The band was defunct by the time the soundtrack was being prepared, and Johnny Rotten refused to participate in the project, so the "proper" Sex Pistols tracks were done by taking Lydon's vocals from the October 1976 demo session recordings and rerecording their instrumental tracks (done by Paul Cook and Steve Jones).
The double album features a significant number of tracks that omit Lydon entirely, most of them written and recorded after the band broke up. These include Sid Vicious singing cover songs, two new original songs ("Silly Thing", sung by Cook and "Lonely Boy", sung by Jones), tracks Cook and Jones recorded with Ronnie Biggs, the title track and "Who Killed Bambi?" sung by Edward Tudor-Pole, and numerous novelty tracks including French street musicians playing "Anarchy in the UK" and a medley of several Sex Pistols songs covered by a disco band.
Two further tracks were recorded along with "Lonely Boy" and "Silly Thing" between May and July 1978; "Black Leather" and "Here We Go Again". While the two songs did not end up on either the film or the soundtrack, both were later released as Sex Pistols singles.
Along with Rotten, people who sang on The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle include:
Paul Cook – lead vocals on "Silly Thing" (1978), backing vocals on "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle" (1979)
Steve Jones – lead vocals on "Lonely Boy", backing vocals on "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle", lead vocals on "Friggin' In The Riggin" and lead vocals on the single release of "Silly Thing" (1978)
The album has been released in different variations featuring different track listings. There have been two main versions, which were featured on double-album vinyl and CD. The biggest differences between the track lists is that the songs are re-arranged and version A features "I Wanna Be Me" and the Dave Goodman produced version of "Anarchy in the UK" while version B features "Watcha Gonna Do About It" and the Chris Thomas produced version of "Anarchy in the UK". Version A was the most common track list until 1992, afterwards version B is the most common. A 2012 reissue by Universal incorporates both track lists, as it features the Version A track list with "Watcha Gonna Do About It" added on to the end.
Additionally, a single-album version was released in May 1980 to tie in with the release of the film, and featured a different cover and a pared-down track list. Some early releases came with a copy of the original movie poster.
"Johnny B Goode", "Roadrunner", "Anarchy in the UK", "Substitute", "Don't Give Me No Lip, Child", "(I'm Not) Your Stepping Stone", "I Wanna Be Me" and "Watcha Gonna Do About It?" were originally recorded in October 1976. Instrumental tracks for some of these were re-recorded in 1978 by Jones and Cook.