Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sex Pistols: Never Mind The Bollocks

Not every band known as punk pioneers was made up of tone-deaf kids who didn’t know how to play their instruments. The Sex Pistols cultivated an image as anti-music despite the undeniable chops of guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook. Their original bass player, Glen Matlock, was seemingly kicked out of the band for being too talented. The self-styled Johnny Rotten, who definitely had the attitude, brought in his musically incompetent friend Sid Vicious to play bass instead; that was the most “punk” thing about them. (While not credited as such, Steve Jones either played bass on their sole studio album, or had his guitar parts mixed in such a way to give the tracks some bottom. And who was that producer? Chris Thomas, famous from his work on the White Album and Dark Side Of The Moon.)
We’re not going to attempt to recount their entire story, mostly because it’s been done so well elsewhere, but suffice it to say that their basic legacy endures in its most simple form as a single LP, which was released by the third label to sign them in the UK, and has remained in print on Warner Bros. since its release in the US. What’s especially convenient about Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols is that it includes all of their singles. (Naturally, some of the mixes and performances are different from those singles, so good luck if you’re a completist.) Musically, it’s no more distorted than most heavy metal, mostly based around power chords learned from the Who and the Kinks, while lyrically, it’s occasionally very funny.
Marching feet and a riff stolen from The Jam kick off “Holidays In The Sun”, Johnny shouting garbled references to Belsen and the Berlin Wall. “Bodies” is blatantly anti-abortion and pro-fanity, the latter easily keeping it off many right-to-lifer’s playlists. “No Feelings”, “Liar” and “Problems” all display the defiant attitude that had been pissing people off for months, none more so than “God Save The Queen” (which became such a piece of history that it was included as part of the Olympic ceremonies in London, with Her Majesty in attendance).
“Seventeen” is an oddity; besides being the shortest song on the album, its title is a smokescreen for the chorus (“I’m a lazy sod”, which soon turns to “I’m a lazy Sid”). It’s over in time for “Anarchy In The U.K.” to make its appearance. A wonderful mix of acronyms and anger, it’s easy enough to transfer to other countries and associations for the millions of bands who’ve covered it. Want more proof these guys were clever? Manager Malcolm McLaren told them to write a song about submission; thus “Submission” takes it literally (“I’m on a submarine mission for you, baby… I can’t get enough of your watery love”). They apparently needed no such prodding for “Pretty Vacant”, another statement of purpose. “New York” slams more stolen power chords into the wax, its lyrics insulting people on two other continents, including those who might have actually appreciated the band. Finally, “EMI” leaves a fat raspberry for their first former record label, getting in a dig at A&M at the end.
There was no way such a good thing could last, and the band was done within months of releasing Never Mind The Bollocks. The two talented guys went on to record with Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train Robber, and take whatever gigs they could get; Johnny went back to his own name and fronted the ever-changing and truly anti-music Public Image Ltd; Sid’s solo career didn’t get him any further than being accused of stabbing his girlfriend to death and dying himself before he was brought to trial. Trying to mop of the rest of their recorded legacy is difficult, not least because of the spottiness and repetition of everything they did. So it’s just as well that this album presents them at their best, and most influential.

Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols (1977)—4

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