This theme song for Alex Cox’s demented 1984 punk rock science-fiction comedy was the first Iggy song I ever heard (aside from David Bowie’s cover of Iggy’s “China Girl”). I can only imagine what went through Iggy’s head when he wrote this, but I like it because it has very little to do with the movie it’s written for. The cool guitar work is courtesy of the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones. Favorite line: “I’ll turn you into a toadstool!”
Sid Vicious’s biggest musical moment … this is Sid’s infamous punk cover of the Frank Sinatra warhorse, with new filthy lyrics. The video, originally at the end of Julien Temple’s Sex Pistols documentary “The Great Rock n Roll Swindle,” is equally as infamous, with a graphically violent climax that must be seen to be believed. Not safe for work.
Perhaps the best use of this song was over the end credits of Martin Scorsese’s gangster classic “Goodfellas,” a perfect choice that sums up the entire picture.
And … as a bonus … here’s the version of the scene from the 1986 Alex Cox-directed biopic “Sid and Nancy” with Gary Oldman dynamically taking the mic as Sid. While this is not Oldman’s first big performance, it was the one that made him famous.
And YOU thought the Sex Pistols invented punk rock … Pshaw! Here’s living proof that Archie Andrews … along with Reggie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica were sticking it to the British royals long before Johnny Rotten hocked his first loogie. However, I am puzzled why Archie and gang would hate dear old Brenda so much.
Cock Sparrer had an interesting history back in the early days of punk. They were allegedly approached by the notorious Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren in 1976 to become one of a group of bands he was trying to sign. According to the band, the deal fell apart due to McLaren not buying them a round of beer … or because they refused to cut their hair in the style McLaren wanted … or something … I don’t know. I got this off Wikipedia, so you know it’s true …
Anyway, they had a deal with Decca Records, recorded a self-titled album that was only released in Spain, mainly because Decca had fallen apart as a label by 1977. That first album is a damn fine punk version of the Rolling Stones and eventually became available under different names like “True Grit,” “The Decca Years,” and “Rarities.” Well worth checking out.
Sparrer didn’t release another album until 1983, but what they released was worth the wait. The sound of “Shock Troops” is less bluesy than the album recorded for Decca and more in line with the punk the day. The album has a nice sense of melody and toughness. “Where Are They Now?” is the great lead-off track.
I saw “Sid and Nancy” in 1986, during the week between Christmas and New Years Day when school is not in session and I was visiting my Dad in Washington D.C. I saw it at the (now defunct) Key Theater, a Georgetown multiplex that showed nothing but art films. I remember this was the first time I had been in Georgetown by myself and was particularly excited because I also managed to find a (then-rare) CD copy of the Dead Kennedy’s “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” at Olsson’s Books and Music (sadly out of business).
Anyway, I was really excited to see this not only because this was a major film about punk history, but was also because it was directed by Alex Cox, who directed one of my all-time favorite films, “Repo Man.” The theater was thoughtful enough to include a very killer punk mix of music before the film started. My verdict of “Sid and Nancy” at the time? I thought it was good, even though I knew a lot of it was bullshit. This film gets a lot of stuff wrong, but it was still damn exciting to watch. This was the first time I had seen Gary Oldman (who plays Sid Vicious) and thought he did a magnificent job. The start of a brilliant career… Chloe Webb as Nancy Spungen was also damn good. I’m sorry to see that after an appearance in the Arnold Schwarzenegger / Danny DeVito film “Twins” and a role on the TV show “China Beach” she didn’t do much after that aside from the occasional TV appearance and supporting role. She’s always been memorable in everything she’s been in.
My verdict now? I still think it’s quite remarkable. Yes, it includes a bit too much of Cox quirkiness and while I realize it has even more wrong about the facts than I knew at the time, it still packs quite a wallop. At times, funny and extremely depressing, “Sid and Nancy” is a great rock and roll film, one of the best films ever made about a mutually destructive relationship, and a genuinely thrilling attempt to document the highs and lows of the punk scene in Great Britain and New York City during the late 1970s.
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.
The Pistols cover the Monkees. One of my all-time favorite covers and one of my all-time favorite Sex Pistols tracks. From “The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle” soundtrack (though, for the life of me, I can’t remember where or when the song appeared in the film).