Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
With the release of over 70 SecondHandSongs-verified versions of the Sex Pistols’ debut single since 1976 (and many more informal covers), “Anarchy In The U.K.” takes the punk prize for being their most-covered song. The harsh rallying cry for Britain’s disaffected youth has generated over 10 million views on one YouTube post alone. As noted in our track-by-track covers review of Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols, “Anarchy” kicked-off a cultural phenomenon and has garnered accolades from establishment icons like Rolling Stone magazine and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which, at the time, the band would have stood systematically against.
The original appeared as a single nearly a year before it was featured on the band’s one and only studio album. It opens with the crashing of guitars, drums and John Lydon’s shout of “Rrrright! Now!” followed by laughter. The sonic assault breaks for a fake belch before Lydon resumes his screeching diatribe that includes a laundry list of politically themed abbreviations (IRA, UDA, MPLA) and the recently-discontinued British music newsweekly NME.
Music writer Tim Sommer in The Observer had this to say in a great article about the song on its 40th anniversary:
But for a staggering, shattering few moments, “Anarchy in the U.K.” and the Sex Pistols shocked the world as no other artist ever has or ever will. We can never recreate that moment, the instant when a rock band from the wrong side of the socio-economic spectrum made a loud noise and shouted “Match!” while sitting on a pile of dynamite, but here’s hoping it can happen again.
We’ve rounded up a variety of styles of the iconic track worth sharing. John Lydon marked his final live performance as Johnny Rotten with the question, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” It’s safe to say that none of these covers will leave you feeling that way!
The Puppini Sisters – Anarchy in the U.K. (Sex Pistols cover)
My, what a difference four decades makes: the Puppini Sister rolled this one out with chirpy harmonies and serious “swing punk” style last year (2017). The Postmodern Jukebox influence is obvious from the arrangement to the video production. The “sisters” hail from the U.K. but there’s only one Puppini in the bunch: Italian-born Marcella, who teamed up with Kate Mullins, Emma Smith and a three-piece backing band in 2004 when their Andrews Sisters-inspired homage began. The three-part harmony, tight jazz guitar, stand-up bass and drums all come together to create the happiest version of this song you’ll ever hear.
The Bad Shepherds – Anarchy in the U.K. (Sex Pistols cover)
Comedian, actor, writer, folk musician Adrian “Ade” Edmonson and his Shepherds followed up their debut album (containing their version of “God Save The Queen” which we wrote about here) with this as their lead track on 2010’s By Hook Or By Crook. The song opens with the drone of pipes (recalling Led Zeppelin’s “In The Light”) then builds with soft mandolin and a hushed, but quick, reading of the song’s first verse. The arrangement features a terrific harmonized chorus and, at nearly a minute longer than the original, still ends much too soon.
Low IQ 01 (feat. Yukari Fresh) – Anarchy in the U.K. (Sex Pistols cover)
The musical equivalent of schizophrenia… Ichikawa Masayuki might be Japanese but he’s influenced here by reggae, ska, and Brazilian rhythms. Some categorize his music as jazz, or funk/soul, but he’s considered to be “similar to” Fishbone and Green Day. For eight seconds, you think it’s slow reggae, and then the bossa nova starts. The frenetic track defies convention and appeared on the 2001 album Master Low 2.
Tito Larriva and The MDH Band – Anarchy in the U.K. (Sex Pistols cover)
Bono’s 2000 motion picture The Million Dollar Hotel gave us the all-star Million Dollar Hotel Band, which included among others, Bill Frisell, Brian Blade, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and on this track, Mexican/American singer/songwriter Tito Larriva. Larriva, who also appeared in the film, sings the gritty rocker in Spanish on the soundtrack album. The arrangement incorporates riffs influenced by Eurythmics’’ “Love is a Stranger” and The Motors’ “Dancing the Night Away.” Ay-ay-ay!
Roberto Cacciapaglia – Anarchy in the U.K. (Sex Pistols cover)
Another piece of hard-to-define work… The accomplished Italian composer Cacciapaglia was said to have, “straddled the line between avant-garde and pop” on 1992’s Angelus Rock. The track opens with what sounds like a medieval round and evolves into an angelic, operatic, prog rock sing-along which then veers further into uncharted waters. Plenty of vocal interludes and dance beat instrumental breaks throughout. Best played loud.
Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias – Anarchy in the U.K. (Sex Pistols cover)
Call it a spoof, but the 50s doo-wop here is designed to entertain in a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band kind of way. Then there’s the humorous call-and-response verse. Not serious, but a short take on the song that you would never have expected. The Manchester UK-based post-punkers included it on their 1978 album Skite.
P.J. Proby – Anarchy in the U.K. (Sex Pistols cover)
Inexplicable. Proby’s 9-minute bizarro NSFW spoken-word jam meanders around like a mad man. The enigmatic American singer, songwriter, and actor rants his way through a dance track surrounded by random audio snippets and electronic harpsichord. He changes the “U.K.” lyric to “U.S.A.” and throws in a few other wacky adlibs. The track appeared first as a 1987 single then later on his 1995 mostly-covers compilation The Savoy Sessions.
Mötley Crüe– Anarchy in the U.K. (Sex Pistols cover)
The Crüe bring the F-bombs, shredding guitars, and arena rock sing-alongs to their anthemic heavy metal version. Oh, and they also change “U.K.” to “U.S.A.” in the lyrics, but not the title, of course. Recorded for the 1991 greatest hits compilation Decade of Decadence 81-91.
- Super fast speed-metal from Adrenalin O.D., if only for their album title Humungousfungusamongus. (1986)
- “Touching” Italian-accented acoustic folk guitar and violin from Casa del Vento. (2002)
- Power pop with harmonies from Japanese-Polish-American singer, actress, and semi-retired model Anna Tsuchiya. (2007)
- Jazzy, loungey, bossa nova version from Brazilian-born Taryn Szpilman. (2008)
- In case you missed them – upbeat folk, lullaby, and Bhangra versions in our look at the full-album tributes of Bollocks and a sweeping, lush, electro-pop version in our track-by-track breakdown here.
Hitting singles: Part IV of the series will take a look at “God Save the Queen.”