How the Sex Pistols destroyed two contracts with two major record labels and end up a (then) smaller one

EMI and A&M dropped the Punk band way before the end of their contracts, and Virgin took the opportunity

How the Sex Pistols destroyed two contracts with two major record labels and end up with a (then) smaller one

With the Punk Rock train on full steam and the Sex Pistols being the band with the hottest reputation, on October 8th 1976, the major record label EMI signed the Sex Pistols to a two-year contract. The band recorded their debut single “Anarchy In The U.K” which was far more different from what other Punk Rock bands were doing, the song had a deeper political meaning to it,  and unlike what some people thought of Punk Rock bands, the Pistols weren’t joking about anything, they were being dead serious and the way to express it was through their lyrics and attitude. The single’s packaging and visual promotion also broke new ground: A completely wordless, featureless black sleeve. The primary image associated with the single was “anarchy flag” poster: a Union Flag ripped up and partly safety-pinned back together, with the song and band names clipped along the edges of a gaping hole in the middle. This and other images created by Jamie Reid for the Sex Pistols quickly became punk icons. However their contract with EMI wouldn’t last the 2 years. On December 1st 1976, the Sex Pistols were invited to appear at the Thames Television’s “Today” show. Appearing as last-minute replacements for fellow EMI artists Queen, the band and their entourage were offered drinks as they waited to go on air. During the interview, Steve Jones said the band had “fucking spent” its label advance and Rotten twice used the word “shit”. Host Bill Grundy, who claimed to be as drunk as his interviewees, engaged in repartee with Siouxsie Sioux, who declared that she had “always wanted to meet” him. Grundy responded, “Did you really? We’ll meet afterwards, shall we?”What happened next was a historical never seen before on British TV session of swearing from the band directed at the host.

Watch the Sex Pistols infamous interview at the Bill Grundy’s TV Show, December 1st, 1976 that made EMI end their contract

The next day The Daily Mirror famously ran the headline “The Filth and the Fury!”, Thames Television suspended Grundy and, though he was later reinstated, the interview effectively ended his career. Following a campaign waged in the south Wales press, a crowd including carol singers and a Pentecostal preacher protested against the group outside a show in Caerphilly.Packers at the EMI plant refused to handle the band’s single and the label stopping production of the ‘Anarchy In The UK’ single, deleting it from its catalog. EMI later issued a statement saying it felt “unable to promote The Sex Pistols records in view of the adverse publicity generated over the last few months.”. This could had be it for the Pistols, but soon after, on March 10th,  1977, at a press ceremony held outside Buckingham Palace, the Sex Pistols publicly signed to A&M Records (the real signing had taken place the day before). Afterwards, intoxicated, they made their way to the A&M offices. Vicious smashed in a toilet bowl and cut his foot. As Vicious trailed blood around the offices, Rotten verbally abused the staff and Jones got frisky in the ladies’ room. A couple of days later, the Pistols got into a rumble with another band at a club; one of Rotten’s pals threatened the life of a good friend of A&M’s English director. On March 16th, only 6 days after signing them, A&M broke contract with the Pistols. Twenty-five thousand copies of the planned “God Save the Queen” single, produced by Chris Thomas, had already been pressed; virtually all were destroyed. This is one of the most sought out records by collectors worldwide.



Despite the infamy, a smaller and younger label, Virgin, showed interest on the band. The Pistols showed absolutely no regrets of literally destroying their wealthy contracts with the giant EMI and A&M. With Virgin, the result was their first and only studio album, the seminal “Nevermind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols”, that included the poignant song “E.M.I”. With Virgin, the Pistols were offered total liberty, their single “God Save The Queen” included the lyrics: “God save the Queen/She ain’t no human being/There is no future/In England’s dreaming”. Several major chains refused to stock the single and it was banned not only by the BBC but also by every independent radio station, making it the “most heavily censored record in British history”. According to John Lydon “That week, there was no number 1 hit in Britain”, the top spot was empty, because so many radio stations, the BBC, and individuals protested the song’s content. With EMI, the Pistols would had never been able to promote or perhaps even release the single. The release of “God Save The Queen”, sponsored and promoted by Virgin, had been timed to coincide with the height of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. By Jubilee weekend, a week and a half after the record’s release, it had sold more than 150,000 copie and it was a massive success. On June 7th, Malcolm McLaren and the record label arranged to charter a private boat and have the Sex Pistols perform while sailing down the River Thames, passing Westminster Pier and the Houses of Parliament. The event, a mockery of the Queen’s river procession planned for two days later, ended in chaos. Police launches forced the boat to dock, and constabulary surrounded the gangplanks at the pier. While the band members and their equipment were hustled down a side stairwell, Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood, and many of the band’s entourage were arrested, and the Sex Pistols roller-coaster was not even half way done…



Watch the Sex Pistols playing their infamous song “E.M.I” live at the Winterland, San Francisco, 1978





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