In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
Our casual Sex Pistols stroll down memory lane concludes today with a look at the covers they performed themselves. If you’ve been with us through the series, we’ve presented their one-and-only studio album Never Mind The Bullocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols as a Full Album feature along with several single-artist tributes to the entire album. We’ve also covered the covers spawned from each of their four singles: “Anarchy In the U.K.,” “God Save The Queen,” “Pretty Vacant,” and “Holidays In The Sun.”
Covers performed by the band first started to appear on official commercial releases only after the Rotten/Jones/Cook/Vicious line-up imploded in January of 1978. However, like most new bands with limited original material, covers were part of their live sets from the start. And since the band’s break-up, several poorly recorded versions from those early shows have found their way to market. But the bulk of any discussion about cover versions performed by the punk icons will focus on The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, the early 1979 double soundtrack album from the “mockumentary” film about the band of the same name.
Johnny Rotten – now on his way to dropping the pseudonym “Rotten” and returning to his surname Lydon – had officially departed from the band during the production of the soundtrack in 1978. Lydon wanted nothing to do with the project in order to distance himself from the band. Thus, only nine of the twenty-five tracks (from the 2012 reissue) feature the Never Mind the Bollocks line-up. Of those, six are covers with Rotten/Lydon’s vocal tracks taken from a 1976 demo session which were added to Paul Cook and Steve Jones’ re-recorded drums and guitar tracks. Sid Vicious (a.k.a. John Simon Ritchie) contributed passable vocals on three tracks – all of which were covers. The album went gold in the U.K. Virgin Records was quick to cash in on controversy when they rush-released two of the Vicious-sung singles following his tragic death in early ‘79. Unless otherwise noted, all songs below appeared on the soundtrack album.
With that, we’ve got the whole punk potpourri here for you!
Sex Pistols – My Way (Paul Anka cover)
Arguably the most infamous of all Sex Pistols covers, the mock pop standard performance with orchestra turns into total punk rock chaos after the first verse. As vocalist Vicious pays no mind to the actual lyrics written by Paul Anka and made famous by Frank Sinatra, the song accelerates in speed with each successive verse. The track was the second side of “No One Is Innocent,” an original that featured “Great Train Robber” Ronnie Biggs on vocals; ultimately reaching #7 on the U.K. singles chart in the summer of ‘78. In the film version (shown above), Vicious ends the performance when he disturbingly pulls a handgun from his coat and opens fire on audience members. The track was subsequently used in several films, most famously in the closing credits of GoodFellas.
Sex Pistols – (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone (The Monkees cover)
A personal favorite, the version sees the edginess of the Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart penned and Monkees’ performed original and raises it with Rotten’s trademark shrill delivery. It reached #21 on the U.K. charts in early summer of 1980. A few other authorized live versions were released as well, including this raucous one from the band’s 1996 Filthy Lucre tour.
Sex Pistols – Something Else (Eddie Cochran cover)
Surprisingly, the second Sid-sung version became the group’s best-selling single. It reached #3 in the U.K., entering the chart a month after Vicious’ death and lasting a full 12 weeks. All things considered, the Pistols’ version honors the rockabilly roots of Eddie Cochran’s 1959 hit and charted higher than the original in the U.K.
Sex Pistols – C’mon Everybody (Eddie Cochran cover)
The third and final Pistols-fronted-by-Vicious single also reached #3 on the U.K. charts in ‘79. Like “Something Else” the single’s arrangement mirrored Cochran’s 1959 hit and also charted higher than the original.
Sex Pistols – Rock Around the Clock (Bill Haley & His Comets cover)
On this humorous effort, the band teamed up with singer Edward Tudor-Pole, British entertainer and lead singer of Tenpole Tudor, for an energetic two-minute version of the timeless rock and roll hit. The bizarre track is loaded with random high-pitched whistles and screams. The song was the second side of the title track from The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle film, peaking at #21 in the U.K. during the fall of ’79.
Sex Pistols – Substitute (The Who cover)
Rotten opens with the taunt of “You don’t need permission for anything” before the band launches into a high-powered version of The Who’s iconic hit. Rotten offers up his patented off-key screams throughout while Jones contributes a solid and compact lead guitar break two minutes in.
Sex Pistols – Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry cover)
Sex Pistols – Roadrunner (Jonathan Richman cover)
In this two-song 6:19 medley, Rotten and the boys seamlessly fake their way through the Chuck Berry and Jonathan Richman/Modern Lovers classics. Rotten struggles mightily with the lyrics while the rhythm section of Jones and Cook power through undaunted. The interplay here is priceless.
Sex Pistols – Don’t Give Me No Lip, Child (Dave Berry cover)
Another menacing Rotten vocal performance over the Jones and Cook wall-of-sound rhythm section juggernaut. The 1964 original, by English pop singer Dave Berry, was the garage-rocking B-side to the hit “The Crying Game.”
Sex Pistols – What You Gonna Do About It? (Small Faces cover)
The band mucks around here and truncates the 1965 Small Faces original to a sub-two minute studio version. Rotten changes the opening lyrics from “I want you to know that I love you baby” to “I want you to know that I hate you baby,” screams in falsetto in the middle, and ends with his fake crying. There’s a longer, grungy, live version of the band performing the song at an early gig with a lot more energy here.
Sex Pistols – No Fun (The Stooges cover)
A seven-minute, mostly two-chord jam from the famous 1976 demo sessions, the track first appeared as a bootleg version on several albums in the late ‘70s but was not available as an official release until twenty years later. Rotten is in primal, screaming form. The track is raw and includes early band mate Glen Matlock in the rhythm section with Jones and Cook. The boys stretch out the original Iggy Pop and The Stooges version by nearly two minutes.
Sex Pistols – Friggin’ in the Riggin (traditional cover)
The bawdy traditional drinking song was the flip side of the “Something Else” single. Steve Jones handled the vocals. The video above, which launched the closing credits of the movie version of The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, is NSFW, much like the Sex Pistols themselves.
- The Swindle soundtrack also included Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren crooning to English entertainer Max Bygraves 1958 single “You Need Hands.”
- Although released under the Sex Pistols name, “I Wanna Be Your Dog” – another classic from The Stooges – was culled from one of the few Sid Vicious–only concerts.
Check out our complete Sex Pistols series here. Top photo by Michael Zampelli.