[Review] The Sex Pistols: Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols (1977)

The third-greatest punk album ever recorded, according to Rolling Stone. (Ramones and The Clash, in case you were wondering.)

Kronomyth 1.0: The future was no future.

The Sex Pistols were a hot mess. They only stayed together long enough to make one album, and couldn’t even stay together for that. Glen Matlock, the band’s best songwriter, was out before the album was. His replacement on bass, Sid Vicious, needed a replacement himself (his playing apparently wasn’t up to snuff), so Steve Jones took on the dual roles of guitar and bass, rendering the Pistols essentially a trio. In a state of collapse and chaos, The Sex Pistols recorded one of the greatest rock n’ roll records of all time.

It’s worth noting that Bollocks wasn’t the first shot heard ‘round the world, an event that occurred one year earlier with the release of Anarchy in the U.K. Other shots followed: God Save the Queen, Pretty Vacant, No Feelings (originally titled “No Feeling”). By the release of Bollocks, the Pistols were already a cause celebre. But not everyone bought singles and the radio didn’t play the Pistols, so an album gave the band the perfect delivery mechanism for their revolutionary music.

Any discussion of The Sex Pistols tends to mix hyperbole and history. They were the first punk band, singlehandedly ushering in the moral decline of Western civilization, blah blah blah. In truth, the shock of hearing “Anarchy in the U.K.,” was only slightly more shocking than hearing “My Generation” by The Who or “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks and so on. In other words, the history of rock and roll is one of repeated shocks. Not to take any thunder away from The Sex Pistols, but I wouldn’t want to take any away from Johnny Thunders either in suggesting that the music of The Sex Pistols was created in a vacuum. It was brilliantly packaged and marketed, and expertly produced too. That last point is important, because the Pistols never lost sight of the fact that their music was product; revolutionary product that was swift to capitalize on a burgeoning market for revolutionary ideas, but product nonetheless.

Okay, so enough of my pedantic mincing. Let’s talk about the music. It sounds like rock & roll filtered through a throbbing headache. Steve Jones and Paul Cook play like men on fire and Johnny Rotten sings like one. Rotten is revolting, whether he’s exposing both sides of the abortion argument (Bodies) or rejecting the elemental need for human compassion (“No Feelings,” Problems). It’s nihilism in its purest musical form: your idols are worthless, the world is heartless, the rush of the ruin happening around you is breathless. Yet it’s destruction you can dance to, or try anyway. Sub-Mission, Holidays in the Sun, “Anarchy in the U.K.”… you can’t sit still when they’re playing because the hooks are there, lurking under the broken glass and barbed whining of Mister Rotten.

Suggesting that Never Mind The Bollocks is the embodiment of punk is both true and false. True in the sense that no album has a better claim to call itself a punk record, and false in that the album is only one limb of a greater body of work that would include early albums by The Damned, Ramones, The Clash among others. It’s too bad that the Pistols couldn’t hold it together for longer, but the fact that people are still talking about them forty years on (and probably will keep talking about them for another forty) is a testimony to the timelessness of their music and, I suppose sadly, their message.

Original elpee version

A1. Holidays in the Sun (Paul Cook/Steve Jones/Johnny Rotten/Sid Vicious)
A2. Bodies (Paul Cook/Steve Jones/Johnny Rotten/Sid Vicious)
A3. No Feelings
A4. Liar
A5. Problems
A6. God Save the Queen
B1. Seventeen
B2. Anarchy in the U.K.
B3. Sub-Mission
B4. Pretty Vacant
B5. New York
B6. EMI

All selections written by Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Johnny Rotten unless noted.

Original 8-track version
A1. Holidays in the Sun
A2. Bodies
A3. God Save the Queen
B1. No Feelings
B2. Liar
B3. Problems
C1. Seventeen
C2. Anarchy in the U.K.
C3. Sub-Mission
D1. Pretty Vacant
D2. New York
D3. EMI

The Players

Paul Cook (drums), Steve Jones (guitar, bass guitar, backing vocals), Johnny Rotten (lead vocals) with Glen Matlock (bass on B2), Sid Vicious (bass guitar on A2). Produced by Chris Thomas & Bill Price; engineered by Bill Price.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on October 28, 1977 in the UK (Virgin, V2086), the US (Warner Bros., BSK/M5/M8 3147), Canada (Warner Bros., KSB/M8 3147), France (Virgin, 940 553) and Japan (Columbia, YX-7199-AX); reached #1 on the UK charts and #106 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the UK (Virgin, OVED 136).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Germany (Virgin, 25 593 XOT).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in Italy (Virgin, VIL 12086).
  4. Re-issued on elpee in Russia (Anton, ATR30059).
  5. Re-released on pink vinyl elpee in the UK (Virgin, VP 2086).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in 1985 in Europe (Virgin, 786320).
  7. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in the UK (Virgin, CDV/VC 2086).
  8. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Warner Bros., 3147).
  9. Re-released on remastered compact disc in Europe (Virgin, 787 877).
  10. Re-issued on compact disc in May 1993 in the UK (Virgin, CDVX 2086).
  11. Re-issued on compact disc in 1995 in Japan (EMI Toshiba, VJCP-3215).

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