"Anger is an energy." John Lydon, Rise, 1986
"Be Childish. Be irresponsible. Be disrespectful. Be everything this society hates." Malcolm McLaren
I was too young for punk. Too young and well-behaved. And too conservative. In 1977 I wasn't singing God Save the Queen, I was waving my Union Jack in front of the Queen when she visited the New University of Ulster in Northern Ireland (there was a picture of me on page six of the Irish edition of the Sun the next day).
At the time punk was noises off for me, so my knowledge of it is inevitably retrospective. There's a danger in that; the danger that you embrace the myth unquestioningly. That you take punk's rebellion, its rejection, its dystopian energy at face value.
But then the alternative is you deconstruct the whole thing away. You listen to Anarchy In The UK and hear it as little more than a decent rock song with an unusual vocal and "angry" lyrics. And then you look at chart positions and sales figures and ask how big a deal was punk anyway?
From this distance it's easy to diminish it. But context matters. The Sex Pistols were a band, yes, but they also represented - however fuzzily - something else. Anger, anarchy, a rejection of a culture that was sclerotic, failing (this is the seventies, a different country, one of strikes and bombs and the National Front on the rise).
"At the time, I remember that punk rock wasn't just music or going to the right clubs or wearing the right clothes (which is not to say that these matters were not absorbing or important)," punk's pre-eminent chronicler Jon Savage wrote back in 1981. "It was or seemed more: an all-in critique of, an all-out attack on things as they were and things as they were going to be.
"Apocalypse now. Serious stuff, playing with, and stoking up, real fire."
Who got burnt? Punks themselves of course. When you sing about violence it's little surprise that, as Johnny Rotten found out far too often, violence would be aimed back at you. But the fact that a few sweary words on telly could instigate front page disgust ("The Filth and The Fury" as the Daily Mirror headlined its report of the band's notorious interview with Bill Grundy) and inspire church elders and council leaders to try to ban you suggest how far the cultural sea change that the 1960s generation was supposed to have instigated had already ebbed.
It's difficult to look back now, of course, and properly see punk's original vision. And in truth it was always likely to be an unstable signifer anyway. In its short history it meant so many different things. Punk philosophy - to critics little more than a mixture of half-baked situationist ideas and nihilist posturing - inevitably became more and more distorted as more and more tried to lay claim to it. Punk became a cartoon, a caricature. At worst it became reactionary (though, to be fair, punks also played an important role in the Rock Against Racism campaign).
But in December 1976 - though it took me a few years to realise it - the Pistols represented something new, something fresh and something hard.
Or hard-ish. As Garry Mulholland argues in his book This Is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk and Disco (the key text for what's to come in the next two decades in this blog, by the way), what strikes you about Anarchy In The UK is just how knowing it is. "The best thing about Anarchy ... - the thing that makes it so other, so removed from the rock of the time (hell, the rock of now) - is that it's really very, very funny about very serious stuff. I mean, Johnny Rotten ushers us into a brave new world with, of all things, a Sid James cackle."
There's a prescience to it too. When Rotten(Lydon) sings "Your future dream is a shopping scheme" he was time-travelling into the future. And if you stretch a point you could argue that the song's last word "Destroy" was a prophecy of what would happen when the woman waiting in the wings took power in the 1979 general election.
I was too young for punk. Maybe I'm too old for it now. But I'm also old enough to have enjoyed what followed - the sense in the late seventies and early eighties that pop music had been reborn, had been rebooted. That its sense of mission had been re-established (though humour was allowed).
The sound of Anarchy does sound tame in a way now that it just couldn't have back then, when it came couched in headlines, spiked collars and bondage trousers. But even so you can still feel a shiver of something when you hear that laugh and those opening words, "I am an anti-Christ ..." Childish, irresponsible, disrespectful. It's all of those. That's what's great about it.
Police and Thieves, Junior Murvin
Sir Duke, Stevie Wonder
Young Hearts Run Free, Candi Staton
Turn the Beat Around, Vicki Sue Robinson
New Rose, The Damned
I Want You, Marvin Gaye
Don't Fear the Reaper, Blue Oyster Cult
Hejira, Joni Mitchell
So It Goes, Nick Lowe
Love and Affection, Joan Armatrading
Silly Love Songs, Wings (just for the brass lines)
NME Single of the Year - The Boys are Back in Town, Thin Lizzy
And the best-selling single of 1976 - Save Your Kisses For Me, Brotherhood Of Man