1977 was so long ago. It was around that time when I took an interest in the newer music that was coming out of the UK at the time. The local progressive rock station at the time, WZZK, had a news story and interview with manager of this new punk rock band that was causing a stir with their single “God Save the Queen.” Once I heard the clips from the song I had to go get the 8-track tape of this band. They were called the Sex Pistols and the manager was Malcolm McLaren.
Since that time I have been a fan of the Sex Pistols and the individual members after the band broke-up. Sid Vicious would make a name for himself with a popular version of the song “My Way” and as the alleged killer of his stoned out girlfriend Nancy. Steve Jones and Paul Cook would make a band called The Professionals and later Steve would be a DJ on XM radio. John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten would go on and make a band call P.i.L. ( Public Image Limited) retire and make British butter commercials. This week Lydon puts P.I.L. back together and tours the US with a reunion tour. All this takes place just as we find out that Lydon’s old manager Malcolm McLaren has taken his Final Taxi at age 64.
McLaren is someone who you love and hate at the same time. His history with bands, especially alternative music bands, is well noted. He holds a place in the chronicles of history both in rock and in hip hop.
He had established a fetish clothing store on King’s Row in London with his girlfriend, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. On one trip to the US he met the post-punk band The New York Dolls. ( This is the band that highlighted singer David Johanson who would be known in the music world as Buster Poindexter.) The Dolls were known in the press for their outrageous dress which mainly was dressing in women’s clothes. McLaren briefly managed the band and saw were fashion and music might work hand in hand.
Back in the UK McLaren put together the Sex Pistols and knew that not only the name would cause controversy but also the clothes they wore. This plus their ‘don’t care’ attitudes helped ignite the press and punk rock was started. McLaren did all he could to cause scandal with the Sex Pistols. He once said “Good press or bad press it did not matter as long as their names were in the papers. “ The Pistols would sign with one record company and then because of their antics, edged on by McLaren, they would be fired and earn the money without even playing a note for the recording industry.
McLaren never saw the band as serious musicians and he and Lydon did not get along because of that. On the bands US tour McLaren fired Lydon and “Johnny Rotten” was left stranded in San Francisco. McLaren hired a few other lead singers but the band did not make it. After McLaren ruined a movie on the Sex Pistols directed by Julian Temple, he took the film and cut it into his own film. It was a disaster.
McLaren also became manager for Adam and the Ants. After their first LP McLaren left Adam and stole the Ants to make the band Bow Wow Wow. The band would go on the make songs like “I Want Candy” and “ Do You Want To Hold Me.” Adam would not miss McLaren’s management and would become one of the most popular singers of 1980’s MTV music videos and be nominated for a Grammy for the LP Kings of the Wild Frontier.
In 1983 Malcolm McLaren would make his own music career with the LP “Duck Rock.” This was a record which mixed up influences from Africa and urban America, which including hip-hop. Historically this album brought hip-hop to a wider audience and is the first hip-hop or rap music to ever be played on MTV. Another song on the record, song “Buffalo Gals,” help introduced scratchin and other club techniques being used on urban music at the time.
He followed up this LP with “Madame Butterfly” and “Fans.”
Malcolm McLaren was a shameless self promoter and loved to get in front of a camera and take credit for everything. When the Sex Pistols took McLaren to court over money they had earned he told the court he alone had invented punk rock. This arrogance can be seen in the movie “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle” as he tells the viewer it was all his idea. In the end McLaren does merit some of the credit for how music was changed and how modern alternative music as born but he does not deserve the whole pie.