The Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK

I was a little too young to get the Sex Pistols when they were together. They did have a huge influence while only releasing one album…Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. I never was a big fan but this song is alright for what it is.

John Lydon talked about the song: “It flowed quite naturally to me. These are just long, long-term motivations that are there and you can’t, can’t, can’t ever underestimate the sheer driving energy poverty will bring you. Being denied everything and access to everything. Government, schools, the lot, tell you that you don’t count. You are scum. Go with flow or else. That’s an incredible driving energy, to be better than their estimation of you.”

From Songfacts

Anarchy is a society without government or law. The Sex Pistols were very anti-establishment (as were many young people in England), but the song isn’t actually advocating anarchy. “I have always thought that anarchy is mind games for the middle class,” frontman John Lydon told Rolling Stone. “It’s a luxury. It can only be afforded in a democratic society, therefore kind of slightly f–king redundant. It also offers no answers and I hope in my songwriting I’m offering some kind of answer to a thing, rather than spitefully wanting to wreck everything for no reason at all, other than it doesn’t suit you.”

This was the Sex Pistols’ first single, and it caused quite a stir in England with its lyrics advocating violence against the government. Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols was not released until a year later, partly because of distribution concerns: after hearing “Anarchy In The UK,” some organizations refused to ship the album. >>

Sid Vicious, who died of a drug overdose in 1979 and was the subject of the 1986 film Sid and Nancy, had not yet joined the band. Vicious replaced original bass player Glen Matlock after this was released. Along with the rest of the band, Matlock is a credited writer on the track.

The Sex Pistols were dropped by two record companies before finally releasing the Never Mind The Bollocks album with Virgin Records. Virgin had a hard time promoting this song because no one would let them advertise it. The subsequent record store and radio bans helped generate publicity that was more valuable than what they could have bought.

The manager of The Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren, put them together to deliberately cause controversy. He knew the band would stir up trouble and get a lot of media attention in the process. That’s what happens when you have a lead singer named Johnny Rotten singing that he was an “anarchist” and the “Antichrist.”

Recording this song proved rather difficult. The first sessions were produced by Dave Goodman, who was the band’s sound man for concerts. “He had never really produced anybody properly, so he didn’t have enough clout or wherewithal to tell Malcolm McLaren not to be in the studio,” Glen Matlock said in a Songfacts interview. “And Malcolm was like the devil at his ear, going, ‘It’s not exciting enough – it’s got to be faster.’ And it was getting faster and faster, and losing all its groove. 

In the end, we effectively went on strike, and said, ‘No, it’s fine,’ and we got a different guy in, Chris Thomas, who has done some fantastic work over the years. We set up, started playing, and he said, ‘I think we’ve got it now.’

The first part of the song is from take three, and the second part is from take five. We were waiting for Rotten to turn up and do the vocals, and he didn’t rush down because he was like, ‘You’re useless, you can’t play. You’ve been in there for weeks.’ And we said, ‘No. We’ve done it.’ We were right all along – we just needed the right person to realize it. And then Steve loaded up the guitars over the next few days.”

The line, “I use the enemy” is a play on words: “Enemy” is actually “NME,” a British magazine called New Musical Express. The Sex Pistols were famous for manipulating the media, and NME apparently took the bait: they said in their review of this song, “Johnny Rotten sings flat, the song is laughably naïve, and the overall feeling is of a third-rate Who imitation.”

After this was released, the band went on a British talk show where they repeatedly swore at and berated the host, Bill Grundy. This caused a great deal of controversy, which resulted in their record company, EMI, dropping the band and pulling the single.

Here’s an explanation of the alphabet soup in the lyrics:

MPLA: A political group in Angola – the Movimento Popular de Libertacao de Angola.

UDA: The loyalist supporters in Ireland conflict. The UDA (Ulster Defence Association) supported Britain and opposed unification of Ireland.

IRA: The Irish Republican Army, who opposed Britain and were in favor of unification in Ireland.

As a publicity stunt, the band performed this song on the Thames River from a boat called “The Queen Elizabeth” on June 7, 1977. Celebrations were underway for the Silver Jubilee, celebrating the Queen’s 25 years on the throne. Two days later, she was scheduled to ride on the river as part of the ceremonies, so the Sex Pistols decided to make a mockery of it.

The plan was to perform the song as they were floating by the House Of Parliament, but they didn’t get close, as police intercepted the boat. The record company executives who organized the event were arrested when they docked.

The stunt got them plenty of press and boosted their punk rock bona fides. “That came about, oddly enough, just as a giggle because of not getting gigs,” Johnny Rotten explained in Melody Maker. I had in my mind not the slightest knowledge of there being a Jubilee at all. I was quite stunned by it all.”

Mötley Crüe often played this song in concert, and they recorded it for their 1991 compilation Decade of Decadence. While their version is still titled “Anarchy in the U.K.,” Vince Neil sang it as “Anarchy For the USA,” with the lyrics changed to make references to American entities, including the PMRC, an organization that led a crusade to keep albums with explicit lyrics from being sold to minors.

Glen Matlock told Mojo magazine that this is his favorite Sex Pistols’ statement. He explained: “Everything about it is just right. It’s one of those rare moments captured, the vibe, the groove, and the bass ain’t bad! It still sounds outrageous.”

Megadeth did a popular cover of this song that was included on their 1988 album So Far, So Good… So What! and also released as a single. A video was made for this version directed by David Mackie.

Guitarist Steve Jones told Mojo that he thought when the specific moment when he felt the Pistols had clicked was when “Anarchy in the UK” came into the fold. He explained; “We had the riff and Rotten was in the corner writing words and McLaren started grooving on it. It felt like we were onto something then.”

the Sex Pistols re-recorded this song for the video game Guitar Hero 3.

Anarchy in the UK

Right now ha, ha, ha, ha, ha
I am an anti-Christ
I am an anarchist
Don’t know what I want
But I know how to get it
I want to destroy the passerby

‘Cause I want to be anarchy
No dogs body

Anarchy for the U.K.
It’s coming sometime and maybe
I give a wrong time, stop a traffic line
Your future dream has sure been seen through

‘Cause I want to be anarchy
In the city

How many ways to get what you want
I use the best, I use the rest
I use the N.M.E.
I use anarchy

‘Cause I want to be anarchy
Its the only way to be

Is this the MPLA
Or is this the UDA
Or is this the IRA
I thought it was the U.K.
Or just another country
Another council tenancy

I want to be anarchy
And I want to be anarchy
(Oh what a name)
And I want to be an anarchist
(I get pissed, destroy!)

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

16 thoughts on “The Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK”

    1. That I agree…That is the one I really like by them. I always thought maybe if I would have been a little older I would have got the whole package more.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My favorite by them is “Holidays in the Sun”. I had a friend at the time (late-70s) who was quite into them, a rarity in my neighborhood then, but didn’t like them much. Only got the album when it was on CD, probably around 87 or so… still thought it was hit-and-miss. The Clash and The Stranglers were way more talented, even The Damned by their mid-career period. But it’s kind of a fun record and I would say Glen Matlock is fairly talented and John Lydon is a truly interesting and humorous guy. For awhile he had a little syndicated show, think it was only about a 30 second clip if I remember right, called “A Rotten Day”… he’d sneer about something in music that happened on that day then the station would play the record.
    Not the greatest musicians or albums but possibly the greatest self-promoters in rock history. All in all not that many ever bought their one real album… but very few of any age haven’t heard of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lydon is very intelligent I give him that. I agree with Glen Matlock also. What they did was brilliant.
      It was almost half band half publicity stunt…

      Thank you Dave…I’m such an idiot…I added an “n” in his name…corrected it now….maybe I was thinking of Johnson lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was around at the time, but never liked their music. although they were fun to watch and how the newspapers went for them like they were to cause the downfall of everything.
    I could have done without the gobbing.
    Bill Grundy was pissed for the ITV Today interview and goaded them.
    Slight correction, UDA and IRA against the unification of Ireland, drop the Northern.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just saw the Bill Grundy interview again…I had seen it before but it was a long time ago…yes I agree he goaded them. I never got into them either much at all.

      Thanks Chris…it should be right now.


  3. Love this and all of the songs on Never Mind the Bullocks. I was oblivious to the album censorship and distribution issues back then, but I do know I didn’t see the album in a store in my town until 1981, and that’s when I bought it. I certainly knew who the Sex Pistols were long before that, though. I fell in love with punk from the start. It sounded like real music to me, at a time when when disco was everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t hear it til later on…I just wasn’t hip at the time it came out. The Clash I got much more…of course I was 10…
      That is a plus mark about chasing out disco…


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