The Sex Pistols

      Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (Warner Bros., 1977)
    The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (Virgin, 1979)
   Filthy Lucre Live (Virgin, 1996)
    Sex Pistols (Virgin International, 2002)
     Burton-on-Trent (live) (Get Back Punk., 2005)

The Sex Pistols made far more headlines than songs, but they were punk pioneers nonetheless, four skinny British guys who helped invent the genre's angry, tradition-smashing sound. They fired a shot heard 'round the world, shocking polite society in Britain with genius singles and perfectly staged antics, then promptly broke up at the end of a disastrous American tour in 1978. Thousands of lousy bands have tried to imitate it, but Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols—the one and only LP the band recorded—still cuts deep into the heart of rock & roll. Here are the scornful anthems that inspired a generation of rebels during 1976-77 ("Anarchy in the U.K.," "God Save the Queen," "Pretty Vacant," "No Feelings"). Steve Jones rips blaring anti-riffs out of his guitar, while Johnny Rotten taunts us with alternating flashes of wild insight and utter rudeness. The astounding cuts "Bodies" and "Holidays in the Sun" suggest that the once (and future) John Lydon sensed something basic about the sanctity of human life, as well as the rotten way human beings have come to live it.

The Pistols' catalogue has been packaged and repackaged many times over on discs that are largely not worth your lunch money, let alone your bandwith. The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle is a soundtrack compilation, documenting the band's dissolution in more detail than necessary. Rotten is long gone by this point, and the concepts of manager Malcolm McLaren loom large over the proceedings: choral foreign-language versions of the hits, a tasteless matchup of Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook with Great Train Robber Ronald Biggs, and so on. Swindle's only essential moment is a poignant mauling of "My Way" by the late Sid Vicious. Filthy Lucre Live documents the band's dispiriting 1996 reunion tour (with original bassist Glen Matlock); eminently avoidable.

For a glimpse of the Pistols during their live heyday, check out Burton on Trent, which documents a fiery (and long-bootlegged) gig from September 24, 1976. The Sex Pistols is an import box set that includes Never Mind the Bollocks, plus live tracks (mostly from '76), demos and other inessentials. It lists for around $80, which Johnny Rotten would surely find hilarious.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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