Pretty Vacant

Album: Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols (1977)
Charted: 6

Songfacts®:

  • This was the third single released by the Sex Pistols, one of the most controversial bands in Britain (or anywhere) and pioneers of the new, angry genre, which became known as punk rock. The song was released in the UK on July 1, 1977, and in the USA on October 27, the same year and on October 15, 2007, as a 30th Anniversary re-issue. Running to 3 minutes, 15 seconds, "Pretty Vacant" was written by bass player Glen Matlock (replaced by Sid Vicious after the album was released) and lead singer John Lydon, but credited to the entire group, per convention. It was produced by Chris Thomas and Bill Price for Virgin in the UK and Warner Brothers in the US. The B-side was a cover of The Stooges' "No Fun."
  • "Pretty Vacant" saw the only appearance of the Sex Pistols on the BBC's famous Top Of The Pops program, although they would probably not have been invited if the Beeb had realized the title is to be interpreted as "pretty va-cunt." The Pistols had already seen their debut single, "God Save The Queen," banned by the BBC as well as by independent UK radio. Their debut album was also banned, and in December 1976, they caused a furor by swearing overtly on an independent television news program well before the watershed, egged on by interviewer Bill Grundy.

    Surprisingly, the riff for "Pretty Vacant" was inspired by a very unpunk song, the ABBA ballad "S.O.S."

    Although it isn't quite as powerful as "God Save The Queen," the band's third release is a worthy contribution to the genre and to music. It was named Single Of The Year by New Musical Express in 1977. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 2
  • Glen Matlock drew inspiration from the phrase "blank generation," which was the name of a band on a flyer Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren brought back from the United States. That saying got him thinking about the desperation and hopelessness many in London felt; he reworked it into "Pretty Vacant" and wrote the song about the concept with John Lydon.
  • According to Matlock, Lydon contributed just two lines in this song, which they didn't realize until later. "That was one of the very first songs that we wrote," he said in a Songfacts interview. "I wrote that one when I was finishing up at art school. Because of the PA system that we had, John couldn't hear himself, which probably contributed to his vocal style. And we couldn't hear him because we were too busy making too much noise. So I didn't realize until the record had come out that he changed two lines in the second verse. But the rest of the song is mine."
  • The Sex Pistols' Glen Matlock once bought this song as a ringtone. "It was all plinky plonky, done on a Casio keyboard," he recalled to Q magazine. "It was awful! So I sent off and got my money back."
  • John Lydon copped to singing this song as "Pretty Va-cunt" at times for his own amusement.
  • In 2003, UK DJ Mark Vidler created a mashup of this song, along with the band's "Anarchy In The U.K.," with Madonna's 1998 techno-pop hit, "Ray Of Light." This creation was called "Ray Of Gob," and it got substantial radio play once Vidler got clearance to use the songs.

Comments: 3

  • Speedie John from Athens GaBlank Generation was a song by Richard Hell, the NY Punk Pioneer who played with Television, Johnny Thunders Heartbreakers & later his own band called Richard Hell & The Void Oids. Malcolm McClaren had been the manager of the NY Dolls toward the end of their days with Mercury Records. I grew up in NYC and saw The Heartbreakers when Richard Hell was still in the band at what was the band's first gig. They performed Blank Generation that night, it was at The Coventry, a club in Queens. Malcom McLaren was also in attendance. It's well documented that Malcom was influenced by Richard Hell's lyrics & Punk Fashion. He took those influences back to the UK.
  • Nedkelly from Sydney, AustraliaFew tunes gave me that tingle up my spine....No Fun by the Stooges, I want you now by MC5, Shake appeal by the Stooges, Shske some action by Flamin' Groovies, Some people by Yard Trauma and.......Pretty vacant of course :):)
  • Nico from Amstelveen, NetherlandsThere is one simple reason why the fans in the late 70's loved this song. Just listen to Johnny Rotten's phrasing of "...oh so pretty, ahh, and we're vacant".
    A friend of mine, having attended a Sex Pistols concert in those days, told me that the audience enjoyed very much singing along the refrain, loudly emphasizing the last syllable, clearly pronouncing a 'u' instead of an 'a'.
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