The Misfits Vs. Sex Pistols - The difference a year makes in lyrical controversy

edited June 2011 in History of Rock
So the weather has been super gray in Boston and that means I've been listening to a lot of The Misfits lately. They're one of my favorite bands (regardless of the weather) and one of the things that has always impressed me is how shocking their lyrics were for the time, and how well they've stood up over the last 30 years.

This got me thinking about punk controversy in general and what a weird time sensitive thing it is in most cases. A lot of the anti Reagan vitriol of 80's hardcore punk seems laughable by today's standards. Even looking at the lyrics for God Save The Queen... it seems so innocent now.

Railing against "the fascist regime" of British government and declaring that the Queen "ain't no human being" was enough to get the Pistols banned from the BBC and arrested during the Silver Jubilee. But less than a year later, The Misfits released the single for Bullet, a track all about the Kennedy assassination, with lines like "Kennedy's shattered head hits concrete" and some hyper sexual lyrics about Jackie O.

That's a huge leap in a year. From cover art defacing a portrait of the queen to cover art illustrating blood shooting from the head of a president.

I just thought it was really interesting and wondered... how much of it had to do with timing (releasing during the Jubilee versus touching on an assassination 15 years after the fact)? Was the reception so different because of the difference in British and American attitudes? Was God Save the Queen so much more inflammatory because The Misfits filter the much more violent lyrical content through the lens of shlocky 50's B movies?

Anyway, that's what I've been thinking of and I wondered what the community thought.

Comments

  • CubecubedCubecubed Washed Up
    edited May 2011
    Honestly i think it has more to do with how the English view their monarchy compared to how we view our presidents. The English view the monarchy as royalty,while Americans tend to look at their president almost as someone they have hired to do a job,an employee.Only the great presidents are treated with any kind of reverence,and that is usually after they are long dead.
  • Lameboy19Lameboy19 Headliner
    edited May 2011
    Cubecubed;4403068 said:
    Honestly i think it has more to do with how the English view their monarchy compared to how we view our presidents. The English view the monarchy as royalty,while Americans tend to look at their president almost as someone they have hired to do a job,an employee.Only the great presidents are treated with any kind of reverence,and that is usually after they are long dead.
    agreed.

    American's hardly respect whoever is in power, however the English have the world captivated by a wedding. Speaking out against the president has been and always will be commonplace as opposed to only a radical underground of Britain that speaks out against the queen
  • clashcityrocker10clashcityrocker10 Headliner
    edited May 2011
    Lameboy19;4403146 said:
    agreed.

    American's hardly respect whoever is in power, however the English have the world captivated by a wedding. Speaking out against the president has been and always will be commonplace as opposed to only a radical underground of Britain that speaks out against the queen

    I wouldn't say that it's only a radical underground in the UK that speaks out against the Queen anymore. There are quite a few high-profile English figures, although they are more in the entertainment fields than politics, that call for an end to the monarchy after the current monarch passes away (or relinquishes the throne for any reason, I guess).

    Besides, don't forget that (my own opinion notwithstanding), Kennedy was, and still is, quite the popular President, among both the average American and historian alike. Although I could be wrong, I would imagine that there were some elements of American society that took offense to the use of Kennedy's assassination in such a manner by The Misfits. It just didn't happen to be the government or any other organization that regulates the media, such as the BBC.

    I would say that timing does have a part in this, but a larger factor would be attitudes towards violence in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Although "Bullet" was certainly the more violent of the two, lyrically, there are undertones of violence in both songs. Generally speaking, I find that the US is a lot more tolerant than the UK in terms of promoting violence, or using it as a shock tool in art (whereas the UK is more tolerant of sex, if you ask me). I know of a few films that have been banned in the UK for extremely violent content, but I don't think any such ban has been implemented on such films in the US (unless some of the Italian movies of the '70s which were accused of actually killing cast members as part of filming have been, not sure). While "God Save the Queen" may not seem like much now, it probably was considered a bit violent for the UK listening audience at the time, whereas Americans coming across "Bullet" had already been exposed to violent content.
  • Soror_YZBLSoror_YZBL Road Warrior
    edited May 2011
    I feel that the primary difference is that the Sex Pistols were on the front page of the Telegraph, whereas the Misfits were on the front page of Punk Rock Johnny's Zine-o-rama. People in the UK took the sex pistols WAY too seriously, and people in America just ignored the Misfits. I was a 6 year old kid in rural ohio and I knew who the sex pistols were. I didn't know the Misfits until Danzig had gone solo - and I even owned a Samhain album previously (well, a dubbed copy of unholy passion that i had written "sandy patty" on to throw off my mom).
  • clashcityrocker10clashcityrocker10 Headliner
    edited May 2011
    That's a good point, too. Realistically, if The Misfits had more exposure, it probably would've caused as more of an uproar as the Sex Pistols did. After all, it's not like there aren't instances of censorship similar to "God Save the Queen" happening in the States, and it didn't even require that much exposure. I've still not found a copy of Leftover Crack's second album in a store, for example (haven't really looked in very small record stores, but still).
  • Soror_YZBLSoror_YZBL Road Warrior
    edited May 2011
    clashcityrocker10;4403470 said:
    That's a good point, too. Realistically, if The Misfits had more exposure, it probably would've caused as more of an uproar as the Sex Pistols did. After all, it's not like there aren't instances of censorship similar to "God Save the Queen" happening in the States, and it didn't even require that much exposure. I've still not found a copy of Leftover Crack's second album in a store, for example (haven't really looked in very small record stores, but still).

    Hating our government is part of our tradition, too - we are, after all, a country founded by revolutionists. You can easily make a comparison of the Sex Pistols' reception in the UK to our reaction to 2 Live Crew's obsenity, or Body Count's violence, or Snoop's drug....

    Wait a minute, we're just racist.
  • clashcityrocker10clashcityrocker10 Headliner
    edited May 2011
    Soror_YZBL;4403588 said:
    Wait a minute, we're just racist.

    That's another American tradition!

    Very, very unfortunately.
  • Soror_YZBLSoror_YZBL Road Warrior
    edited May 2011
    clashcityrocker10;4403809 said:
    That's another American tradition!

    Very, very unfortunately.

    Yeah, well, it's really just a few of the "other" - something that definitely fueled the British reaction to the "punks", and the mods and glams and ravers and ... well. people don't like it when their boat gets rocked.
  • rab39rab39 Rising Star
    edited May 2011
    hmm

    The Misfits couldn't even get a record label to release Bullet back then so I'd say that's the main difference. The Dead Kennedys didn't come out until years later but their name itself was controversial as were all assassination lyrics on major label up until the PMRC days.

    haha still remember how everyone talked about how "little nikki" was x-rated because of one line...then Cyndi Lauper made a song called "She-bop" with a video that you'd have to be clueless not to recognize as suggestive but it whoosed over most people's heads

    Also, God Save The Queen didn't go platinum until the turn of the century...and stuff like the misfits obviously selled far less.

    Jeez, "I kissed a girl" started a controversy in US a few years ago so those days will never be over...and idiots made a big deal out of Common because he had two controversial songs out 100.

    My favorite sex pistols lyrics are in submission...i just think it's hysterical that it's the exact opposite of a rock and roll song..instead of a song coded about sex it's not about it....which pissed off malcolm mclaren.
  • darkwinterbeast8darkwinterbeast8 Headliner
    edited May 2011
    Soror_YZBL;4404176 said:
    Yeah, well, it's really just a few of the "other" - something that definitely fueled the British reaction to the "punks", and the mods and glams and ravers and ... well. people don't like it when their boat gets rocked.

    They should just be more like the Norwegians and just go "Meh" when musicians do crazy things like burn churches, murder people, or "download" sheep from politicians.
  • King_NuthinKing_Nuthin Road Warrior
    edited June 2011
    Like Soror_YZBL I think it was primarily a matter of the Pistols being so high profile and staging plenty of events to flip the bird to the general public (swearing on national TV, the riverboat concert) whereas the Misfits were underground. Everyone knows who they are now but most of those original records had tiny pressings that have been highly prized since the mid-80s and only after Metallica brought them some small amount of popularity did they start to repress their stuff for the masses.

    Its not like we didn't get the PMRC with dozens of bands under the microscope. Dead Kennedys certainly managed to get plenty of attention to practically get sued out of existence in their prime.
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