What are all those initials in the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK”? MPLA? UDA? WTF?
It’s an alphabet soup of civil war references from ’70s headlines: either a suggestion of what could happen in the UK itself (that’s the United Kingdom, of course) or a lyrical holiday in other people’s misery. The IRA and the UDA were the largest paramilitary armies in the conflict in Northern Ireland: the heavily armed IRA (Irish Republican Army) were on the Republican (anti-British, pro-unification) side, while the thousands-strong UDA (Ulster Defence Association) were on the Loyalist (pro-British, anti-unification) side. The MPLA were further away: they’re the political group that took control of Angola, formerly one of Portugal’s African colonies, in a 1975-76 civil war, and still run the country today. (The initials stand for Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, or the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola.) Be grateful that Johnny Rotten didn’t rattle off the competing Angolan factions, the FNLA and UNITA. One other acronym you may have missed: When Rotten sings, “I use the enemy,” it’s a deliberate homonym for “I use the NME,” or New Musical Express, the British weekly music newspaper. No civil war there, unless you count their rivalry with Melody Maker.
(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)