Alex in the Chelsea Drug Store


The Chelsea Drug Store, 49 King’s Road, London, circa 1970.

“I went down to the Chelsea Drug Store,”
“To get your prescription filled…”

The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, 1969

How much Stanley Kubrick trivia can you stand? One of the delights of DVD over VHS tape is the ability to step frame by perfect frame through any given film sequence without the picture being disturbed by noise. This reveals a lot more detail should you wish to scrutinise a favourite scene such as the dolly shot in A Clockwork Orange where Malcolm McDowell makes a circuit of the “disc-bootick” before chatting up a couple of devotchkas.

The scene was filmed in the then very trendy Chelsea Drug Store on the corner of Royal Avenue and the King’s Road, London SW3. In 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) the world as it might be forty years was created with models and some elaborate and expensive sets. For the more satirical A Clockwork Orange Kubrick adopted the same approach as Jean-Luc Godard in Alphaville, with carefully-selected views of the contemporary world standing for a fictional future. There’s no attempt made in this scene to disguise any of the cultural products of 1970, the year it was filmed.


The location as it is today, rendered safe and banal courtesy of McDonald’s.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s A Clockwork Orange was unavailable in Britain in any form due to a bizarre embargo by the director. This means that Kubrick enthusiasts like myself who were too young to have seen the film in the cinema had to rely on bootleg videos of depressingly limited quality (often copies of copies) that did no justice to John Alcott’s superb photography or to Wendy Carlos’s electronic soundtrack. Especially frustrating was spotting Tim Buckley’s Lorca album on one of the shelves in the record shop scene but not being able to make out what else might be there. This might seem like a rather fatuous complaint but there aren’t many places you find such a pristine snapshot of a British record emporium in the early 70s. More to the point, with a clearer view you have a chance here to enjoy some sly Kubrick humour. So what does the DVD reveal?

Before Alex appears we can see two albums in the racks, Livin’ the Blues by Canned Heat and The Time is Near… by the Keef Hartley Band.




When Alex wanders in he passes a large rack of albums, some of which elude my occasionally sketchy knowledge of 70s’ rock. I can recognise these: 1) U by The Incredible String Band, 2) Atom Heart Mother by Pink Floyd, 3) As Your Mind Flies By by Rare Bird, 4) Get Ready by Rare Earth and 5), the one that started it all, Lorca by Tim Buckley.





Alex passes a booth stacked with magazines and newspapers. The one at the lower right is a popular film magazine of the time, Films and Filming.


He passes the other side of the magazine booth, selects a magazine and leafs through it while he walks. I’d never paid much attention to this before until I was stepping through the scene again and recognised the cover as a copy of Cinema X (The International Guide for Adult Audiences), an exploitation mag that existed solely to show people stills of nude scenes in current films. This is Kubrick’s first joke since Cinema X is exactly the kind of title that would attract Alex’s attention even though he discards it a few moments later.




Cinema X, vol. 2, #11 (1970). 

The magazine above is the issue Alex selects (minus the censored boobs). The logo was easy to spot because I own the issue (below), volume 4, no. 6, which has as its main feature…A Clockwork Orange.


Cinema X, vol. 4, #6 (1972).

Alex leafs through the mag and passes a poster for Ned Kelly, a film starring Mick Jagger who’d sung about the Chelsea Drug Store only a couple of years before. No idea how I recognised this, it was a lucky guess.




Two more Kubrick jokes: on the left there’s a copy of the soundtrack to SK’s earlier film 2001: A Space Odyssey at the front of the album racks. On the right there’s a gentleman who many people assume is the director although I believe this has been soundly refuted. Besides his face there’s another joke, the sleeve of the Missa Luba album by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, an album of gospel songs sung by an African school choir that was released in 1959. The ‘Sanctus’ song from side two was played throughout Lindsay Anderson’s film If…. which featured Malcolm McDowell in his first major role playing another figure of rebellion. It was this role that landed him the lead in A Clockwork Orange.





Alex ditches his Cinema X and passes a copy of the debut album by British rock trio Stray.




Arriving at the record booth we can see a number of albums on display. On the upper shelves there are copies of Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles and another copy of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother. In the racks at the front there’s a more prominently displayed copy of the 2001 soundtrack (in a different sleeve) next to John Fahey’s “fake” blues album, The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death.




Might there be a reason for placing Fahey’s not-at-all futuristic blues record next to the 2001 soundtrack? How about this: one of the songs on Fahey’s album is Bicycle Made For Two (aka Daisy Bell), the very thing that the HAL 9000 computer famously recites when it’s being shut down.


Lastly, that big graphic swirl above the booth is the symbol of the Vertigo record label.

Places like the Chelsea Drug Store were the magical homes of music before the corporations moved in and turned high street stores into warehouses flogging albums in bulk. In this scene at least A Clockwork Orange serves less as a warning of the future and more as a window on a world that’s disappeared.

Update: All the images have been upgraded from a Blu-ray edition of the film.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
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41 thoughts on “Alex in the Chelsea Drug Store”

  1. Stan the Man
    When I bought the LP of A Clockwork Orange in Sydney, Australia I can’t remember how many years ago now the guy I bought it from told me “I was working in the record store when they made the film”. He didn’t actually tell me the name of the store and I’d always thought the Chelsea drug store was a chemists.

    Terry Gilliam has a large poster of Brazil in the video store in The Fisher King. How many other directors made self references to their previous cinematic outputs in later films?

    Kubrick Expert Trivia Quiz:

    Ths Shining Trivia:

    During the making of the movie, Kubrick would call King at 3am and ask him questions like “Do you believe in God?”

    2001 trivia:

    various films trivia & mistakes:

    ACO Trivia:

    Anthony Burgess originally sold the movie to Mick Jagger for $500 when he needed quick cash. Jagger intended to make it with The Rolling Stones as the droogs.

    Director Cameo: [Stanley Kubrick] examining magazines with his back to the camera on the right of the screen as Alex walks through the record shop.

    He should have put an LP of Singin’ in the Rain in the store too


  2. Oh yeah, good point about Jagger and ACO, I should have remembered that. Can’t imagine him playing Alex somehow, he’s a pretty terrible actor. Performance was okay because he’s playing a version of himself but Ned Kelly is pretty ropey even though it’s a very well-made movie in other respects. Oddly enough, it was the Stones version of ACO that led to Performance, if I remember correctly. Sandy Lieberson was going to produce ACO but they decided they couldn’t do it so Performance started being planned instead with SL producing. A curious web of connections.

  3. PS:
    The shot of the bride falling through the gallows trapdoor (during Alex’s fantasy) is footage from Cat Ballou (1965).

    I never would have guessed that.

    Stanley Kubrick asked Pink Floyd if he could use their “Atom Heart Mother Suite” in the soundtrack. However, because Kubrick wanted unlimited license to determine what portions or edits of the song he used, the band turned him down.

    One of the reasons why Stanley Kubrick withdrew the movie from distribution in the U.K. were, according to his wife Christiane Kubrick, several death threats that his family received because of the film.

    This film was shot almost entirely on real locations as opposed to sets and was lit almost entirely with a Lowell Kit, a staple for film students, perhaps as a reaction against the huge apparatus needed for Stanley Kubrick’s previous film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

    Wendy Carlos’s synthesized score features the first ever use of a vocoder.

    After filming the famed brainwashing scene, Malcolm McDowell has since had an overwhelming fear of eyedrops.

    Contrary to popular claims, this film was never banned in the UK. It originally received an “X” rating in 1971 and was withdrawn from distribution in 1973 by the film’s director. In 1999 (the year of Stanley Kubrick’s death), the film was released again and received an “18” rating.

    You could have a whole trivia night based on ACO and some other Kubrick films.

  4. Yeah, I knew all this apart from the Atom Heart Mother thing. Strictly speaking, the score doesn’t use what later became known as a vocoder, rather it’s a similar form of vocal synthesis that Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind developed themselves. The Wendy Carlos soundtrack album is one of my favourite records of electronic music.

  5. i have 2 copies cinema x clockwork orange editions 4 sale.Delectus books state extremely rare & r asking 200 quid.having a laugh. offer up 4 75 each including secure packaging 1st class insured & address 4 signature.quality. my computer is going up the shoot as high def virus/worm[incl. on 2 motherboard & running rings around norton,spysweeper & bt anti-spy – these boys r gonna take over the world]insides being replaced any day next week =seeking ip range change= bt dont even know what that fucking means so have 2 resolve. so best contact me; 2 get pics but would prefer phone call 07742328941. dont block yr number so can call straight back or send text.pen &paper,done & dusted.

  6. No censorship problems that I am aware of in Australia – saw it when young & also quite recently & am still fascinated that my total sympathies are with Alex. Especially when his former droogs push him underwater in the horse trough. McDowell nearly died during the scene, as he was meant to bite on to a scuba type mouthpiece supplying oxygen, but missed it, so his struggles for survival were only too real but no-one realized it. Just thought what a great performance he was giving.

    Dunno why Kubrick was so paranoid about a film that ia one of the greatest ever made. Perhaps he believed Burgess’ blarney about the book being based on the rape & savage assault of Burgesses wife – an event that took part purely the author’s imagination.

    “Ned Kelly” was a dud but that was Tony Richardson’s fault, not Jaggers. Richardson knew nothing at all about us or the iconic status of Kelly. Overseas actors just learn the lines & take direction. Richardson gave Kelly an Irish accent, but he was Aussie born & “currency lads & lasses” i.e. native born, spoke with our distinctive accent as do the children of new migrants. Can’t have been easy for him either with Marianne hovering between life & death in St Vincent’s ICU, & an new instant Kate Kelly having to be conjured up.

    Hate to say it but “Performance” is also on my list of top greatest films. Mick Jagger displayed amazing versatility as he moved between the two main opposing personas with consummate skill & ease. “Memo from Turner” is still a classic Stones track (& video clip). On matters musical, Missa Luba is used to great effect in “Lost & Delirious” as is “Add it Up”

    Thinking musically

  7. I forget the details but I believe the UK ban on ACO came after the family Kubrick received anonymous threats. No doubt one of the main Kubrick sites has the full story.

    Performance is also on my list of favourite films, as this earlier post shows.

  8. Interesting read about the film and the Drug Store, I worked in the Drugstore in the 70,s, it had lost its grandure by then but was still one hell of a place to be in. If anyone remembers me (Ray) get in touch through this webb site.

  9. hello..a most interesting read..of most interest to me, however, as a FREE fan are the pics of andy fraser, simon kirke and paul kossoff ( there is also and other of paul rodgers, but it’s just out of view in your pic), on the top shelf above the sergeant pepper lp a fan with a massive collection of FREE memorabilia, it would have been good to have secured a set of these 4 pics, but none have ever shown up for sale as far as i am aware…..wondered whatever happened to them..they’ll be long gone, i assume..!!!

  10. Clockwork Orange featured a very famous Transcriptor turntable…I’ve got a shot of it at home but not in Norway where I am now at a hi-fi show doing turntable set up seminars…. I hired Wendy Carlos to compose the score for the movie TRON….

  11. Great detective work. I can add some titles to the albums: in the bigger rack Alex passes, on the left side 2nd from top is Freedom! by Freedom, 3rd from the top is “Roll Over” by the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble, and 5th from the top is “Rock,” a 2 album budget sampler of various artists on CBS Records. On the right side, 2nd from the top is “First Winter” by Johnny Winter. I know the album below that, but can’t remember the name–but it’s a US group and a gatefold cover. And in the record booth, the album between Magical Mystery Tour (which is a US Import, as this was only released in the UK as a double 7″ EP) and Atom Heart Mother is Neil Young’s “After The Gold Rush.”

  12. And, as has no doubt been noted, one of the girls mentions “The Heaven Seventeen” to Alex, and the moniker was lifted by the 80s synth-pop group “Heaven 17.”

  13. Hi Alex. I was more concerned with the albums on display for this post so didn’t mention Heaven 17. Their debt to the film (and its score) is explored in a later post.

  14. great article – thanks for posting this. so good to see the interior of the chelsea drug store which has, until now, only existed in my faded memory. it looks just as amazing as i remember it when i was about 15.

  15. Hi there,

    Does anybody know the names of the bands featured in the top-ten day-glow list in the record shop scene.

    It’s been driving me mad!

  16. Hi Tony. Some of them are the invented bands from the novel, the rest were no doubt created to fill out a Top Ten:

    Goggi Gogol, Johnny Zhivago, The Humpers, Heaven Seventeen, Bread Brothers, The Sparks, The Blow Goes, The Legend, Cyclops, and Comic Strips.

    It looks like “Goggi Gogol” on the list but the girl Alex talks to at the counter calls the group “Goggly Gogol”. Several of these names–notably Heaven 17–have ended up becoming real band names.

  17. Was wondering if anyone knew what the suit he’s wearing in the scene is called or where I could potentially find a similar suit?

  18. Yes, someone mentioned that already in one of the comments above but it’s a lot more evident now the picture isn’t so fuzzy.

  19. Pingback: Casbah Records
  20. The album just above #2 is by The New York Rock & Roll Ensemble: Roll Over, I think.

  21. Hi Brian. It’s never occurred to me before but I think you’re right, it’s certainly very similar to their woodcut style. I had an original copy of the UK release of that album (may still have it somewhere) but the credits were minimal, Philips didn’t even name the singers. The reissues may have fuller credits but I’ve not found any details yet.

  22. One of the bands in the top ten is The Sparks: is that where Sparks got their name from or were they already around?

  23. Hi John. Sparks’ name apparently precedes the release of the film so it’s probably a coincidence. One I suspect they would have been pleased about, however.

  24. Cheers John: Thought it was odd given a: the Clockwork Orange film-makers would probably have known about Sparks and said something when it was suggested as a fake name and b: I cannot think of a more Clockwork Orange-y band than Sparks! I am sure they would have been pleased.

  25. John Robinson: The film was being shot circa 1970 (the Cinema X mag dates this scene) at which time I don’t think many people at all would know about Sparks, especially in the UK. This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us wasn’t released until 1974. It should be borne in mind that it used to be a lot more difficult to know anything about bands who weren’t receiving major promotion, hence the syndrome of UK groups having to change their name (The Beat to The English Beat, Yazoo to Yaz, etc) when touring the US after they discovered conflicts with groups using the same name.

    Nick Wrigley: Thanks! I’d tried searching for that one. It was obviously a compilation but without knowing the record label or full title finding it was an impossible task. Also: this now means Arnie was in a Kubrick film. Weird.

  26. Not sure if it’s been mentioned but the 2nd one down on the left of the racks is Freedom’s self titled album

  27. Hi John,
    I can’t quite work out the names of the tracks that appear along side the band names on the dayglow top ten sign. Do you have them?

    Also, we have linked your site to ours. Could you put our full website address on yours instead of the casbah records that’s there now as this was put up before the site was completed and so doesn’t work properly.

    Thanks,Great site by the way!


  28. Hi Tony, I’ve amended the link.

    Some of those song titles are difficult to make out even on the Blu-ray, matters not being helped by the way some of the lettering is deliberately skewed or missing. Here’s my best guess:

    1. Mass In G by Goggl(y) Gogol
    2. Really Play by Johnny Zhivago
    3. Sweaty Club by The Humpers
    4. Inside by Heaven Seventeen
    5. Dogs An Cats by Bread Brothers
    6. Switch Me On by The Sparks
    7. Down (?) by The Blow Goes
    8. Jelly Roll by The Legend(s)
    9. Black Christmas by Cyclops
    10. Art Nouveau by Comic Strips

    The Blow Goes song is most likely Down (as in I’m Down by The Beatles) but appears to have a stray letter after it.

  29. Thanks john,
    that’s most appreciated. We are going to try and recreate the top ten sign in casbah records as a hommage to the film and record shops of a boutique nature. When we do i’ll send you a link to a picture.

    Thanks for ammending link as well.

    All the best,


  30. A wee correction to the band whose debut LP cover is featured on the RHS just post-Missa Lubis: Stray was as far as I am aware always a quartet, their main song-writer/virtuoso guitarist Del Bromham playing only a minor role regarding the vocals, which were handled in those days by Steve Gadd.

    The Wikipedia description of ‘melodic,hook laden hard rock’ is also more accurate to describe their sound, familiar to us aging southern England groovers/baby boomers! After some false revivals Mr Bromham has made a number of albums under the same moniker, but whose hooks fail to score as high as the first albums of the early 70s. Their music has been covered by some major heavy/extreme rockers including Iron Maiden. And as I write on XMas Eve I see Mr Bromham & Co are billed to appear at the Skegness Great British Rock and Bliues Festival in Jan 2013.

    So some of our teenage fantasies really have lived on – not just ‘All in Our Minds’ (with apologies to DelB for the minor corruption of possibly his greatest composition, c. 1970)

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