On June 4, 1976, the Sex Pistols played their first-ever live show, at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Over the years, thousands of people have claimed to have been at the show, even though the club only holds about 150 people at most. A few years ago, a music writer named David Nolan investigated the matter, and determined that probably only 35-40 people were at the show, but we have good evidence that among this select group were: Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley (who went on to form the Buzzcocks); Peter Cook and Bernard Sumner (who went on to form Joy Division); Mark E. Smith (who went on to form The Fall); and Morrissey (who went on to form The Smiths).
Now, that’s quite the room… Or else something the Pistols did that night transformed those few dozen normal people into something else entirely.
Within a few months, the Pistols had a devoted fan base, many of whom would soon form their own bands. (Punk wasn’t so hard to pick up, apparently…) One of these diehard fans was Billy Broad from the London suburb of Bromley, and he used to travel with the band wherever they played. Soon Billy Broad changed his name to Billy Idol and started his own band, Generation X.
Here they are in 1977 on Marc Bolan’s seriously embarrassing variety show, “Marc”:
Their first single, “Your Generation,” clearly invoked one of the Who’s first big hits from 1965 — “My Generation.” The song turned the tables on the baby boomers who — despite promises to the contrary — did not die before they got old. Clearly the drummer’s shirt in this TV appearance nods at the Who as well, since he’s sporting their target logo. And probably the line “There ain’t no time for substitutes” is a dig at the Who too, since “Substitute” was the next single that came out after “My Generation.” Roger Daltrey undoubtedly seemed defiant back in the day when he was talkin’ ’bout his g-g-g-g-generation, but Billy Idol tries to out-defy him here, by “trying to forget your generation” ’cause “your generation don’t mean a thing to me.”
The baby boomers were idealists and escapists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but in 1977, it was clear where idealism and escapism led: nowhere at all.