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In todays world, we see many people spiked up hair, leather jackets, shirts with the symbol of anarchism etc., and we thinks of these people of outcasts of society, people that don’t fit in with the “normal people”. But during the 1970’s in the United Kingdom, being one of these outcasts meant you belonged to huge social group called the punks. Punk originally comes the from the United States of America, with groups like The Ramones and The Stooges, who made punk of type of musical style in where one expresses their inconformity with the system. But when this musical style arrived in Britain, bands like the Sex Pistols, saw more as form of living, a sort of chaotic lifestyle.
During the 70’s Britain found itself in a horrible economic and social state due the way the leaders of the country were going about ruling it. Like we’ve seen many times throughout history, society begins to give support to a group that proposes change. In a way this group was the Sex Pistols. They had so many supporters that one of their most controversial songs “God Save the Queen” reached number 2 (their exists controversy that it actually reached number one) on the BBC’s UK Singles Chart. This song in a way offended the people controlling the country and was banned by the BBC. With this said my question is, how do the lyrics implied in “Anarchy in the UK” and “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols bring to light the flaws of British rule during the 1970’s? This question is significant and worth of study because maybe this anarchist band began to set a path to the Britain BRITISH MUSIC? CULTURE? we know now, they motivated change. This question is significant to me personally because, throughout history when a group of people wants change, they use a formal use of words to get people to follow their ideals. The Sex Pistols used an informal usage of language to do this, they were more direct in their use of words, they showed things how they were and did not hide reality behind poetic figures such as metaphors and similes. Instead of slowly and easily getting people to follow them, the pistols were more direct and used music to do it. From what I can see in songs like “Anarchy in the UK” and “God Save the Queen”, we can clearly see that the Sex Pistols were unconfirmed with the way the government and royalty were going about the nation of the United Kingdom.
Was there reason to be upset?
One of the main reasons punk came alive was because of the huge amount of unemployment that came to exist during the 1070’s. In comparison with the 1945-50 period, Labour had hardly been a radical reforming government. Rather than institute reforms the government simply increased spending on the existing programs. Taxation increased dramatically from 32 per cent of gross domestic product in 1964 to 43 percent in 1970. The government’s failure to carry through a radical program alienated many supporters within the Labour movement. By 1970 increasingly militant trade unions were demanding more fundamental reforms and were prepared to use their bargaining muscle to extract higher wages from employers. As a result the new Conservative government of Edward Heath, which unexpectedly won the 1970 election, was intent on reforming industrial relations, by imposing a more rigid framework of law on trade union activity. What transpired was the 1971 Industrial Relations Act, which sought to make unions accept certain legal restrictions on their activities, notably on their right to strike, and to submit themselves to a special court. From its inception this inspired their fiercest hostility. The new government also abandoned a fixed exchange rate for the pound, letting international financial markets determine its value. In conjunction with this it negotiated British entry to the European Union (which in that time was know as the European Community) in 1972. Entry was expected to stimulate British Industry by exposing it to new competitive pressures while at the same time opening up new markets. In the absence of any incomes policy and industrial strategy, however, how ere inflation and balance of payments crises to be solved? Strangely, and in spite of some tightening of control, not by reducing expenditure! Instead, a policy of economic expansion via reduced taxation and increased public spending was followed. With no controls on incomes and expenditure inflation took off, soaring from 6.4 percent in 1970 to 9.4 percent in 1971, by far the highest figure since 1950. This situation could not last long. The rapid increases iwere bount to undermine the balance of payments and Britain’s trading position, especially with a floating exchange rate. In a famous “U-turn” of November 1972, Edward Heath announced a prices and incomes policy. Although at first accepted by the unions the miners and other unions later resisted controls on wages. Faced with crippling strikes, the goverenment called a general election early in 1974. The government’s U-turn on incomes policy in 1972 was accompanied by another change of heart on industrial policy that was now dapted to aid succour and guide industrial recovery. Bankrupt companies such as Rolls-Royce and Upper Clyde Shipbuilders were bailed out, regional incentives and development grants were strengthened, a Minister for Industrial Development was attached to a new Department of Trade and Industry, adn workforce retraining was organised and greatly strengthened. All this did not amount to planning in the sense of economic targets being set over a fixed time period, but it did represent a new institutionalised liasion between government and industry. When they left office the Conservatives thus presided over a larger public sector than in 1970, in terms of the government share of GDP and the number of enterprised it owned. This demonstrates how much the Heath gonverment was relying on incomes policy to harness inflation talk of controlling the money supply, wich dominated the policy agenda in the late 1970’s.
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THE Sex Pistols
Throughout their era, the Sex Pistols had many events in their career that defined them as punk and that help us further understand them. Since there exist so many I have selected some of the most significant events to get the message thru. Sex Pistols was developed off the Group Swankers, which consisted of Matlcok (bass), employee on the store of McLaren, Cook (drums), Jones (vocals) and Wally Nightingale (electric guitar). Jones replaced Nightingale on guitar, and Rotten, introduced by McLaren, came as the vocalist in August 1975.
The group was interviewed on the television program “Bill Grundy Show”, which the press described as the scandal of the year in England in 1976. It was the first time that someone spoke vulgar words on live television in England. Also, arte dirtectior, Jamie Reids designs played and important role in the creation of the image of the group. The literary/philosophical/political movement Situalism, developed from Dadaism, surrealism and Lettrism was a great source of inspiration fro the entire unit around Sex Pistols.
As one of the first punk groups, Sex Pistols got a contract with one major label (EMI) and released the single “Anarchy in the UK in November of 1976, which was the struggle of the punk movement song. The company broke contract on January 6 1977, due to the scoundrel and anarchist behavior of the group, such as fights with members of the public, carefully followed by the media. The number two single ” God save the Queen”, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II, in a way, calling the Queen a “moron”, was going to be released by the record label A & M but the company withdrew at the last moment and the group released it by Virgin in May 1977.
The debut album “Never mind the bollocks here’s the Sex Pistols” of November 1977 was a symbol of the explosion of the British Punk in the late 1970’s. It contained the mentioned two singles, and also songs like “Pretty Vacant”, “Holidays in the sun”, “EMI”, “New York” and others; altogether they were 12 original songs. Although most were hits, the songs were banned on the radio; many places did not allow the group to play so they had to lay under fake names like The Spots, The Pirates etc.. All because their songs criticized the British System.
“I am an anarchist”
Two mayor songs that really defined the Sex Pistols are “Anarchy in the UK” and “God Save the Queen”. Why? Well because one song shows what Pistols wanted and the other one showed what was wrong during their time.
During the 1970’s the working class felt a bit oppressed and felt that their work was not taking them anywhere. One of the main arguments of being punk is to be free, to control your life without anyone stopping or limiting what your ambitions are.
This is what the Sex Pistols showed in the lyrics of their song “Anarchy in the UK” (SEE APPENDIX No.????). This song was released in 1976 and it appealed to the part of society that really did feel held down by British rule and would not stand for this, the rebellious side of society. In the lyrics of this song we can see a type of criticism towards two parties the monarchy and most of all, the government. “I am an anti-christ, I am an anarchist” are the starting lyrics to this song. During medieval time, royalty were rulers because they were believe to be chosen by Christ to rule over a kingdom, also during these times, the royals would repress and abuse of the people. With the starting stanza of this song, we can see that the Pistols are against all of this. The belief that other people are better than others or the idea that because they have power they have the right to abuse of those who don’t, they believe in tearing this ideology down and going against it.
Another lyrical aspect to analyze is in the stanza in where they say “Is this the MPLA, Or the UDA, Or is this the IRA, I thought it was the UK, Or just another country, Another council tenancy” Here we see that the Sex Pistols believe that their country has become repressive and violent to anything different by comparing them to violent groups throughout history. It’s become Socialist in where the rulers are rich, and violent in where only those who share their ideologies are allowed to live. What the Sex Pistols mainly propose in this song is a type of civil society. What a civil society is, is a political theory that implies that a society can exist independently of the state and if necessary, organize itself to overturn a corrupt state and reconstitute It on better lines. In a way we cans say that that this society was intended to be the punks. A strong civil society has active and diverse voluntary groups, which need have nothing directly to do with politics. However, they provide a basis on which individuals can relate to other individuals in a spontaneous and unforced way. This in a way is was the Sex Pistols wanted to show in this song. Lets get rid of the monarchy, lets get rid of democracy and instead, lets rule ourselves .The Pistols became a symbol of the rebellious youth that was angry about everything, and this is why the rose to fame.
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Their song “God Save the Queen” is the perfect example showcasing their rebellion against the system. The song mainly revolves around the Pistols famous catch phrase “no future”, which is said over and over throughout the song. What the Sex Pistols wanted to imply with “no future” was a type of existential nihilism, if society kept on going in the same routine and rhythm that it was going in, there was no point in living, you were a basically a slave living someone else’s life instead of your own and thus their was “No Future” for you. These thoughts are expressed in the starting lyrics of the song; “God Save the Queen, The fascist regime, they made you a moron, potential H-bomb”.
Something that categorizes punk bands is that they do not hide their messages with big words; in this song the lines are short and understandable. There is very little use of metaphors and images, in a way, the way the Pistols used their lyrics can be compared to Rene Descartes, they wrote short and sweet so that everyone can understand the message implied. The song is obviously an anarchist song but the criticism isn’t conscious and organized, we can understand from lines like “She ain’t no human being” that stanzas have meaning by themselves, they are not related to the other lines. But they do all revolve around the same topic implied which is “no future”. The song, more than anything, is meant to express feelings of discomfort and disturbance that was in the society of that time, and because the song expressed an uncontrolled anger, it was perfect for conveying this society, which caused it to become a major hit. The song was directly approaching the angry civilization with lines like ” Don’t be told what you want, don’t be told what you need, there’s no future, no future, no future for you”, this was a call for society to wake up and demand change. To do what they felt was right and not what the government to believe.
The Pistols began to receive so much support that their songs got black listed by the government in the fear that many more of the English community would succumb to this anarchist behavior and ideal. They knew that what the Pistols said was true and did not want people to know so they tried to censor them. They didn’t become famous because of their musical abilities or catchy rhythm; they became famous because of the reality that they spoke of in their lyrics.
Have you ever set a goal for yourself, and you don’t achieve what you want, but what you receive is a lot better than when you had noting? Well in my opinion, this is what the Sex pistols managed to do. They initially set out to get rid of the system of repression and poverty, but instead of abolishing, they achieved a change in the British system. “By 1977-78, the economy had rebounded. Poverty levels were at their lowest, disposable income was growing, inflation was under 10% again, unemployment was also at its lowest and so on” (Britain in the 1970’s-what happened?, 2010). We cannot fully give credit to the band for the change that was going on in Britain, but we can give is recognition. With their grand mass of followers, and direct messages to protest, we can say that they inspired a nation to stand up for themselves, to stop living under the darkness of the government that was ruling them, and to protest for what they wanted. Not only were the people listening, so were the ruling powers, it is said that “God Save the Queen” actually reached a status of number one single in Britain, but it was placed as number two and with a black line covering its name because the government was afraid of what it would inspire and reveal to the English society. In the end the people did wake up and made change. We can see that in their songs the Sex Pistols brought to light in a direct manner, without metaphors or philosophical imagery, the flaws of British Rule, and because of this, they managed to make a change. Many people say that the Sex Pistols only wanted to see the United Kingdom burn down into Chaos, but this is not the case. To prove this I leave you with a phrase from singer and songwriter of the Sex Pistols John Lydon “You don’t write a song like ‘God Save the Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re fed up of seeing them mistreated.”
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