That Time The Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols Had a Row

Published August 29, 2019

That Time When is Interview’s weekly trip through the pop cultural space-time continuum, where we return to some of the most overlooked moments from issues past. In this edition, we revisit our December 1977 cover story with The Rolling Stones, during which they fire back at the Sex Pistols amidst an ongoing war of words. 

The Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols are two of the most well-known bands of all time, bringing an intimidating toughness to the emerging disco culture of the ’70s. On their 1978 self-proclaimed “New York record” Some Girls—their highest-selling album to date—The Stones clearly deliver a grungy, grittier vibe than their earlier releases. But, it’s hard to say they were influenced by punk when they were the ones influencing the punks (their words). When Andy Warhol (in the same 1977 Interview interview) asked them if punk was new, Keith Richards replied: “It ain’t.” Echoing Keith’s assertion, Mick elaborated: “They [punks] got nothing else to do but play in rock bands. Rather similar to us.” Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, the Sex Pistols were on a crusade to disassemble the commercial rock scene that sanctified bands such as The Stones. Needless to say, they didn’t succeed. But, in a world where the spirit of rock and roll is constantly co-opted into a teenage t-shirt meme, it is increasingly crucial to celebrate not only these artists’ iconography, but their overall legacy. In an effort to bring some of this history to light, we revisited our December 1977 cover story with The Rolling Stones, who had some strong words for the Pistols:

MICK JAGGER: No matter what Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious do, they can’t be more disgusting than The Rolling Stones are in an orgy of biting.

CATHERINE GUINNESS: What do you think of the Sex Pistols?

MICK: They don’t like us.

KEITH RICHARDS: They look great. That’s all that matters.

CATHERINE: Have the Sex Pistols tried to beat you up?

MICK: Oh no. They’ve stopped short at violence. I think even Sid Vicious is basically a nice guy, but Johnny Rotten keeps talking bad about me. He’ll get his rotten teeth kicked in one day.

KEITH: They’re fucking just asking for it if they always insist on catching public transport on the way home from their gigs.

MICK: They still live with their mums you know. Johnny Rotten says, “I still live with my mum, in a block of flats.”

KEITH: He moved to the slums, right?

MICK: He’s not revealing it though.

KEITH: I think his mum kicked him out.

The earliest hints of their beef ostensibly stemmed from the Sex Pistols’ cover story in the Oct. 20, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone (not to be confused with the other band in question). Speaking on the punk scene’s outward loathing of mainstream rockers, bassist Sid Vicious offered the following: “I absolutely despise those turds. The Stones should have quit in 1965.” Later in the interview, manager Malcolm McLaren—boyfriend of designer Vivienne Westwood, with whom he owned the prominent London boutique Sex—received word of Elvis’s death. Rolling Stone contributor Charles M. Young wrote: “The phone rings and McLaren answers. ‘What’s that? Elvis Presley died? . . . Makes you feel sad, doesn’t it? Like your grandfather died . . . Yeah, it’s just too bad it couldn’t have been Mick Jagger.’” 

Defending their reputation as the original bad boys of rock and roll, The Stones provided a legendary response. On their 1978 US tour, Mick wore the same McLaren/Westwood-designed shirt Johnny Rotten made famous a year earlier. He even wore a tan blazer (as Rotten was known to do on stage) over the shirt for The Stones’ concert film Some Girls: Live in Texas ‘78.

A few months after Some Girls’ Texas show, Sid Vicious was accused of killing his girlfriend. The tension between the bands faded, presumably due to Mick’s charitable decision to pay Sid’s legal fees. Despite a couple recent jabs at Mick and The Stones, Lydon (Rotten’s given surname) expressed gratitude to Jagger for not only covering the costs, but for doing so without pursuing publicity. I don’t imagine the two will be sitting down for tea any time soon, but it looks like today they’ve moved past the madness to focus on the music, with both artists embarking on global tours within the last two years. We’re still hoping for one of them to drop a diss track.