Pretty Vacant: The Weird World Of Sex Pistols Cover Versions


Anarchy in the Music Industry – an alternative world of Sex Pistols classics by other people.

We love a good cover version here at The Reprobate, and truth be told, we love a bad one even more – there’s something delicious about a woefully misguided or insanely inspired retread of a familiar classic, taking it to places that the original artists never would have conceived of. Sometimes, dare we say it, these alternate reality recordings are better than the real thing. And sometimes, of course, they are not.

The Sex Pistols have long been a go-to act for cover versions, usually by punk and metal bands keen to pay tribute and establish their rebellious street cred with audiences. Well, we’re not interested in those versions, obviously. But the more esoteric and ecentric versions… well, bring them on. We’ve already explored the magnificent glory that is Los Punkrockers covering the whole Pistols ouevre, but here are a few more tasty treats for open-minded connoisseurs – punk purists, we hardly need to say, should probably stop reading now – this will not be a good experience for you. There should be no complaints though – it’s not like the Pistols themselves were adverse to recording other people’s music, so what goes around comes around.

First up in this rogues gallery of reinterpretation comes this genuinely jaw-dropping interpretation of Pretty Vacant by Manfred Mann singer, actor and personality Paul Jones, who turns the snarling punk anthem into a laid back MOR masterpiece. This track is produced by none other than Tim Rice, and may be his finest hour. Definitely one to savour.

Bananarama had some indie cred before morphing into Pete Waterman pop puppets, though let’s not get carried away here – they were never The Slits (and thank God for that, you might think). The jaunty lo-fi indie pop sound of their early days is captured on this cover of No Feelings from the soundtrack of lamentably bad and immediately forgotten film Party Party. So the movie wasn’t an entire waste of time, then.

“It’s Lady Sovereign time” bellows the eponymous singer at the start of this track. That time was for about half an hour in 2004, but if you ever felt as though the world needed a grime take on Pretty Vacant by a gobby chav, then this is for you. I jest, of course – it’s actually curiously effective in a cack-handed sort of way.

From the council estates to London to the backwaters of the Deep South, with this bluegrass take on the same track. Solal make a decent fist of stripping the song back with a mix of sweet vocals and country twanging. If it hadn’t been declared a hate symbol, we’d give this the OK sign.

Of a theoretically similar bent come the Whiskey Daredevils, with a country lounge take on the Pistols’ biggest hit (number two in the charts – just live with it, Rod Stewart probably did sell more records). It’s a touch contrived, much like the Johnny Cash/Evel Knievel mash up cover, but not completely reprehensible.

Here’s something – we were all set to review the last LP by The Ukranians, but shit happens and time slipped away from us. Hey, why don’t you write music reviews for us if you have a problem with that? Anyway, by way of recompense, here’s the possibly not at all foreign band making a good fist of Anarchy in the UK. Arguably, ‘Anarchy in Crimea’ might be more topical, but there you go. You’ll enjoy this one, and if you don’t, then too bad.

I would’ve been very disappointed if the mighty Dick Cheese hadn’t tackled the Pistols at least once, and here he is with Lounge Against the Machine’s suitably swinging version of Anarchy in the UK. If you’re a fan, you’ll know what to expect, and Cheese delivers.

Some years ago, I was sent Opium Jukebox’s album Never Mind the Bhangra, a whole disc of Indian-flavoured Pistols covers, and rather liked it. Opium Jukebox is actually Martin Atkins, of PiL, Ministry, RevCo and such fame, but this is a rather different style to his usual sounds. Cultural appropriation never sounded so tasty.

Extra points to Galaxie 500 for thinking outside the box when it came to Sex Pistols songs to cover and going for Submission. This is a pleasantly dream poppy take on the track, let down by rather strangulated vocals that may well be typical of the band – how would I know?

It’s back to the obvious choices as Sunny Domestoz knock out a rockabilly version of Anarchy in the UK. There seems to be a rockabilly version of pretty much everything out there if you look hard enough, and this is better than a lot of the more strained examples.

The London Punkharmonic Orchestra was a novelty album covering the punk hits in a classical style, which I’m sure someone, somewhere was crying out for. It’s actually a decent stab, and oddly relaxing – never mind those punk lullaby CDs (and we’ve ignored those here), this might be the thing to lull the ankle biters to sleep with if you think that they are not ready for the real thing. But of course they are – kids love punk, what with all the jumping up and down, spitting and histrionics.

Finally, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain perform Anarchy in the UK at the  de Stadsschouwburg in Bruges, 2011. If you’d ever wondered what it would be like to hear George Formby performing Pistols hits… well, you’ll still be wondering after this. But everyone seems to be having a jolly old time.

We’ll be back to bring you more collections of unusual covers by other artists before you know it.


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