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15 Rock & Roll Rebels

For these 15 revolutionaries, the only place to be was on the outside looking in.

Deep down, the bad boys are quite often the sensitive ones – the ones who feel the world’s pain. They don’t “do what everybody else does” because they don’t understand why things have to be that way. And they often welcome the ostracism they get in return: “If you’ve got a blacklist, I want to be on it,” as the socially conscious songwriter (and major Clash fan) Billy Bragg once sang. Here are 15 true revolutionaries, for whom the only place to be was on the outside looking in.

[Editor’s Note: A version of this list was originally published June 3, 2013]

Sex Pistols

When they were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 on the superhuman strength of their lone studio album, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols,’ the Englishmen snubbed the ceremony. “We’re not coming,” the band wrote in what looked like a ransom note. “We’re not your monkeys.” Though they helped shape the punk world that rejected the hippie counterculture they’d grown up in, the Sex Pistols were definitively “anti-establishment,” as the previous counterculture was often described. “I am the Antichrist/I am an anarchist,” Johnny Rotten famously declared to open “Anarchy in the U.K.“; on “God Save the Queen,” he dismissed the Queen Mother, England’s most sacred cow, as “no human being.” Added bonus: He was once discovered wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt with the words “I hate” scrawled above the band name. When the Pistols screeched to a halt onstage in San Francisco, a mere three years after Rotten joined, he left with a leering question: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

Johnny Cash

Though his mama told him not to play with guns, he shot a man in Reno “just to watch him die.” His first band, while serving in the Air Force in Germany, was called the Barbarians. More than any other country artist, Johnny Cash understood the predicament of the outlaw; his prison concerts at Folsom and San Quentin helped underscore the notion that the inmates weren’t all monsters, but men who’d simply made bad decisions. His infamous “middle finger” photo, taken at San Quentin by rock photographer (and fellow rebel) Jim Marshall came in response to a request to pose for a shot for the warden. Years later, when Cash was in the midst of a career revival engineered by producer Rick Rubin, they ran an ad in Billboard that featured the photo and a feisty caption thanking “the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support.”