Whatever you may think of Sid Vicious it’s hard to deny that he was an icon of his time. As bassist for the Sex Pistols, Vicious was the archetypal punk. He was the face terrorising the nation, the bloodied, bruised, dirtied and downright destitute punk—but he was also a star.
Sid Vicious was not a good bassist, we should make that clear right away. Born Simon Ritchie, Vicious became affiliated with the pioneering punk band for his looks and his attitude alone. When Glen Matlock departed the band, many people sniggered at the idea of Vicious taking his place. How wrong they were.
The snorts of derision usually came from musicians or those ‘in the scene’. After all, Matlock was a brilliant bass player and had worked with the band since their inception. But what Malcolm McLaren, the Pistols manager, had seen in Vicious can be most accurately depicted in his starring role for The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle one of the final notable moments before his death.
Alongside Johnny Rotten, Vicious quickly became the focus of the Sex Pistols. It wasn’t for his songwriting or his musicianship but for his punk sneer. He spat at everyone, he found himself in fights, constantly, but what set him apart from everyone else—he really enjoyed being a punk, in every sense of the word. Vicious always wanted to be a star even after the Pistols had broken up.
A massive fan of David Bowie in his youth, Vicious had always dreamed of being an idol. It was what made him work with Siouxsie Sioux despite having very little musical skill, it’s what put him in Vivienne Westwood’s shop hoping to catch an eye, and it’s what made him sing the Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ in the 1980 mockumentary. But, as one might expect, Vicious truly did it his way.
The song was, in fact, not written by Sinatra but for him by the legendary lounge singer Paul Anka. “I said, ‘If Frank were writing this, what would he say?’” Anka recalled in a 2007 interview with The Telegraph. “I used words I would never use: ‘I ate it up and spit it out,’ but that’s the way he talked. I called Frank up in Nevada—he was at Caesar’s Palace—and said, ‘I’ve got something real special for you.’” The song would go on to define a character like Sinatra who had accomplished so much in his field. For Vicious, it would need to be adapted.
Recording the song in 1978, Vicious wasn’t going to just give any old performance of the track. So, he re-wrote the lyrics liberally using words like “queer” and “cunt” to shake things up a bit. He also found room to mention his extra-curricular activities too: “When there was doubt, I shot it up or kicked it out.” His vocal is sarcastic and mocking and his every move feels barbed.
Sid’s crowning moment, however, would come not in the recording but, as ever, in the performance. Vicious had forever been a showman and now he was given his chance to shine in The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle. He delivers a deliberately obtuse, rude and downright punkish performance of ‘My Way’ before turning a gun on the audience ending his song with bloodshed.
A show with a great song, filled with contorted faces and disgusting behaviour, finished off with death. It sounds all too familiar.
For now, enjoy the moment Sid Vicious became a star and sang Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ in 1980.