Why should anyone care about a punk rock song that was released forty years ago? The Observer has some very good reasons.
“Anarchy in the U.K.,” the debut single by the Sex Pistols, was released 40 years ago this week. Forty years is a long, long time; the difference between the “Anarchy” release date and today is the same as the difference between the “Anarchy” release date and the beginning of FDR’s second term. Yet the music, message and triumph of “Anarchy in the U.K.” is more relevant now than ever.
Rock ’n’ roll is a toothless old whore. Generally, this has been the case since the British Invasion. Around that time, the chiming electric pop and faux blues of our well-intended Trans-Atlantic cousins short-circuited the connection rock had with its creators, i.e. those who had been economically, politically, socially and racially excluded from the American dream.
These men and women who had been locked in poverty in inner-city ghettoes and Appalachian hollows had made a desperate and original beat noise; it implicitly meant something because the people who made it were screaming from the underbelly.
I would argue that much pre-Brit Invasion American rock ’n’ roll was political even when the subject matter was romantic or nonsensical. For instance, merely by being descended musically and lyrically from a childhood chant with roots in slave cabins and West African drum circles, “Bo Diddley” is a vastly political song.
Before long, thanks to all those cute “Yeah Yeah Yeahs” (not to mention the skim-milkcow blues of patronizing racists like Eric Clapton), the political soul of rock had been neutered, more or less forever. Who needs to consider the indignities Wynonie Harris, the Treniers or Sister Rosetta Tharp suffered while making their art when we can just smile and sway to Oasis? Who needs to actually go out and protest when we can piss off Grandma by blasting Green Day?
There are exceptions, and we’ll get to that in a second.