The Sex Pistols originally comprised vocalist Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock. Matlock was replaced by Sid Vicious in early 1977. Under the management of impresario Malcolm McLaren, the band provoked controversies that captivated Britain. Their concerts repeatedly faced difficulties with organizers and authorities, and public appearances often ended in mayhem. Through an obscenity-laced television interview in December 1976 and their May 1977 single "God Save the Queen", attacking Britons' social conformity and deference to the Crown, they precipitated one of the more significant pop culture–based moral panics.
In January 1978, at the end of a turbulent tour of the United States, Rotten left the band and announced its break-up. Over the next several months, the three other band members recorded songs for McLaren's film version of the Sex Pistols' story, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle. Vicious died of a heroin overdose in February 1979, following his arrest for the alleged murder of his girlfriend. In 1996, Rotten, Jones, Cook and Matlock reunited for the Filthy Lucre Tour; through 2008, they staged further reunion shows and tours. On 24 February 2006, the Sex Pistols—the four original members plus Vicious—were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they refused to attend the ceremony, calling the museum "a piss stain".
The Sex Pistols evolved from the Strand, a London band formed in 1972 with working-class teenagers Steve Jones on vocals, Paul Cook on drums and Wally Nightingale on guitar. According to a later account by Jones, both he and Cook played on instruments they had stolen. Early line-ups of the Strand—sometimes known as the Swankers—also included Jim Mackin on organ and Stephen Hayes (and later, briefly, Del Noones) on bass. The band members regularly hung out at two clothing shops on the Kings Road in Chelsea, London: John Krivine and Steph Raynor's Acme Attractions (where Don Letts worked as manager) and Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die. The McLaren–Westwood shop had opened in 1971 as Let It Rock, with a 1950s revival Teddy Boy theme. It had been renamed in 1972 to focus on another revival trend, the rocker look associated with Marlon Brando. As John Lydon later observed, "Malcolm and Vivienne were really a pair of shysters: they would sell anything to any trend that they could grab onto." The shop would become a focal point of the punk rock scene, bringing together participants such as the future Sid Vicious, Marco Pirroni, Gene October, and Mark Stewart, among many others. Jordan, the wildly styled shop assistant, is credited with "pretty well single-handedly paving the punk look".
In early 1974, Jones convinced McLaren to help out the Strand. Effectively becoming the group's manager, McLaren paid for their first formal rehearsal space. Glen Matlock, an art student who occasionally worked at Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die, was recruited as the band's regular bassist. In November, McLaren temporarily relocated to New York City. Before his departure, McLaren and Westwood had conceived a new identity for their shop: renamed Sex, it changed its focus from retro couture to S&M-inspired "anti-fashion", with a billing as "Specialists in rubberwear, glamourwear & stagewear". After informally managing and promoting the New York Dolls for a few months, McLaren returned to London in May 1975. Inspired by the punk scene that was emerging in Lower Manhattan—in particular by the radical visual style and attitude of Richard Hell, then with Television—McLaren began taking a greater interest in the Strand.
The group had been rehearsing regularly, overseen by McLaren's friend Bernard Rhodes, and had performed publicly for the first time. Soon after McLaren's return, Nightingale was kicked out of the band and Jones, uncomfortable as frontman, took over guitar duties. According to journalist and former McLaren employee Phil Strongman, around this time the band adopted the name QT Jones and the Sex Pistols (or QT Jones & His Sex Pistols, as one Rhodes-designed T-shirt put it). McLaren had been talking with the New York Dolls' Sylvain Sylvain about coming over to England to front the group. When those plans fell through, McLaren, Rhodes and the band began looking locally for a new member to assume the lead vocal duties. As described by Matlock, "Everyone had long hair then, even the milkman, so what we used to do was if someone had short hair we would stop them in the street and ask them if they fancied themselves as a singer.". With the search going nowhere, McLaren made several calls to Richard Hell, who turned down the invitation.