Wednesday, October 28, 2009

October 28: Sex Pistols, "Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols"

Artist: Sex Pistols
Album: Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols
Year: 1977
Label: Virgin/Warner Bros.

When one looks back at the greatest albums ever made, a staggering number of them were initially "panned" upon their release, or in many cases, marked as records that were "hazardous" to young people. In nearly every case, this was due to the music being so "new" that a majority of listeners and critics simply could not wrap their brains around the amazing artistry at work on each record. Standing high atop this list of "misunderstood" bands is a band that as equally as influential as they were controversial. From their wild appearances to their rotten attitudes to their viscous stage antics, they perfectly embodied everything it meant to be "counter culture," and defined much of what is perceived to be "punk" to this day. Standing as one of the most iconic bands in history, and a band that, in many ways, the world was probably not ready for, whether you like them or hate them one simply cannot have modern music in its current form without the impact and influence of England's least-favorite sons, The Sex Pistols. Completely changing the idea on what could be considered "rock" music, The Sex Pistols also hold the distinction of being one of the few commercially successful bands in history to quite literally be banned in their home country. Also famous for the one of the most famous breakups in music history, The Sex Pistols epitomize the idea of a band that refuses to be ignored. Though they remain one of the most well known bands on the planet, the truth of the matter is, they only released one formal studio album, their truly monumental 1977 release, Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols.

There are, in fact, two different covers of the album, and while the UK release had the infamous yellow and pink scheme (pictured above), for the US release, the cover was changed to a brown/pink background with a green backing for the band name. There are also two different versions of the record, as late in the process, the band decided to add a twelfth song to the album, "Submission." Though the track was added before the formal, worldwide release, their are rumored to be a few thousand copies of the eleven track version in existence. Also, along with the formal release, demo versions of nearly every song can be easily found on the Spunk bootleg, which was informally released shortly before the album proper. Truth be told, in many ways, the release of Never Mind The Bollocks signaled the beginning of the end for The Sex Pistols, as their breakup would occur just under three months after the album hit the streets. This in itself is not all that surprising, as for a band that sought to represent anti-everything, the fact that the album was released on one of the largest record labels in the world clearly plays against everything for which the band stood. With the album being released on October 27, 1977, The Sex Pistols' infamous final show in San Francisco on January 14, 1978, when singer Johnny Rotten ended the band by ranting, "...Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? Good night." after the band performed only one song, The Stooges' "No Fun." The irony of the moment is a perfect representation of the fact that, while they may have presented themselves as idiots, the band members were quite aware of everything they did, and though chaotic, their musicianship cannot be denied.

Every member of The Sex Pistols has a name that truly lives in infamy, yet the manner with which they deploy the bands' pulverizing songs remains as unmatched as their personalities. Guitarist Steve Jones was easily the most musically accomplished member of the group, and his tremendous, often unsettling power-riffs remain some of the finest ever written. Whether it is the speedy, grimy riff to "God Save The Queen" or his forceful on "Anarchy In The U.K.," Jones is truly brilliant on every track. Keeping pace with the band, at their unheralded speed was drummer Paul Cook. Pushing the band faster and faster, Cook is easily one of rocks' elite drummers, as for the most part, there were very few drummers at the time that approached the instrument with a remotely similar manner. Though Sid Viscous is know as the bands' bass player, the truth of the matter is, there are actually two different bass players on Never Mind The Bollocks. Though it is rumored that ex-bassist, Glen Matlock played on the album, over the years, this has been refuted by many people, including Matlock himself. While Viscous did, in fact, give playing his best shot, nearly every bass track on the album is, in fact, an overdub played by Steve Jones. Though he asked (and received) Motörhead bass-god, Lemmy Kilmister for lessons, the truth of the matter is, though Viscous had all the attitude in the world, his bass playing abilities were never much to speak of. However, though they are buried in the mix, when they do rise to the surface, the basslines throughout Never Mind The Bollocks serve as a testament to the extraordinary musical ability of Steve Jones.

While the musical portion of the band certainly had their fair share of attitude and certainly re-wrote how music was approached, there have truly been few singers that shocked the world as much as the infamous Johnny Rotten. Making no attempt whatsoever to "sing," his sneer and scream were a style and sound that had simply never before been heard. Also, Rotten's use of profanity was extremely controversial at the time, and both Rotten, as well as the band and their record label were brought up on profanity charges for their "texts." The fact that Rotten used such language, as well as a heavy amount of blunt, inflammatory lyrics was truly shocking at the time, and it is due to this that artists enjoy the lyrical freedom that they do today. Though there is not a bad song anywhere on Never Mind The Bollocks, the album boasts the two most famous Sex Pistols songs, as well as two songs that are true icons of rock music. Though it had been released as a single nearly eight months before the album was released, "Anarchy In The UK" remains one of the greatest rallying cries in history. Though it is one of the most infamous opening lines ever, Rotten claims that "I am an antichrist" was, in fact, him flubbing the lyrics, and it was supposed to be the same as the second line, "I am an anarchist." Regardless of the truth behind it, the lyrics, and Rotten's brilliant delivery revolutionized everything about music and how a singer could perform. However, this controversy was nothing compared to that which came with the release of the bands' second single, "God Save The Queen." Released during Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee, the single reached number one on the NME charts and number two on the BBC charts...without ANY radio airplay. The BBC deemed the song as too inappropriate for radio airplay, and the fact that it has such success without being played is nothing short of stunning. Though there are suspiciously no "official" sales numbers, many believe that it is, in fact, the best selling single in U.K. history, and it was only kept from the BBC top spot due to the songs' content. With the attitude and lyrics behind the songs, as well as the style in which Johnny Rotten delivered the vocals, in one fell swoop, The Sex Pistols completely shattered nearly every "rule" of rock music, and in the process, became true music legends.

Though it only works in exceptionally rare instances, there are times when attitude and being at the "right" moment in time can overcome slight lacking in musical ability. Taking the approach that was laid out by The Stooges and The Ramones, The Sex Pistols turned up the attitude to eleven, and created some of the most memorable songs and incidents in rock history. With Steve Jones handling both lead guitar as well as bass duties, it is hard to argue that he is not among the most elite musicians to ever record. The simple, yet magnificent riffs he plays stand among the most famous in history, and quite literally EVERY band that plays with any attitude that came after him owes Jones a great deal of thanks for his innovations in style and sound. Similarly, throughout Never Mind The Bollocks, Paul Cook defines what it means to sound like a musician is truly trying to break their instrument. Absolutely destroying the drum-work throughout the entire record, there are few musicians who can compare when it comes to power and precision in playing. While these two, along with the notorious Sid Viscous are memorable in their own right, Johnny Rotten was truly the perfect frontman for the band, as there are few others who have refused to be ignored as well as Rotten. Taking a vocal approach that was unheard of previously, Rotten's angry, often smarmy style became the blueprint for countless artists that followed. Bringing lyrics that were blunt and unrelenting in ways not previously heard, the band left nothing to the imagination, and they showed just how far one could go if one refused to compromise anything musically. When The Sex Pistols released their only studio record, 1977's Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols, everything that had been taken for granted musically was once again "up for grabs," and there are very few bands who have had such a quick and severe impact on the entire world of music, making it unquestionably one of the most important albums ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Holidays In The Sun," "God Save The Queen," and "Anarchy In The U.K."


Anonymous said...

great...this is one of the small cadre of records that i have owned in vinyl, tape, cd and digital formats (2 tapes, wore one out!) and can sing by memory line by line. impossibly, digustingly good every time i listen to it.


Phil O. said...

All good -- but it's not true that the Ramones were an influence on the Sex Pistols. The Ramones released their first record in April, 1976, which would have given the Sex Pistols their first opportunity to hear the Ramones. But by April of 1976, the Pistols had already been playing for 6 months and had written most of the songs they would be famous for (just check out the May, 1976 demos, or the live tapes from April 1976). Thanks to a poorly-written set of liner notes in a Ramones CD c. 1990, legions of fans have been raised to believe the Ramones influenced the Pistols, but it's just not true. They evolved independently, even if they shared some common influences.