John Lydon’s view of The Beatles is an unusual one. When speaking at a Q&A at The 100 Club in London, the iconic punk figure opined, “There are social changes in this country that are really important that you understand. It was vitally relevant when I was just a tiny little kid, that rather than listen to that endless f—king dreary classical stuff, they started to play pop music. But the pop music was selected, and it was a bit wank at first. Then when bands like The Beatles came in, they were doing something really f—king important!”
He then continues in a wry ironic fashion, “You have to understand that when I slag them off, I’m not slagging off their historical perspective. They were vital for my development.” Then comes the confused question, “But you didn’t like them?” To which the iconoclastic frontman bluntly proclaims, “No.”
In truth, the parallels between the Sex Pistols and The Beatles are almost non-existent in a musicological sense, however, if you look at attitudes and the way that both artists handled inspirations from the past in order to seize the future zeitgeist, the two acts share a kinship. Punk was almost a revival of the tearaway sixties attitude shaking up with the stilted world of culture and liberating change.
Punk revitalised culture in the same way the Lydon had proclaimed of The Beatles, the movement was, indeed, very important. As Paul McCartney himself would later declare: “I understood that it needed to happen. It was a great thing and something like ‘Pretty Vacant’ as a record, is really good.” Before explaining that there was even a tangible link too. “It was produced by Chris Thomas, who we knew – he was George Martin’s assistant and had worked on some Beatles stuff,” he added in a Quietus interview.
However, it was John Lennon shortly before he was tragically killed who took the link between the bands even further. “I only heard whatever they did on video. There was a lot of video down at Max’s [Kansas City] or wherever they were playing and Johnny Rotten and all that stuff. And yeah, great,” he began when asked about The Sex Pistols.
Later adding: “To me, initially on impact, seeing all that stuff was like ‘Oh that’s how we used to behave at the Cavern [Club] before Brian [Epstein] told us to stop throwing up and sleeping on stage and swearing. In Hamburg, I used to sleep on stage, we used to eat on stage, we used to swear on stage, we were absolutely au naturale.”
However, the rather conservative mainstream wasn’t quite ready to face that rock ‘n’ roll heathenry head-on. As Lennon added: “Nowadays, they don’t have to put a shine all over it to get a record contract, even if they are getting a hard time over it. But, yeah, I think it’s great, I absolutely do. When I was in Bermuda a guy turned me on the B-52s, Lenny Lovitch [Lene Lovich] or whatever her name is and Madness about two years ago, but then I wouldn’t listen… now I want to hear what is going on, and I dig it!”
Forever with their finger to the pulse, The Beatles were a band who thrived on knowing the whys and wherefores of the current state of culture. When they were together they picked up on the vital importance of the virtues that Bob Dylan was extolling in his music and incorporated it into their sound. Clearly, when the next generation blazed their own trail, they were happy to take heed of its spirit, even if it wasn’t in keeping with their sound.