This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #478: Holidays in the Sun by Sex Pistols.
The Sex Pistols are to Punk Rock, as Bob Marley was to Reggae and Nirvana was to Grunge. They were the face of an entire movement. Coming along in the late 1970s as they did, The Sex Pistols helped to lance what they called, “the boil” of Prog. Rock, as well as, providing a rallying point for disaffected youth in the UK to vent their frustrations against the social structure of their homeland. To place the Sex Pistols on a musical/cultural timeline…they burst on to the UK music scene screaming about there being “No future for you!” two full years before Pink Floyd delivered their rock opera, “The Wall” with its’ seminal classic, “Another Brick in the Wall”. It seems as though English youth had had enough of being slotted into pre-ordained categories and of being treated like commodities. The time was ripe for change. Leading the charge, for better or worse, were the Sex Pistols.
There is no question that the snarling, scowling, violent stage presence embodied by the Sex Pistols was unlike anything ever seen before in England. Lead singer, John Lydon (aka, Johnny Rotten), bass guitarist, Glen Matlock (later replaced by Simon Ritchie, aka, Sid Vicious), drummer, Paul Cook and lead guitarist, Steve Jones would stomp across the stage, spitting on their audience, brawling with other bands in attendance, destroying sets and instruments, all the while screaming out incendiary lyrics about the stifling nature of a Monarchistic society. The Sex Pistols adhered to no rules while on stage. Anything was possible whenever they performed. The electric nature of their shows came as a revelation to young performers like Joe Strummer (who helped form The Clash), Pete Shelley (who helped form The Buzzcocks) and many others who shaved their heads, pierced their skin, ripped their clothing and screamed aloud their frustrations with life as it was and their hopes for a better, different society going forward. But, what do you call an army of non-conformists? You call them an army of conformists.
I could be wrong. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. But, from everything I have seen, heard and read, I am not completely buying the image that the Sex Pistols are selling. In my mind, there is a thin line between rebellion that springs forth from the depths of one’s heart and one that comes from political theatre. There is no question that frustration was building in England during the late 70s among young people. However, change doesn’t usually come because of one or two people asking for it. Change usually comes because someone inspired a mass movement that threatened the status quo sufficiently enough for changes to be allowed. In the case of the Sex Pistols, they never were the sort of band comprised of teenage idealists who found each other and combined their passions and ambitions to create a great band from the ground up. The Sex Pistols were created/brought together by UK Style Mavens, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. Movements have imagery in their DNA. (Think about the flowing banners and flags and torches of the Nazis during their Nuremburg Rallies or, more recently, at the US Capitol, with the Trump flags fluttering in the breeze). McLaren and Westwood bright a sense of style and fashion to the Punk Movement, which allowed followers to know how to dress and how to spot each other in public places. *Fwiw, it was not a fluke that one of the very first things Trump did when he ran for the Presidency was to come up with a slogan (Make America Great Again) and brand it on red hats. Dressing up a Movement is always one of the first steps to launching an attempt at societal change. When it comes to assessing the Sex Pistols, I tend to ignore the pageantry and theatrics and focus on the music.
Truth be told, I like this music. It comes off as the rantings of hooligans but, it is far more cleverly constructed than that. Songs like “God Save the Queen”, “Anarchy in the UK”, as well as, “Pretty Vacant” all contain memorable phrases and commentary that are all backed by playing that is better and more professional than it appears. The song attached to this post, “Holidays in the Sun” discusses a trip that Lydon and Sid Vicious took to Berlin when the Berlin Wall was still a thing. It is a song about the barriers that exist that keep people from being able to go where they want, associate with whomever the please and so on. The parallels between life in Germany with the Wall and life in the UK with so many class-oriented barriers is obvious. The song is meant to provoke outrage and inspire a desire to change the system in which the audience finds itself.
“Holidays in the Sun” was the first track on the only album the Sex Pistols ever released, which was entitled, “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here Comes the Sex Pistols”. One album. Eleven songs. That is it. Yet, here we are, 44 years later, still referencing this album as being one of the most important and influential in the past half-century. It is definitely the foundation upon which the rest of the Punk Rock Movement was built. The Sex Pistols were elected into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. In keeping with their Punk sensibilities, the band refused to attend their own ceremony. In a letter, Lydon called the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, “a piss stain”. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, The Sex Pistols, with Holidays in the Sun. As you watch, please enjoy the theatrics of their performance. It is political theatre designed to offend the comfortable and comfort the offended. How you react to what you are about to see will go a long way toward how you view your own place in our society. Enjoy. I always do.
The link to the music video for Holidays in the Sun by The Sex Pistols, can be found here.
Not surprisingly, The Sex Pistols have a website that you may wish to check out by clicking here.
Thanks, KEXP, for inspiring the writing of this post. Your support of good music is much-valued and appreciated. The link to their website canoe found here.