(Read all about the Sex Pistols after the video)
The Sex Pistols were an English punk rock band formed in London in 1975. Although they initially lasted just two and a half years and produced only four singles and one studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, they have been called one of the most influential acts in the history of popular music, having initiated the punk movement in the United Kingdom, and inspired many later punk and alternative rock musicians.
The first incarnation of the Sex Pistols was singer Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), lead guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock. Matlock was replaced by Sid Vicious (real name John Ritchie) early in 1977. Under the management of Malcolm McLaren, a visual artist, performer, clothes designer and boutique owner, the band provoked controversies that garnered a significant amount of publicity. Their concerts repeatedly faced difficulties with organisers and local authorities, and public appearances often ended in mayhem. Their 1977 single "God Save the Queen", attacking social conformity and deference to the Crown, precipitated what one commentator described as the "last and greatest outbreak of pop-based moral pandemonium". Subjects addressed in their frequently obscene lyrics included the music industry, consumerism, abortion, violence, apathy, anarchy, fascism, the British Royal Family and the Holocaust.
In January 1978, at the end of a turbulent tour of the United States, Rotten left the Sex Pistols and announced their break-up. Over the next several months, the three other band members recorded songs for McLaren's film version of the Sex Pistols' story, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle. Vicious died of a heroin overdose in February 1979, following his arrest for the alleged murder of his girlfriend. In 1996, Rotten, Jones, Cook and Matlock reunited for the Filthy Lucre Tour; since 2002, they have staged further reunion shows and tours. On 24 February 2006, the Sex Pistols—the four original, surviving members and Sid Vicious—were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they refused to attend the ceremony, calling the museum "a piss stain".
Origins and early days
The Sex Pistols evolved from the Strand, a London band formed in 1972 by working-class teenagers Steve Jones on vocals, Paul Cook on drums and Wally Nightingale on guitar. According to a later account by Jones, both he and Cook played instruments they had stolen. They would go to concerts, and when these were over they would go up on stage and steal as much musical equipment as they could carry.
Early line-ups of the Strand—sometimes known as the Swankers—also included Jim Mackin on organ and Stephen Hayes (and later, briefly, Del Noones) on bass. The band members regularly hung out at two clothing shops on the Kings Road in Chelsea, London: John Krivine and Steph Raynor's Acme Attractions (where Don Letts worked as manager) and Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die.
The McLaren–Westwood shop had opened in 1971 as Let It Rock, with a 1950s revival Teddy Boy theme. It had been renamed in 1972 to focus on another revival trend, the rocker look associated with Marlon Brando. As John Lydon later observed, "Malcolm and Vivienne were really a pair of shysters: they would sell anything to any trend that they could grab onto." The shop would become a focal point of the punk rock scene, bringing together participants such as the future Sid Vicious, Marco Pirroni (who became a guitarist, songwriter and record producer), Gene October (who became the singer for the punk band Chelsea), and Mark Stewart, among many others. Jordan, the English model and actress noted for her work with Vivienne Westwood and the SEX boutique, was a wildly styled shop assistant who is credited with "pretty well single-handedly paving the punk look".
In early 1974, Jones convinced McLaren to help out the Strand. Effectively becoming the group's manager, McLaren paid for their first formal rehearsal space. Glen Matlock, an art student who occasionally worked at Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die, was recruited as the band's regular bassist. In November, McLaren temporarily relocated to New York City. Before his departure, McLaren and Westwood had conceived a new identity for their shop: renamed SEX, it changed its focus from retro couture to S&M-inspired "anti-fashion", with a billing as "Specialists in rubberwear, glamourwear & stagewear".
After informally managing and promoting the New York Dolls for a few months, McLaren returned to London in May 1975. Inspired by the punk scene that was emerging in Lower Manhattan—in particular by the radical visual style and attitude of Richard Hell, then with Television—McLaren began taking a greater interest in the Strand.
The group had been rehearsing regularly, overseen by McLaren's friend Bernard Rhodes, and had performed publicly for the first time. Soon after McLaren's return, Nightingale was kicked out of the band and Jones, uncomfortable as frontman, took over guitar duties. According to journalist and former McLaren employee Phil Strongman, around this time the band adopted the name QT Jones and the Sex Pistols (or QT Jones & His Sex Pistols, as one Rhodes-designed T-shirt put it). McLaren had been talking with the New York Dolls' Sylvain Sylvain about coming over to England to front the group.
When those plans fell through, McLaren, Rhodes and the band began looking locally for a new member to assume the lead vocal duties. As described by Matlock, "Everyone had long hair then, even the milkman, so what we used to do was if someone had short hair we would stop them in the street and ask them if they fancied themselves as a singer." Among those they approached was Midge Ure, who was involved with his own band, Slik. Kevin Rowland—who would co-found Dexys Midnight Runners three years later—auditioned, but apart from Matlock, no one was impressed. With the search going nowhere, McLaren made several calls to Richard Hell, who turned down the invitation.
John Lydon joins the band
In August 1975, Rhodes spotted nineteen-year-old Kings Road habitué John Lydon wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt with the words I Hate handwritten above the band's name and holes scratched through the eyes. Reports vary at this point: the same day, or soon after, either Rhodes or McLaren asked Lydon to come to a nearby pub in the evening to meet Jones and Cook. According to Jones, "He came in with green hair. I thought he had a really interesting face. I liked his look. He had his 'I Hate Pink Floyd' T-shirt on, and it was held together with safety pins. John had something special, but when he started talking he was a real arsehole—but smart." When the pub closed, the group moved on to SEX, where Lydon, who had given little thought to singing, was convinced to improvise along to Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen" on the shop jukebox. Though the performance drove the band members to laughter, McLaren convinced them to start rehearsing with Lydon. Lydon later described the social context in which the band came together:
Early Seventies Britain was a very depressing place with both the colour strike and the UK postal workers strike in full swing. It was completely run-down with trash on the streets, and total unemployment—just about everybody was on strike. Everybody was brought up with an education system that told you point blank that if you came from the wrong side of the tracks...then you had no hope in hell and no career prospects at all. Out of that came pretentious moi and the Sex Pistols and then a whole bunch of copycat wankers after us.
New Musical Express journalist Nick Kent jammed occasionally with the band, but left upon Lydon's recruitment. "When I came along, I took one look at him and said, 'No. That has to go,'" Lydon later explained. "He's never written a good word about me ever since." In September, McLaren again helped hire private rehearsal space for the group, who had been practising in pubs. Cook, with a full-time job he was loath to give up, was making noises about quitting. According to Matlock's later description, Cook "created a smokescreen" by claiming Jones was not skilled enough to be the band's sole guitarist. An advertisement was placed in Melody Maker for a "Whizz Kid Guitarist. Not older than 20. Not worse looking than Johnny Thunders" (referring to a leading member of the New York punk scene). Most of the guitar players who auditioned were incompetent, but in McLaren's view, the process created a new sense of solidarity among the four band members. Steve New was considered the only talented guitarist who tried out and the band invited him to join. Jones was improving rapidly, and the band's developing sound had no room for the technical lead work at which New was adept. He departed after a month.
Lydon had been renamed "Johnny Rotten" by Jones, apparently because of his bad dental hygiene. The band also settled on a name. After considering options such as Le Bomb, Subterraneans, the Damned, Beyond, Teenage Novel, Kid Gladlove, and Crème de la Crème, they decided on Sex Pistols—a shortened form of the name they had apparently been working under informally.
McLaren said the name derived "from the idea of a pistol, a pin-up, a young thing, a better-looking assassin". Not given to modesty, false or otherwise, he added: "[I] launched the idea in the form of a band of kids who could be perceived as being bad." The group began writing original material: Rotten was the lyricist and Matlock the primary melody writer (though their first collaboration, "Pretty Vacant", had a complete lyric by Matlock, which Rotten tweaked a bit); official credit was shared equally among the four.
Their first gig was arranged by Matlock, who was studying at Saint Martins College. The band played at the school on 6 November 1975, in support of a pub rock group called Bazooka Joe, arranging to use their amps and drums. The Sex Pistols performed several cover songs, including the Who's "Substitute", the Small Faces' "Whatcha Gonna Do About It", "(Don't you Give Me) No Lip" by Dave Berry, and "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone", made famous by the Monkees; according to observers, they were unexceptional musically aside from being extremely loud. Before the Pistols could play the few original songs they had written to date, Bazooka Joe pulled the plugs as they saw their gear being trashed. A brief physical altercation between members of the two bands took place on stage.
Building a following
The Saint Martins gig was followed by other performances at colleges and art schools around London. One of these, on 9 December 1975, was at Ravensbourne College, Chislehurst, near Bromley in Southeast London, where they supported the Newcastle-based rock band Fogg. The band played for free as according to McLaren they were 'turning professional' the following year, although as McLaren's letter confirming the booking stated: 'free beer for the band would be appreciated'. Despite the band's punk posturing, their PA equipment (including EV Eliminator bass bins) was so much better than that of the established touring band Fogg that their equipment was used for the gig. The result of them staying later was a bar bill of over £50 during the headliner's performance. Simon Barker, a friend of Steve Severin, saw the gig and enthused about the band. This resulted in them seeing the band at the Marquee on 12 February 1976. The Sex Pistols' core group of followers—including Siouxsie Sioux, Steven Severin, Soo Catwoman, and Billy Idol—came to be known as the Bromley Contingent, after the large suburban town several were from. Their cutting-edge fashion, much of it supplied by SEX, ignited a trend that was adopted by the new fans the band attracted. McLaren and Westwood saw the incipient London punk movement as a vehicle for more than just couture. They were both captivated by the May 1968 radical uprising in Paris, particularly by the ideology and agitations of the Situationists, as well as the anarchist thought of Buenaventura Durruti and others.
These interests were shared with Jamie Reid, an old friend of McLaren who began producing publicity material for the Sex Pistols in the spring of 1976. (The cut-up lettering employed to create the classic Sex Pistols logo and many subsequent designs for the band was actually introduced by McLaren's friend Helen Wellington-Lloyd.) "We used to talk to John [Lydon] a lot about the Situationists," Reid later said. "The Sex Pistols seemed the perfect vehicle to communicate ideas directly to people who weren't getting the message from left-wing politics." McLaren was also arranging for the band's first photo sessions. As described by music historian Jon Savage, "With his green hair, hunched stance and ragged look, [Lydon] looked like a cross between Uriah Heep and Richard Hell."
The first Sex Pistols gig to attract broader attention was as a supporting act for Eddie and the Hot Rods, a leading pub rock group, at the Marquee on 12 February 1976. Rotten "was now really pushing the barriers of performance, walking off stage, sitting with the audience, throwing Jordan across the dance floor and chucking chairs around, before smashing some of Eddie and the Hot Rods' gear." The band's first review appeared in the NME, accompanied by a brief interview in which Steve Jones declared, "Actually we're not into music. We're into chaos." Among those who read the article were two students at the Bolton Institute of Technology, Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley, who headed down to London in search of the Sex Pistols. After chatting with McLaren at SEX, they saw the band at a couple of late February gigs. The two friends immediately began organising their own Pistols-style group, the Buzzcocks. As Devoto later put it, "My life changed the moment that I saw the Sex Pistols."
The Pistols were soon playing other important venues, debuting at Oxford Street's 100 Club on 30 March. On 3 April, they played for the first time at the Nashville, supporting the 101ers. The pub rock group's lead singer, Joe Strummer, saw the Pistols for the first time that night—and recognised punk rock as the future. A return gig at the Nashville on 23 April demonstrated the band's growing musical competence, but by all accounts lacked a spark. Westwood provided that by instigating a fight with another audience member; McLaren and Rotten were soon involved in the melee. Cook later said, "That fight at the Nashville: that's when all the publicity got hold of it and the violence started creeping in.... I think everybody was ready to go and we were the catalyst." The Pistols were soon banned from both the Nashville and the Marquee.
23 April also saw the release of the debut album by the leading punk rock band in the New York scene, the Ramones. Though it is regarded as seminal to the growth of punk rock in England and elsewhere, Lydon has repeatedly rejected any suggestion that it influenced the Sex Pistols: "[the Ramones] were all long-haired and of no interest to me. I didn't like their image, what they stood for, or anything about them"; "They were hilarious but you can only go so far with 'duh-dur-dur-duh'. I've heard it. Next. Move on." On 11 May, the Pistols began a four-week-long Tuesday night residency at the 100 Club. They devoted the rest of the month to touring small cities and towns in the north of England and recording demos in London with producer and recording artist Chris Spedding. The following month they played their first gig in Manchester, arranged by Devoto and Shelley. The Sex Pistols' performance of 4 June at the Lesser Free Trade Hall set off a punk rock boom in the city. On 4 and 6 July, respectively, two newly formed London punk rock acts, the Clash—with Strummer as lead vocalist—and the Damned, made their live debuts opening for the Sex Pistols. On their off night in between, the Pistols (despite Lydon's later professed disdain) showed up for a Ramones gig at Dingwalls, like virtually everyone else at the heart of the London punk scene. During a return Manchester engagement, 20 July, the Pistols premiered a new song, "Anarchy in the U.K.", reflecting elements of the radical ideologies to which Rotten was being exposed.
According to Jon Savage, "there seems little doubt that Lydon was fed material by Vivienne Westwood and Jamie Reid, which he then converted into his own lyric." "Anarchy in the U.K." was among the seven originals recorded in another demo session that month, this one overseen by the band's sound engineer, Dave Goodman. McLaren organised a major event for 29 August at the Screen on the Green in London's Islington district: the Buzzcocks and the Clash opened for the Sex Pistols in punk's "first metropolitan test of strength". Three days later, the band were in Manchester to tape what would be their first television appearance, for Tony Wilson's So It Goes. Scheduled to perform just one song, "Anarchy in the U.K.", the band ran straight through another two numbers as pandemonium broke out in the control room.
The Sex Pistols played their first concert outside Britain on 3 September, at the opening of the Chalet du Lac disco in Paris. The Bromley Contingent accompanied them, with Siouxsie Sioux's swastika armband causing a stir. The following day, the So It Goes performance aired; the audience heard "Anarchy in the U.K." introduced with a shout of "Get off your arse!" On 13 September, the Pistols began a tour of Britain. A week later, back in London, they headlined the opening night of the 100 Club Punk Special. Organised by McLaren (for whom the word "festival" had too much of a hippie connotation), the event was "considered the moment that was the catalyst for the years to come." Belying the common perception that punk bands couldn't play their instruments, contemporary music press reviews, later critical assessments of concert recordings, and testimonials by fellow musicians indicate that the Pistols had developed into a tight, ferocious live band. As Rotten tested out wild vocalisation styles, the instrumentalists experimented "with overload, feedback and distortion...pushing their equipment to the limit".
EMI and the Grundy incident
On 8 October 1976, the major record label EMI signed the Sex Pistols to a two-year contract. In short order, the band was in the studio recording a full-dress session with Dave Goodman. As later described by Matlock, "The idea was to get the spirit of the live performance. We were pressurised to make it faster and faster." The riotous results were rejected. Chris Thomas, who had produced Roxy Music and mixed Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, was brought to see them live for the first time by Chrissie Hynde. Then Thomas was brought in by Virgin Records to produce. The band's first single, "Anarchy in the U.K.", was released on 26 November 1976. John Robb—a music journalist—described the record's impact: "From Steve Jones' opening salvo of descending chords, to Johnny Rotten's fantastic sneering vocals, this song is the perfect statement...a stunningly powerful piece of punk politics...a lifestyle choice, a manifesto that heralds a new era". Colin Newman, who had just cofounded the band Wire, heard it as "the clarion call of a generation."
"Anarchy in the U.K." was not the first British punk single, pipped by the Damned's "New Rose". "We Vibrate" had also appeared from the Vibrators, a pub rock band formed early in 1976 that had become associated with punk—though, according to Jon Savage "with their long hair and mildly risque name, the Vibrators were passers-by as far as punk taste-makers were concerned." Unlike those songs, whose lyrical content was comfortably within rock 'n' roll traditions, "Anarchy in the U.K." linked punk to a newly politicised attitude—the Pistols' stance was aggrieved, euphoric and nihilistic, all at the same time. Rotten's howls of "I am an anti-Christ" and "Destroy!" repurposed rock as an ideological weapon. The single's packaging and visual promotion also broke new ground. Reid and McLaren came up with the notion of selling the record in a completely wordless, featureless black sleeve. The primary image associated with the single was Reid's "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 Reid for the Sex Pistols quickly became punk icons.
The Sex Pistols' behaviour, as much as their music, brought them national attention. On 1 December 1976, the band and members of the Bromley Contingent created a storm of publicity by swearing during an early evening live broadcast of Thames Television's Today programme. 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?" This prompted the following exchange between Jones and the host:
- Jones: You dirty sod. You dirty old man.
- Grundy: Well keep going, chief, keep going. Go on. You've got another five seconds. Say something outrageous.
- Jones: You dirty bastard.
- Grundy: Go on, again.
- Jones: You dirty fucker.
- Grundy: What a clever boy.
- Jones: What a fucking rotter.
Although the programme was broadcast only in the London region, the ensuing furore occupied the tabloid newspapers for days. The Daily Mirror famously ran the headline "The Filth and the Fury!"; other papers such as the Daily Express ("Fury at Filthy TV Chat") and the Daily Telegraph ("4-Letter Words Rock TV") followed suit. Thames Television suspended Grundy and, though he was later reinstated, the interview effectively ended his career.
The episode made the band household names throughout the country and brought punk into mainstream awareness. The Pistols set out on the Anarchy Tour of the UK, supported by the Clash and Johnny Thunders' band the Heartbreakers, over from New York. The Damned were briefly part of the tour, before McLaren kicked them off. Media coverage was intense, and many of the concerts were cancelled by organisers or local authorities; of approximately twenty scheduled gigs, only about seven actually took place. 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.
Bernard Brook-Partridge, a Conservative member of the Greater London Council and chairman of the Arts committee from 1977, declared, "Most of these groups would be vastly improved by sudden death. The worst of the punk rock groups I suppose currently are the Sex Pistols. They are unbelievably nauseating. They are the antithesis of humankind. I would like to see somebody dig a very, very large, exceedingly deep hole and drop the whole bloody lot down it."
Following the end of the tour in late December, three concerts were arranged in the Netherlands for January 1977. The band, hungover, boarded a plane at London Heathrow Airport early on 4 January; a few hours later, the Evening News was reporting that the band had "vomited and spat their way" to the flight. Despite categorical denials by the EMI representative who accompanied the group, the label, which was under political pressure, released the band from their contract. As McLaren fielded offers from other labels, the band went into the studio for a round of recordings with Goodman, their last with either him or Matlock.
Sid Vicious joins the band
In February 1977, word leaked out that Matlock was leaving the Sex Pistols. On 28 February, McLaren sent a telegram to the NME confirming the split. He claimed that Matlock had been "thrown out...because he went on too long about Paul McCartney.... the Beatles was too much." In an interview a few months afterwards, Steve Jones echoed the charge that Matlock had been sacked because he "liked the Beatles." Jones expanded on the matter of the band's issues with Matlock: "He was a good writer but he didn't look like a Sex Pistol and he was always washing his feet. His mum didn't like the songs." Matlock told the NME that he had voluntarily left the band by "mutual agreement".
Later, in his autobiography, Matlock would describe the primary impetus for his departure as his increasingly acrimonious relationship with Rotten, which he described as being exacerbated by the rampant inflation of Rotten's ego "once he'd had his name in the papers" and instigated by McLaren. Lydon would later claim that "God Save the Queen," the belligerently sardonic song planned as the band's second single, had been the final straw: "[Matlock] couldn't handle those kinds of lyrics. He said it declared us fascists." Though the singer could hardly see how anti-royal-ism equated with fascism, he claimed, "Just to get rid of him, I didn't deny it." (The claim was denied by Matlock.) Jon Savage suggests that Rotten pushed Matlock out in an effort to demonstrate his power and autonomy from McLaren. Matlock almost immediately formed his own band, Rich Kids, with Midge Ure, Steve New, and Rusty Egan.
Matlock was replaced on bass by Rotten's friend and self-appointed "ultimate Sex Pistols fan" Sid Vicious, despite not being able to play bass. Born John Simon Ritchie, later known as John Beverley, Vicious was previously drummer of two inner circle punk bands, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Flowers of Romance. He was also credited with introducing the pogo dance to the scene at the 100 Club. John Robb claims it was at the first Sex Pistols residency gig, 11 May 1976; Matlock is convinced it happened during the second night of the 100 Club Punk Special in September, when the Pistols were off playing in Wales. In Matlock's description, Rotten wanted Vicious in the band because "[i]nstead of him against Steve and Paul, it would become him and Sid against Steve and Paul. He always thought of it in terms of opposing camps".
Julien Temple, then a film student whom McLaren had put on the Sex Pistols payroll to create a comprehensive audiovisual record of the band, concurs: "Sid was John's protégé in the group, really. The other two just thought he was crazy." McLaren later stated that, much earlier in the band's career, Vivienne Westwood had told him he should "get the guy called John who came to the store a couple of times" to be the singer. When Johnny Rotten was recruited for the band, Westwood said McLaren had got it wrong: "he had got the wrong John." It was John Beverley, the future Vicious, she had been recommending. McLaren approved the belated inclusion of Vicious, who had virtually no experience on his new instrument, on account of his look and reputation in the punk scene.
Pogoing aside, Vicious had been involved in a notorious incident during that memorable second night of the 100 Club Punk Special. Arrested for hurling a glass at the Damned that shattered and blinded a girl in one eye, he had served time in a remand centre—and contributed to the 100 Club banning all punk bands. At a previous 100 Club gig, he had assaulted Nick Kent with a bicycle chain. Indeed, McLaren's NME telegram said that Vicious's "best credential was he gave Nick Kent what he deserved many months ago at the Hundred Club". According to a later description by McLaren, "When Sid joined he couldn't play guitar but his craziness fit into the structure of the band. He was the knight in shining armour with a giant fist."
"Everyone agreed he had the look," Lydon later recalled, but musical skill was another matter. "The first rehearsals...in March of 1977 with Sid were hellish.... Sid really tried hard and rehearsed a lot". Marco Pirroni, who had performed with Vicious in Siouxsie and the Banshees, has said, "After that, it was nothing to do with music anymore. It would just be for the sensationalism and scandal of it all. Then it became the Malcolm McLaren story".
Membership in the Sex Pistols had a progressively destructive effect on Vicious. As Lydon later observed, "Up to that time, Sid was absolutely childlike. Everything was fun and giggly. Suddenly he was a big pop star. Pop star status meant press, a good chance to be spotted in all the right places, adoration. That's what it all meant to Sid." Westwood had already been feeding him material, like a tome on Charles Manson, likely to encourage his worst instincts. Early in 1977, he met Nancy Spungen, an emotionally disturbed drug addict and sometime prostitute from New York. Spungen is commonly thought to be responsible for introducing Vicious to heroin, and the emotional codependency between the couple alienated Vicious from the other members of the band. Lydon later wrote, "We did everything to get rid of Nancy.... She was killing him. I was absolutely convinced this girl was on a slow suicide mission.... Only she didn't want to go alone. She wanted to take Sid with her.... She was so utterly fucked up and evil." Lydon also admits to regretting introducing the two in The Filth and the Fury.
US tour and the end of the band
In January 1978, the Sex Pistols embarked on a US tour, consisting mainly of dates in America's Deep South. Originally scheduled to begin a few days before New Year's, it was delayed due to American authorities' reluctance to issue visas to band members with criminal records. Several dates in the North had to be cancelled as a result. Though highly anticipated by fans and media, the tour was plagued by in-fighting, poor planning and physically belligerent audiences. McLaren later admitted that he purposely booked redneck bars to provoke hostile situations. Over the course of the two weeks, Vicious, by now heavily addicted to heroin, began to live up to his stage name. "He finally had an audience of people who would behave with shock and horror", Lydon later wrote. "Sid was easily led by the nose."
Early in the tour, Vicious wandered off from his Holiday Inn in Memphis, Tennessee, looking for drugs. He was found in a hospital with the words "Gimme a fix" on his chest; he had written them with a marker pen. During a concert in San Antonio, Texas, Vicious called the crowd "a bunch of faggots", before striking an audience member across the head with his bass guitar. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he received simulated oral sex on stage, later declaring "that's the kind of girl I like". Suffering from heroin withdrawal during a show in Dallas, Texas, he spat blood at a woman who had climbed onstage and punched him in the face. He was admitted to hospital later that night to treat various injuries. Offstage he is said to have kicked a female photographer, attacked a security guard, and eventually challenged one of his own bodyguards to a fight—beaten up, he is reported to have exclaimed, "I like you. Now we can be friends."
Rotten, meanwhile, suffering from flu and coughing up blood, felt increasingly isolated from Cook and Jones, and disgusted by Vicious. On 14 January 1978, during the tour's final date at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, a disillusioned Rotten introduced the band's encore saying, "You'll get one number and one number only 'cause I'm a lazy bastard." That one number was a Stooges cover, "No Fun". At the end of the song, Rotten, kneeling on the stage, chanted an unambiguous declaration, "This is no fun. No fun. This is no fun—at all. No fun." As the final cymbal crash died away, Rotten addressed the audience directly—"Ah-ha-ha. Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? Good night"—before throwing down his microphone and walking offstage. He later observed, "I felt cheated, and I wasn't going on with it any longer; it was a ridiculous farce. Sid was completely out of his brains—just a waste of space. The whole thing was a joke at that point.... [Malcolm] wouldn't speak to me.... He would not discuss anything with me. But then he would turn around and tell Paul and Steve that the tension was all my fault because I wouldn't agree to anything."
On 17 January, the band split, making their ways separately to Los Angeles. McLaren, Cook and Jones prepared to fly to Rio de Janeiro for a working vacation. Vicious, in increasingly bad shape, was taken to Los Angeles by a friend, who then brought him to New York, where he was immediately hospitalised. Rotten later described his own situation: "The Sex Pistols left me, stranded in Los Angeles with no ticket, no hotel room, and a message to Warner Bros saying that if anyone phones up claiming to be Johnny Rotten, then they were lying. That's how I finished with Malcolm—but not with the rest of the band; I'll always like them." Rotten flew to New York, where he announced the band's break-up in a newspaper interview on 18 January. Virtually broke, he telephoned the head of Virgin Records, Richard Branson, who agreed to pay for his flight back to London, via Jamaica. In Jamaica, Branson met with members of the band Devo, and tried to install Rotten as their lead singer. Devo declined the offer.
Cook, Jones and Vicious never performed together again live after Rotten's departure. Over the next several months, McLaren arranged for recordings in Brazil (with Jones and Cook), Paris (with Vicious) and London; each of the three and others stepped in as lead vocalists on tracks that in some cases were far from what punk was expected to sound like. These recordings were to make up the musical soundtrack for the reconceived Pistols feature film project, directed by Julian Temple, to which McLaren was now devoting himself. On 30 June, a single credited to the Sex Pistols was released: on one side, notorious criminal Ronnie Biggs sang "No One Is Innocent" accompanied by Jones and Cook; on the other, Vicious sang the classic "My Way", over both a Jones–Cook backing track and a string orchestra. The single reached number seven on the charts, eventually outselling all the singles with which Rotten was involved. McLaren was seeking to reconstitute the band with a permanent new frontman, but Vicious—McLaren's first choice—had sickened of him. In return for agreeing to record "My Way", Vicious had demanded that McLaren sign a sheet of paper declaring that he was no longer Vicious's manager. In August, Vicious, back in London, delivered his final performances as a nominal Sex Pistol: recording and filming cover versions of Eddie Cochran's "Something Else" and Sinatra's "My Way." The bassist's return to New York in September put an end to McLaren's reunion dream.