Anarchy is 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.
Bertrand - Paris, France
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."
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 Northern Ireland conflict. The UDA (Ulster Defence Association) supported Britain and opposed unification of Northern Ireland.
IRA: The Irish Republican Army, who opposed Britain and were in favor of unification in Northern 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.
John Lydon told Mojo magazine July 2008 about writing this 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."
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.