to give a voice to all the very angry people in Britian, while really becoming a threat to law and order in the UK. The establishment took them seriously and that’s more than you can say about most bands that sing of protest and social change. Quite a feat for a band that claimed they didn’t know what it was they wanted. But they held word when they said they knew how to get it.

Of course that didn’t last long. Perhaps it is inevitable for a band like The Sex Pistols to crash and burn. In fact, it might be for the best because this way they never became part of the establishment. Their name as dangerous demons of rock music remains safe for eternity (or for as long as people still slightly care for rock music). Personally, I’m a bit sad that prog-rock died a premature death, but I’m glad we got Anarchy in the UK, because sometimes anarchy is the only way to be.
9/10

Other versions:
I have a soft spot for artists who interpret already existing song in a completely new way. Well, it seems that Anarchy for the UK has been performed in every existing music genre you can think of. This is perhaps the first time I noticed I didn’t want there to be another version than the original. Not a single one of the covers in the playlist below works. Many are proficiently done. On their own they might not be that bad. The thing is, without the punk sound the song is worthless. It needs the sloppy guitars, it needs the gnarl of a Johnny Rotten, it needs to be unhinged and it definitely needs someone who sees the humour in all this. If these elements are not in place, Anarchy for the UK just doesn’t make any sense anymore.

I mean, a heavy metal cover by a band like Megadeth or Mötley Crüe might seem promising on paper, in reality it lacks the wildness of the original that gives it the danger a song about anarchy needs.

But at least we can understand why metal bands might consider this song. Why would an earnest, soft-singing artist like Scott Matthew even want to perform Anarchy in the UK? Yes, Johnny Rotten sang from his heart, but he wasn’t the type that wore his heart on his sleeve. Then there is a cute ukulele-version by Ukelilli. The singer sounds like a sweet girl, but this is not a sweet song. Similarly, J F Sebastian sounds like something to play when you want to cuddle your lover, not if you want to burn Great-Britain to ashes. Mambo Kurt promises in it’s opening a punk song, but comes with something that sounds like a torch song.

Yet, the most inexplicable of all these covers is a so-called Bossa Version by Taryn Spzilman. It’s wonderful to relax to. But why on Earth would we want to relax when we scream “I want to destroy the passerby”? Anarchy in the UK redesigned as a lounge song isn’t just a huge mistake, but a big middle finger to the original song.

The punk covers work the best, but don’t add much to what The Sex Pistols already gave us. None of them actually know how to match The Sex Pistols themselves. Is it telling that the best cover of this song is by Green Jelly that makes it about wanting to be Fred Flinstone instead of anarchy? The best other version I have is a live track by The Sex Pistols. It’s not a hard song to perform, but only they know how to do it.

The playlist:
I added a song by Yes to this list, just because I can.



Also this:
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Henrik
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Re: 6000 Songs: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK

Postby Henrik » Sun Apr 03, 2016 5:24 pm

Just the other day, I walked down the street with music in my ears and "Anarchy in the UK" came on. The intro grabbed me unconsciously. I almost screamed along the "RIGHT!...NOW...HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!" part and was relieved when I realized I had just sung it in my head. Of course, screaming "I AM AN ANTICHRIST!" would have been even worse...
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Re: 6000 Songs: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK

Postby luney6 » Sun Apr 03, 2016 6:23 pm

Public Image or this, I could never possibly resist singing along with Johnny Rotten.
"God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

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Re: 6000 Songs: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK

Postby PlasticRam » Sun Apr 03, 2016 6:24 pm

I like this song cos this is as hard as it gets and that's kinda the point of Sex Pistols. As opposed to God Save the Queen, where they hold back a little, so that's why I don't like that song as much.

Also the lyrics could have been worse and it still would've been a great punk record, but they actually came up with philosophical things like "Don't know what I want, but I know how to get it".
I feel like that

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Re: 6000 Songs: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK

Postby Rob » Sun Apr 03, 2016 6:57 pm

Henrik wrote:Just the other day, I walked down the street with music in my ears and "Anarchy in the UK" came on. The intro grabbed me unconsciously. I almost screamed along the "RIGHT!...NOW...HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!" part and was relieved when I realized I had just sung it in my head. Of course, screaming "I AM AN ANTICHRIST!" would have been even worse...


Yeah, that crazy laugh is a wonderful way to start a song like this.

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Re: 6000 Songs: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK

Postby Nick » Mon Apr 04, 2016 2:49 pm

The Sex Pistols as a whole are a bit overrated, but this song is still fantastic. In my top 200 of all time. The energy present here is irresistible, and that opening is classic.

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Re: 6000 Songs: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK

Postby Maschine_Man » Mon Apr 04, 2016 7:55 pm

I'm so glad this has turned up on this project Rob, as Anarchy (with God Save the Queen) is the first song on the AM list where I have always questioned why on earth it so high. I enjoyed your write-up, and after listening to the song over the last few days I'm slowly warming up to it.

While I find the history really fascinating, I can not stand punk music and the punk movement.

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Re: 6000 Songs: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK

Postby BleuPanda » Mon Apr 04, 2016 8:13 pm

Rob wrote:It’s not a hard song to perform, but only they know how to do it.


I really like this statement. I know so many people who deride genres like punk for their technical simplicity, but it's one of those genres that proves there can be so much more to a performance than simply playing instruments (never mind the elitism when people suggest a song that can be learned by anyone is somehow lesser due to that fact). I think the Sex Pistols are one of those bands we talk about more than any particular piece of their work for a reason; their image lends a certain atmosphere to their work.
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Re: 6000 Songs: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK

Postby Honorio » Wed Apr 06, 2016 6:13 pm

Excellent review (as always), Rob. A song that it's on my Top 10 of all-time, and not because of "historical reasons" but mainly because I honestly enjoy it a lot every time I listen to it. It never fails on giving me a shot of energy from the very beginning, just like Henrik said. Right now, ha ha ha…
But I would like to point to a cover that's not on your list (and is not on Spotify also), my favourite cover of the song. A cover that appears on an album by The Sex Pistols but it's not played by them. On "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle" (1979), a "posthumous" soundtrack album compiled by Malcom McLaren after John Lydon left the band, appears a French cover of "Anarchy for the UK" named "L'anarchie pour l'UK" played by a trio of French street musicians, with fiddle, accordion and vocals. Only the name of the vocalist, Jerzimy, is known today. The cover is fantastic. The sounds of fiddle and accordion not only gives the song a French touch but a touch of good old anarchy.
You can listen to it with better sound quality here but it's better to see the part of the movie when the song appears, with Sid Vicious wandering around Paris and spreading provocation, chaos, violence and, ahem, anarchy.


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Re: 6000 Songs: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK

Postby StevieFan13 » Sun Nov 19, 2017 9:49 pm

Henrik wrote:Just the other day, I walked down the street with music in my ears and "Anarchy in the UK" came on. The intro grabbed me unconsciously. I almost screamed along the "RIGHT!...NOW...HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!" part and was relieved when I realized I had just sung it in my head. Of course, screaming "I AM AN ANTICHRIST!" would have been even worse...

That has, in fact, happened to me at least once. I wasn't proud.
Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand - Sir Duke (1976)

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Re: 6000 Songs: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK

Postby prosecutorgodot » Sun Nov 19, 2017 10:52 pm

I don't really understand how punk is considered "non-technical." That whole label is pretty much based on the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. Most of the most other acclaimed punk artists have a lot of technical ability. The Clash are pretty damn technical, and so are the Dead Kennedys and Bad Brains, as well as new bands like IDLES (whose new album Brutalism you should definitely check out). I'm one of those people that thinks punk is a living breathing thing (look at hip-hop going through its own metamorphosis right now) and not just a dead corpse from the Seventies. But I were to go off of that line of thinking, I think of the 70s punk movement as more about having a different energy and ethos compared to the previous rock generation. Really, I think punk was a response to the rise of prog and art. Those genres were slow, drawn-out, and full of bells and whistles. Punk simply wanted to do away with that. The Sex Pistols took that idea to the extreme, and being the face of the punk movement, made the whole movement seem like a bunch of ignorant jackasses.
Had to get that out there. I guess overall I really don't love a lot of punk, but since I think of punk as the mother of all alternative genres, I hold it in high regard. It angers me that the general public continues to smear its face in the concrete, and mostly over what I deem is a misconception.


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