The Story Behind The Song
The summer of 2017 saw anti-tourist demonstrations spread across Europe. Locals in popular travel destinations such as Barcelona and Venice marched against the impact of unchecked growth of visitor numbers on their environment and way of life. An affordable holiday in the sun might be good news for the tourist but not for the locals trying to cope with the deleterious effects of temporary mass migration. Exactly 40 years before, the situation was eerily captured by the memorable opening line of Holidays In The Sun: "A cheap holiday in other people's misery".
The prescient sentiment was not original, however. It was inspired by the Situationalists - anti-capitalist intellectuals who played a prominent role during the French civil unrest of May 1968. Indeed, it was during the strikes and riots that the graffiti "Club Med - a cheap holiday in other people's misery" appeared on Parisian walls. It was a Situationalist slogan railing against mass tourism, which they viewed as "human circulation considered as consumption" and an inevitable by-product of capitalism. The all-inclusive packaged holiday, like Club Med, was viewed with particular disdain.
Although the UK punk movement was sparked by the underground music of New York, its political anger was imported from across the channel. It was French fanaticism that gave punk its confrontational cause of chaos and cultural subversion, goals of the Situationalists who wanted to radically change the world through art and ideas. They attracted the attention of Malcolm McClaren, the manager of the Sex Pistols, and Jamie Reid, the brilliant artist who almost single-handedly defined the visuals of the punk era through his controversial cover art for the group's singles and albums.
The cover of Holidays In The Sun followed Reid's famous cut-and-paste aesthetic. It doctored a cartoon-strip style cover of the Belgian Travel Service, substituting the original text in speech balloons with the song lyrics. The reverse side was another parody, this time of some artwork from the Situationalists, again revealing the strong connection. The French political movement had disbanded by the time the Holidays In The Sun was released, but the travel company was very much in business and sued. Over 50,000 singles were recalled and re-issued in plain company sleeves, although an estimated 5,000 had already been sold.
The song starts with the ominous sound of marching boots before a high energy riff crashes in. The descending chord structure bears a resemblance to In The City, The Jam's inaugural single released earlier in the year. In fact, lead singer Sid Vicious taunted The Jam's Paul Weller about nicking the riff in a club and the two sorted it out in the punk way. Despite coming to blows, Weller later said he did not mind them appropriating the riff.
The song was inspired by the hostility the group faced when they attempted to holiday on Jersey. Their reputation meant they were not welcome anywhere and the threat of violence always stalked them. Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious flew to Berlin, "the new Belsen", the Eastern side of which was imprisoned by the Wall. Taking a curious pleasure in staring at the misery on the other side, they found they were being watched by paranoid soldiers. In the song, although he can find no reason, Rotten feels compelled to jump over the Wall. Perhaps he believed the two regimes were not so different after all, and that he might as well be imprisoned in the East as he feels equally incarcerated in the West.
Although Holidays In The Sun did not have the impact as their unofficial No. 1 God Save The Queen, it remains one of the group's most enduring songs.
We hereby instate Holidays In The Sun by the Sex Pistols on The Wall as the No. 17 Best Single of 1977.
Unquestionably, the Sex Pistols were one of the most influential groups in the history of the UK music scene - they inspired so many groups to start and give it a go, even ones in different genres like synth pop. An amazing feat when you consider they were effectively active in their original line-up for only a year.Ant B