The premise for this classic song came from Pete Townshend winning a 7-figure settlement in the late 1970s, which made him feel horrible, because he devoted a lot of time and energy to an endeavor that only resulted in a check. He drowned his sorrows in booze and ran into Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols at a local pub. He ranted at them, saying that the Who were finished, that the Pistols needed to take over and “finish the job” … whatever that meant. He then dramatically ripped up his check and stomped on it several times. Jones and Cook looked perplexed and expressed their sorrow about a possible break-up of the Who, to which Townshend snarled “I’m disappointed in you!” and staggered off into the night. He passed out in a shop doorway and was awakened by a patrol man who told Townshend, “As a special treat, if you can get up and walk away, you can sleep in your own bed tonight.” Townshend made it home, passed out, and the next morning wrote “Who Are You?”
The version in this video is different than the version most people know. There’s some nice footage of the band, including Keith Moon who would soon pass away, goofing around and having a great time in the studio.
Here’s the late 1970s punk equivalent of the “east coast v west coast” gangsta rap battles of the 1990s … only with significantly fewer dead bodies. Punks always caused more harm to themselves than to others.
In this corner is the Sex Pistols’ “New York,” which sneeringly spits on the New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders’ follow-up band, The Heartbreakers for being drug-addled hippie tarts.
In the opposite corner is Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers performing “London Boys,” which chastises the Sex Pistols for little boys under the thumb of their manager Malcolm McLaren.
As to who won … well, it’s hard to say. Thunders may have won the battle, because when he recorded “London Boys” for his album “So Alone,” the Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook played on the song (a nice way to bury the hatchet). However, the Sex Pistols are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Dolls currently aren’t, so the Pistols may have won the war. Except that the Pistols protested their inclusion, so maybe that means they lost. Who knows? Who cares? Both songs are funny and immensely cool and I love both.
The version of “London Boys” included here is an earlier version that was an outtake from the Heartbreaker’s “L.A.M.F.” album from 1977. I like the version on Thunders’ “So Alone” album, but I prefer this earlier version.
“The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle” is an extremely controversial documentary about the Sex Pistols that features manager Malcolm McLaren as the lead character instead of the band. McLaren rewrites the Pistols’ history as being an elaborate hoax/scam/con job on the record industry and his running away with millions of dollars of corporate cash.
On one level, this is a very funny and engaging film. And the Sex Pistols footage is totally amazing to watch. However, as we’ve learned in subsequent years from numerous books and interviews with the surviving band members (and in Temple’s updated documentary from 2000 “The Filth and the Fury”), McLaren was not the master Machiavelli and lovable rogue he painted himself to be. Instead, McLaren was a largely incompetent, greedy, and (arguably) evil man who callously disregarded and exploited the pain and misery of those around him to get as much money as he possibly could that should have been rightfully been given to others. I still find the film entertaining, even with a huge asterix in my mind that what I’m watching is complete bollocks, to coin a phrase.
The Japanese subtitles on this trailer are appropriate, because the only way you could watch “The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle” in America until around 1992 or so was on imported Japanese videocassettes. That’s how I first saw this film (around 1986) and was in constant rotation in my VCR for the next six years. It also features a lot of footage that never made the final film.
What’s really fascinating is that the Sex Pistols film was originally supposed to be a film called “Who Killed Bambi?” directed by American sexploitation master Russ Meyer and scripted by Roger Ebert. Ebert posted the entire script he wrote on his blog as well as his version of how his and Meyer’s involvement with the Pistols came about. A totally fascinating read.