Price paid: $15
Purchased at: The Record Archive, Rochester NY
“Ronnie Biggs was doing time until he done a bunk
Now he says he’s seen the light and he sold his soul to punk!”
Yesterday (December 19, 2013) Ronnie Biggs died at age 84.
Turn back the way-back machine to 1978…
In January Johnny Rotten leaves the Sex Pistols. Non-pulsed, manager Malcolm McLaren begins the search for a new lead singer to round out the remaining band (which now consists of Sid Vicious, Paul Jones, and Steve Cook.) Sid is unreliable, but McLaren’s grand opus, the movie- ‘The Great Rock and Roll Swindle’- is well under production and decisions have to be made. Edward Tudor-Pole (of Tenpole Tudor) is a front runner as Lydon’s replacement. So is Ronald Arthur “Ronnie” Biggs…
Ronnie Biggs was a common thief that had a two-bit part in ‘The Great Train Robbery.’ Upon escaping prison early on in his sentence, he fled to Australia and then to Brazil, where he lived in exile for 36 years. During that time he achieved minor cult status and was considered by some (McLaren being one) as somewhat of a Robin Hood-esque folk hero.
In a stroke of brilliance (and bad taste) McLaren decides to fly everyone to Brazil and film Biggs as the new lead singer for The Sex Pistols. They record several songs (including this single) and shoot some footage for the film.
McLaren had a knack for pushing buttons. He would use anything and anyone to promote whatever his attention was focused on at the moment. Enlisting Briggs was in no way out of character, as he had exploited images of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley (British serial killers) amongst others. The shock value of using high-profile criminals in a pop context is hard to conceive today; I would imagine it would be akin idolizing George Zimmerman or Edward Snowden as guiltless heroes and using them to sell products. But even more so.
‘No One is Innocent’ (aka ‘The Biggest Blow’ aka ‘A Punk Prayer’) is packed with Sex Pistols self references and in-jokes. By this time the band had become somewhat of a joke, portrayed in the movie (often literally) as cartoons, and the song is a self-aware nihilistic treaty in this regard. To his credit Ronnie can actually sing; he’s certainly no worse than Sid Vicious. The song reached an amazing #7 on the UK charts, and is The Sex Pistols’ fifth highest ranking single.
Vicious’ hilarious throttling of ‘My Way’ appears on this 12″ as well, relegated to the B-side.
The sleeve art consists of black and white stills from the film with Jamie Reid (or Jamie Reid inspired) cut-and-paste lettering. Not the most eye-catching design, the single was released in advance of the film so it can be interpreted stylistically as a promotional-style piece.