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Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols is the first and only album recorded by the Sex Pistols, a highly influential and controversial English punk band. Fans and critics alike generally regard the album as an extremely important record in the history of rock music, citing the lasting influence it has had on subsequent punk musicians.

The album was released on 28 October 1977 on the Virgin Records label, amid controversy arising from the use of the obscenity (in British English) "bollocks" in its title.

Older versions of most of the album's songs also appeared on a bootleg album called Spunk, which consists of demo recordings the band had made during 1976 and January 1977, and which was released shortly before Never Mind the Bollocks.

Overview

Never Mind the Bollocks is the only official album released by the Sex Pistols while vocalist Johnny Rotten was a member of the group, although the same songs have subsequently appeared on many compilation albums (the group had effectively disbanded less than three months after the album's release). Many of the songs were featured in different versions in the film, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, a "mockumentary" loosely based on the Sex Pistols, but more about their manager (and the film's "mastermind"), Malcolm McLaren.

Never Mind the Bollocks was met by a hail of controversy in the UK upon its release. The first documented legal problems involved the allegedly 'obscene' name of the album, and the prosecution (under Section 28 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, since replaced by the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981) of the manager of the Nottingham Virgin record shop (and label owner Richard Branson) for having displayed it in a window. However, at Nottingham Magistrates' Court on 24 November 1977, defending Queen's Counsel John Mortimer produced expert witnesses who were able to demonstrate that the word "bollocks" was actually a legitimate Old English term originally used to refer to a priest, and which, in the context of the title, meant "nonsense". The chairman of the hearing was forced to conclude:

Much as my colleagues and I wholeheartedly deplore the vulgar exploitation of the worst instincts of human nature for the purchases of commercial profits by both you and your company, we must reluctantly find you not guilty of each of the four charges.

Far more intense outrage was sparked by the lyrics of the songs "God Save the Queen" and "Anarchy in the U.K.", as well as Jamie Reid's cover art for the single of "God Save the Queen". Both were perceived as musical assaults on the monarchy and civil society. In particular, "God Save the Queen" was viewed as a direct personal attack on Queen Elizabeth II. Guitarist Steve Jones, and singer Johnny Rotten, have both insisted that it was not the Queen that the band directed their animus towards, but other members of the royal house and the British government in general. In either case, the notoriety did little to harm the record's sales in the UK.

Rotten's bitten, over-articulated, angry vocals and his intentional avoidance of "good" singing were startlingly original in style, at that time, and his use of profanity and deliberately inflammatory language seemed downright shocking. He alternately screams and whines about corporate control, intellectual vacuity, and political hypocrisy, while guitarist Jones' multi-layered guitar tracks create a "wall of noise" to counter him.

Producer Chris Thomas took a different approach to recording Never Mind the Bollocks than was to become the norm on most later punk rock albums. Instead of capturing a "raw" or "live" sound, Thomas achieved a very clear, broad, and layered sonic palette via multiple guitar overdubs, and extremely tight musicianship. He said: "Anarchy has something like a dozen guitars on it; I sort of orchestrated it, double-tracking some bits and separating the parts and adding them, et cetera ... It was quite labored. The vocals were labored, as well." However, some, purists in particular, have argued that the album is over-produced, and that the impact of the songs is diminished by the refined sound quality. Some critics further contend that the Sex Pistols had lost their initial spark of energy and exuberance by the time Never Mind the Bollocks was recorded, and that any anger present in the songs sounds contrived. Nonetheless, the album's anger and energy are considered to have been trailblazing precedents for the then-nascent punk rock movement.

Charting and influence

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols reached #1 on the Official UK Albums Chart, but in the USA peaked at #106 upon initial release on the Billboard albums chart. Although the album's sales were initially slim outside Europe, it would ultimately gain a substantial reputation worldwide, achieving Gold status with the RIAA in 1987 (denoting 500,000 sales) and Platinum status (1,000,000 sales) just four years later.

Likewise, influential critics consider Never Mind the Bollocks to have been a central formative influence on punk rock and subsequent forms of popular music.

In 1985, NME writers voted Never Mind the Bollocks the 13th greatest album of all time. In 1993, NME writers voted the album the 3rd greatest of all time.

In 1987, Rolling Stone magazine named it the second-most important album of the previous 20 years, behind only The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The same magazine named it the 41st greatest album of all time on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003. In an interview during 2002, Rolling Stone journalist Charles M. Young stated:

Never Mind the Bollocks changed everything. There had never been anything like it before and really there's never been anything quite like it since. The closest was probably Nirvana, a band very heavily influenced by the Sex Pistols.

In his 1995 book, The Alternative Music Almanac, Alan Cross placed the album in the #6 spot on the list of '10 Classic Alternative Albums'.

In 1998, Q magazine readers voted Never Mind the Bollocks the 30th greatest album of all time, and in 2000 the same magazine placed it at number 10 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.

The VH1 network named Never Mind the Bollocks as the 17th greatest album of all time in 2001. The album also placed number one in a "Fifty Greatest Punk Albums Ever" readers' poll in Kerrang! magazine.

In 2006, it was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best albums of all time , and in the same year NME voted the album the 4th greatest British album of all time.

Track listing

The original UK album (Virgin V2086) contained only eleven tracks, before the group changed their mind and decided to include "Submission".

However, Virgin had already pre-emptively produced stampers for the eleven-track version, and by early October 1977 had already pressed 1,000 copies. Rather than scrap these, Virgin released them anyway, initially as promos, then commercially, as an attempt to counteract a sudden flood of imports from France, where a twelve-track version of the album (including "Submission") had been released in mid-October by Barclay Records.

In response to this, Virgin also brought forward the album's intended UK release date by a week, and instead of waiting for the twelve-track album to be mastered, issued further copies of the eleven-track album (reportedly 50,000 copies, although some collectors now dispute these official figures as on the high side). Most of these copies included a poster and "Submission" as a freebie single.

Some of the initial 11 track copies saw a private import to Sweden and were sold for a few weeks at a record shop in Stockholm. The poster and "Submission" were not included at this stage. An article in a local paper warned people not to buy this "faulty" issue and advised them to wait for the 12 track issue that was about to be pressed. The article also had a quote from Virgin in London where they say all production and sale have been stopped, but some copies unfortunately leaked out through their export company. This issue had blank back cover and matrix numbers A-1 and B-1.

The twelve-track UK version began appearing in early November 1977.

As a result of the track listing confusion, several variants of the UK back sleeve exist: completely blank; omitting "Submission"; including "Submission"; and a misprint including "Belsen Was a Gas" and omitting several other tracks, based on artwork for an earlier rejected track listing.

All songs written by Steve Jones/Glen Matlock/Paul Cook/Johnny Rotten, except * by Jones/Cook/Rotten/Sid Vicious. All lyrics by Rotten (original "Seventeen" lyrics by Jones, original "Pretty Vacant" lyrics by Matlock).

Eleven track version

Side one

  1. "Holidays in the Sun" – 3:22 *
  2. "Liar" – 2:41
  3. "No Feelings" – 2:51
  4. "God Save the Queen" – 3:20
  5. "Problems" – 4:11

Side two

  1. "Seventeen" – 2:02
  2. "Anarchy in the U.K." – 3:32
  3. "Bodies" – 3:03 *
  4. "Pretty Vacant" – 3:18
  5. "New York" – 3:07
  6. "E.M.I." – 3:10
  7. "Submission" was included with most copies as a one-sided seven-inch single (VDJ 24).

Twelve track version

Side one

  1. "Holidays in the Sun" – 3:22 *
  2. "Bodies" – 3:03 *
  3. "No Feelings" – 2:51
  4. "Liar" – 2:41
  5. "God Save the Queen" – 3:20
  6. "Problems" – 4:11

Side two

  1. "Seventeen" – 2:02
  2. "Anarchy in the U.K." – 3:32
  3. "Submission" – 4:12
  4. "Pretty Vacant" – 3:18
  5. "New York" – 3:05
  6. "E.M.I." – 3:10
  7. USA (Warner Bros. BSK3147) and Canada (Warner Bros. KBS3147) artwork is green on pink, track listing reverses "God Save the Queen" and "Problems".
  8. Original French track listing (Barclay Records 941 001) as UK eleven-track version with "Submission" at the end of side one.

Personnel

Charts

Album
Year Chart Position
1977 UK Albums Chart 1
1978 Billboard 106

Certifications

Organization Level Date
BPI – UK Gold 17 November 1977
BPI – UK Platinum 15 January 1988
RIAA – USA Gold 2 December 1987
RIAA – USA Platinum 26 March 1992
NVPI – Netherlands Gold 1990

Reissues

On 29 October 2007, Virgin Records released a special 30th anniversary edition of the album in 180 gram vinyl LP format. The set included a 7" insert of "Submission" and poster, as originally released on 28 October 1977.

Virgin also reissued the group's four singles: "Anarchy in the U.K.", "God Save the Queen", "Pretty Vacant" and "Holidays in the Sun", on 7" vinyl, before the album reissue.

Notes

References

  • Weisbard, Eric; Craig Marks (1995). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books.

See also

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