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On This Day in Music... March 10, 1977: The Sex Pistols Stage Their (Brief) Signing to A&M Records Outside Buckingham Palace

The Sex Pistols managed to get signed and dropped by A&M within the span of a week, but still got a nice cheque for their trouble.

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Source: Bill Rowntree/Mirrorpix/Newscom/The Mega Agency

The Sex Pistols, preparing to sign their contract with A&M Records in front of Buckingham Palace as a publicity stunt.

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"Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

That's the famous phrase uttered by Johnny Rotten during the Sex Pistols' performance at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on January 14, 1978, a show that turned out to be the band's last gig they'd play for the better part of two decades, and their final show ever with Sid Vicious as their bassist.

Looking back, however, it's also a phrase that would've been just as apt for Johnny to have posed to the folks at A&M Records back in 1977, given that the label infamously signed the band, only to dismiss them a week later and pay them a nice chunk of change in order to be rid of them.

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Source: MEGA

Here they come, walking down the street... The Sex Pistols (Paul Cook, Sid Vicious, John Lydon, and Steve Jones).

To offer a bit of catch-up for anyone unfamiliar with the Sex Pistols' story up to this point, the band had signed their first record deal on October 8, 1976 to EMI, released their first single, "Anarchy in the U.K.," on November 26, and were dropped by the label on January 6, 1977.

In between the release of the single and the end of their tenure with EMI, the Pistols appeared on the Thames Television program Today, hosted by Bill Grundy, where their behavior was deemed so vulgar and offensive that it led to the famous Daily Mirror headline "The Filth and the Fury."

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In the official press release issued by EMI on January 6, it was explained that the label and the band had "mutually agreed to terminate their recording contract [because] EMI feels it is unable to promote this group's records internationally in view of the adverse publicity which has been generated over the last two months."

The band was so broken up about it that they were inspired to write the song that ultimately ended up serving as the closer to their lone studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols.

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What was adverse for one label, however, was still sufficiently intriguing for other labels to start looking into the possibility of signing the band, and by early February the band's manager, Malcolm McLaren, was already deep in talks with both CBS and A&M. (It was also around this time that Glen Matlock exited the band as bassist and was replaced by Sid Vicious, who's a whole story unto himself, one that you can read right here.) After a bit of back and forth between the two labels, McLaren formally secured a deal with A&M on March 9, 1977, with the band receiving £50,000 for their signing.

"The Sex Pistols becoming available presented us with a unique business opportunity to be linked with a new force in rock music which is spearheaded by this group," A&M's managing director Derek Green told Sounds at the time. "The notoriety which they have already received was not a dissuading factor and would not be to anyone who has been around during the last 15 years of rock music and its fashions. I believe the Sex Pistols will effect some major changes in rock music and we at A&M are excited by them, their music and to have entered into a world-wide recording agreement."

Oh, and that issue of Sounds? By the time it was published, the Sex Pistols' contract had already been terminated.

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Source: Bill Rowntree/Mirrorpix/Newscom/The Mega Agency

The Sex Pistols during their press conference after signing with A&M Records.

As noted, the band's official tenure with A&M Records began on March 9, but it was on March 10 that the label set up the McLaren-suggested publicity stunt of having the band sign their contracts in front of Buckingham Palace, after which they participated in a press conference, went to Wessex Studios to hear the finished version of "God Save the Queen" (which was set to be their debut single on A&M), and then they went to the label's offices.

In his memoir Lonely Boy, Steve Jones referred to the day as "a total nightmare" and called the trip to Wessex Studios "the only good bit, as I couldn't believe how amazing it sounded."

In John Lydon's memoir Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, he recalled the day in question...and interestingly enough, he never mentioned the trip to Wessex Studios at all.

"We had a huge fight in the limo on the way [to Buckingham Palace]," said Lydon. "It started out when Sid was taking a piss out of Paul. Sid used to always be on Paul’s case. He called him an albino gorilla in the limo. One remark led to another, then fists flew. We all got hurt, and when we fell out, it was black eyes, I’m afraid. These were not bad things. Every band does it. But it doesn’t help when there’s a load of press waiting at the other end and we’re all fighting out in the street outside Buckingham Palace. The police weren’t amused, either. Then it was on to a press conference, which was another farce. We weren’t briefed, and we had no idea what we were going to be asked or what was going to take place. Again, it was tabloid press goading in their particular offensive way. They try to trick you into saying stupid things. We all just clammed up. Sid threw a custard tart at someone. It was as stupid as that. The press got what they wanted – foul-mouthed yobs. They were happy.

"A&M invited us over to their offices and plied us with champagne and booze. Malcolm had hoped to try to control us. Sid got violently drunk in the toilet and broke a urinal with his boot. Boys will be boys, as they say. Somebody was sick in a rubber plant in some executive’s office. I have a drunken vague memory, and I don’t like to incriminate myself, but I think it was me. Steve was aggressive to some of the secretaries. One woman ran out screaming. Was Steve offensive? He may have touched some things on her, but I didn’t’ see it. Paul was quiet and reserved. He’s laid back, but he follows what Steve does to see if there’s something in it for him. He’ll pick up the tail end, so to speak.

“We were totally uninterested in A&M. They were just another load of men in suits. Somebody high up in the company thought that we were utterly loathsome. It’s funny how people point fingers and stand up for the Moral Majority. Always be suspicious of he who shouts loudest."

Lydon was right, of course: despite having been signed to the label, someone at A&M was already second-guessing their decision (although in fairness to them, the band's behavior at their offices couldn't possibly have helped), and on March 16, McLaren walked out of the offices of A&M Records with a newly-terminated contract and a cheque for £25,000.

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Source: Bill Rowntree/Mirrorpix/Newscom/The Mega Agency

The Sex Pistols (Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Sid Vicious and John Lydon) and manager Malcolm McLaren with their A&M payoff.

"I'm shellshocked," McLaren told the Evening Standard. "Four weeks ago I flew to Los Angeles to meet Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, who head A&M, and a week ago we signed up. They knew what they were getting, and managing director Derek Green even said that he wasn't offended by the group's behaviour and that he thought they were fresh and exciting. Then at 11:30 last night I got a telex from them saying it was all over. The Sex Pistols are like some contagious disease - untouchable. I keep walking in and out of offices being given cheques. When I'm older and people ask me what I used to do for a living I shall have to say, 'I went in and out of doors getting paid for it.' It's crazy."

And what of the single that A&M was supposed to release? Well, they didn't release it, of course. But they did start pressing them.

“I’ve seen that collector’s copy of ‘God Save the Queen’ on A&M in that record store in Greenwich Village in New York," Lydon recalled in Rotten. "Even I don’t have one – and I f---ing made the thing. A&M never got around to giving us copies. They pulled it right off the market the second it was pressed. They didn’t press many, and what they did press, they instantly set about destroying. We were on A&M for one week. We were ecstatic! They gave us seventy-five thousand pounds to leave. That was brilliant.”

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