We are taking a look back at five of Steve Jones’ fiercest riffs for the Sex Pistols and, as you might have expected they all come from the band’s iconic debut record Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. It showcases that however deeply musos sigh when considering the three-chord wonder of his output, Jones is a legendary guitarist.
A founding member of the punk outfit which would go on to define a generation, Jones remains a stalwart of the music scene, as authentic and unrelenting as he always was, Jones is the real deal. A punk forever.
To be one of the more musically inclined members of the Sex Pistols may sound like a slight but in fact the group, as well as being the incendiary bombs the youth of seventies Britain cast over their cities, they were also very aware of the music they were creating. While rock had been taken to the purist’s extremes, punk reduced the artform to its basest emotions. It was something that Jones was particularly apt at capturing.
The thrashing guitarist had a hand in most of the songs on the album, musically and let his brutish style permeate the very being of the record. While the album is often maligned for its vulgarity and lack of elegance, Steve Jones revelled in it.
He enjoyed the filthy nature of the songs, their unabashed and unafraid stances and how, underneath them all, the songs were built of rudimentary stone. But however you feel about punk, Jones place in the history books is not up for contention.
Steve Jones’ 5 most ferocious Sex Pistols riffs:
‘Holidays in the Sun’
Steve Jones may only have one real album under his belt but he made sure that he hammered the moments he was given. Four huge power chords underpin the opener on the Sex Pistols’ Nevermind The Bollocks, ‘Holiday in the Sun’.
Speaking with Louder, Jones said the song was inspired by a trip to the German capital. “That one came from when we went to Berlin. We went there for a week to take the heat off because we were getting into a lot of trouble hanging out in London. Lyrically, it was inspired by the Berlin Wall.”
Acknowledging the song’s simplicity is one thing but in doing so, one must also accept the power of that simplicity. On this song, the first taste of the full length record from the pioneering punks, the group deliver a show-stopper.
‘God Save The Queen’
Quite possibly the band’s defining album, Jones guitar cuts like a razor blade and offers a glinting back-up to Lydon’s fierce lyrics. Aimed squarely at the British establishment the song was released during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and gained traction almost immediately.
“It was [Glen] Matlock’s riff,” remembered Jones when speaking with Louder. “We would just go down to the studio, he’d have a riff, [and] it’d sound completely different to how it’d turn out. It was very weenie and weird, and wouldn’t sound [like] much. But when I got hold of his riffs and converted them into my style, that sounded a lot more meat and potatoes.”
That about as clear a definition of Jones’ style as you’re ever likely to read. Meat and potatoes, good old British stodge, is the perfect description. Jones also remembered the power of the song and how it upset the establishment, “There was a backlash from the royalists. They thought we were taking the piss out of the Queen. I can see how that was a problem for some people back then. It got heavy sometimes. Lyrically, it’s genius, telling the Queen what she’s done to you.”
“It’s a perfect three-and-a-bit-minute pop song.”
‘God Save The Queen’ sent shockwaves across the nation when it was released and was therefore routinely banned by radio and television stations — BBC was no different, stopping the band performing the number two single on the famous Top of the Pops weekly chart show.
However, that all changed when the band screened the promo video for their next single ‘Pretty Vacant’ — a lip-synching festival of ‘fuck you’ to the establishment. It’s a power chord powerhouse and is one of the group’s catchiest choruses and sees Jones in fine fettle.
“Glen came up with the intro to this one. He’s not a guitar player,” remembered Jones. “Well, he thinks he is, but he’s shit. He came up with some good riffs – ‘Pretty Vacant’ is a classic riff – but if he was playing guitar on it, it wouldn’t be the song it turned out to be. He’s a way better bass player than I am, but you can hide that a little bit more.”
‘Anarchy In The UK’
Arguably the band’s defining moment on the record, ‘Anarchy in the UK’ is one of the finest punk songs of all time. Built out of a deeply visceral riff and a penchant for upsetting the general public, the Sex Pistols only grew form the moment the single was released.
It also features some of Jones finest guitar work too. But in classic punk style the song was constructed without pretence and in the dingy rehearsal room, “We banged it out in rehearsal while John was in the corner figuring out the words. I like the fact that it has two guitar solos.”
That doesn’t mean the band didn’t take their time over putting it down on the tape though, “Chris Thomas [producer] kept telling me to tune-up and it drove me mad, but looking back I’m glad he did and I’m glad we spent that time on it. I think that’s what makes the Pistols album different from The Clash or The Damned. We didn’t just go in and crash, bang, wallop.”
One of the band’s most beloved cult-classics, ‘Bodies’ may not have landed with the same impetus as the previous songs but it still packed a hefty wallop in the form of Jones’ searing riffs. While it’s easy to get carted away by the thought of Jones simply thrashing out the track on his guitar, it was a part of some larger song construction.
“There are two parts [to the intro], one guitar doing the lower notes and another guitar just bending up on the E string at a higher tuning,” shared Jones. “I just wanted to get a haunting thing going on at the beginning. I have no idea where it came from – it was just in my head at the time.”
The track remains one of Jones better moments on the album and it is one he’s very fond of too: “It’s one of my favourites; it’s one of the heavier songs on the record. I didn’t even listen to his [Lydon’s] lyrics. I’m not a lyricist by any means – I’m just into melody and chords. I knew what it was about, but I wasn’t really paying attention.”