Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
The hype and controversy brought on by the release of “God Save The Queen” had barely subsided before the Sex Pistols followed up with their third single. “Pretty Vacant” was released just over a month later, on July 1st of 1977. Both songs rode the UK Top 40 charts simultaneously throughout that month with “Pretty Vacant” ultimately peaking at #6 during an eight-week run. In a half step towards “establishment” legitimacy, the band was invited to perform the song – via a promotional video – for its first and only appearance on the popular BBC television show Top of the Pops. Even this track – and, of course, this appearance – garnered controversy when the special emphasis John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) was placing on the second syllable of the word “vacant” become obvious.
Glen Matlock, an original founding member of the band later replaced by Sid Vicious, cited ABBA’s “SOS” and Small Faces “Wham Bam Thank You Mam” as inspirations for the iconic opening guitar riff and arrangement. The song was lauded by NME magazine as its 1977 “Single of the Year.” It would chart in the UK three more times: in 1992 on its 15th anniversary, a live version from the re-formed group in 1996, and most recently on its 30th anniversary in 2007. According to our research, it’s spawned more cover versions than any other Sex Pistols song outside of “Anarchy In The U.K.”
As you’ll see, the covers here represent an embarrassment of riches. So stick with us as we pogo through five standouts and then call your attention to another more-than-a-baker’s dozen!
Tequila and Raelsy – Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols cover)
“LA punk soul goddess” Tequila Mockingbird wails on vocals while Church Of Betty founder and “Indo-pop maestro” Chris Rael jams on his sitar. Rael even pays respects to the iconic opening riff by running another sitar through a distortion unit. The groovy, slower tempoed funk/rock dance single was produced and arranged by Rael in 2011.
LE-LI – Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols cover)
On 2008’s Music Is Not for Grown-Ups, breathy Italian Elli de Mon sings slowly, over Matteo Romagnoli’s minimal acoustic guitar for two minutes before the harmonium and bass join in. The arrangement is sad, in an “Eleanor Rigby” kind of way. On a live-in-studio version, de Mon adds some glockenspiel.
Lazy Preacher – Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols cover)
Start up the tractor, cowpunks! More acoustic guitar here, but this time we have it alt-country style. On 2007’s Fall Asleep When Awaking, the Orange County psychedelic folk quintet features “country dude” vocals and adds some strange dueling lead guitars during the short break. And how’s this for a reference: The choruses vocally reminded us of Lobo – the ‘70s singer/songwriter who sang the hit “Me & You & A Dog Named Boo.”
Thorne – Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols cover)
According to AllMusic, record producer Mike Thorne was instrumental in signing The Sex Pistols to the EMI label in 1976. (Read a fascinating interview about his time with the Pistols here.) Twenty-three years later, after a successful career producing the likes of Soft Cell, The The, Bronski Beat and others, Thorne assembled a cast of female vocalists in 1999 for his first album Sprawl. Kit Bain on lead vocals, along with Lene Lovich, are featured on this new wave dance version – think Bananarama meets the Thompson Twins. The frenetic arrangement wraps great vocal production around a ‘80s-friendly percussion break that sounds even better after repeated listenings.
Germans / Methodist All Stars – Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols cover)
If user comments are to be believed, the Germans (Canadian indie-rockers performing here as Methodist All Stars) filmed this amazing countrified cover in 1999 in London for the British television show Yanky Panky. The foot-stomping version features fun guitar breaks, fiddle, piano, pedal steel, and harmonica. Friend of the band Keith Finch is featured here on lead vocals. As for the video, this is easily the most humorous one ever produced for the song. Another Finch project – JA13 – included the track on 2010’s Puff N Stuff Vol.1.
Sofia – Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols cover)
Sweden’s Sofia Allard and Carl-Michael Herlöfsson answer the question: What would “Pretty Vacant” sound like as a Bond theme? On 2006’s all covers Search & Destroy – A Punk Lounge Experience the duo admirably apply the lounge/chill formula to this – and with varying degrees of success – to eleven more punk/rock/grunge classics.
Solar feat. Rosie Flores– Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols cover)
Rockabilly singer Rosie Flores hooks up with French composer, DJ/Producer, Philippe Cohen Solal on this country/folk version with some great fiddle. The track appeared on 2007’s The Moonshine Sessions.
- Some would say a ‘70s soft rock, easy-listening version with orchestra, choral, and rhythm accompaniment is excruciating; we say “thanks” for letting us in on the joke, legendary former Manfred Mann frontman Paul Jones. (1978)
- Swiss alternative pop/rock with cello, accordion, and nice harmonies from Baby Jail. (1991)
- “Get ready for this” Euro House version from South African pop group Shikisha. (1995)
- French folk/fusion from alt-rockers Les Negresses Vertes. (1996)
- Electro/dance with robotic vocals from Nasty, Inc. (2007)
- Live, hard-rocking version from supergroup Royal Machines. (2014)
- Industrial electropunk version from Filthy Rich. (2016)
- Louder than the original rocker from Beki Bondage. (2016)
- “Reimagined” as a jazz standard by Deborah Dutcher. (2017)
- Instrumentals: from the London Punkharmonic Orchestra, and an odd kiddie version from Punk Rock Baby.
- And, in case you missed it, we included the operatic orchestral version from The Anarchy Arias here.
Final of the Four: “Holidays in the Sun” rounds out the singles in Part VI of our Sex Pistols series.
Check out other Sex Pistols covers here.
Everyone knows the best cover version is “Purty Vacant” by The Kingswoods. Yeehaw!