Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm McLaren’

Masterpiece: Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols

27 May 2010

[Today: The towering inferno…]

“Maybe I’m just a really bad comedian, but I thought Never Mind The Bollocks… was hilarious from start to finish. Pointed, but hilarious, and therefore useful,” claims Johnny Rotten in the Classic Albums documentary on this record. The joke, as it were, was on a starched-shirt music industry looking to cash in on the nascent punk scene. The Sex Pistols were a high-profile hot potato that jumped from EMI to A&M before finally landing at Virgin. Band manager Malcolm McLaren lived by the adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” and his lads more than took him up on it, flaming out in a drunken scene at A&M that got them kicked off the label the same week they signed.

Of course, the band’s legend was fueled by some incendiary singles. ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and ‘God Save The Queen’ are two of the essential songs in the punk canon, and both still sound nasty and provocative. Johnny Rotten’s sneer was one of punk’s most lethal weapons – he built his character on Sir Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of King Richard III, and both men played their roles brilliantly. Rotten provoked crowds, crouched behind his mic stand like a demented Quasimodo and ready for battle. Steve Jones built a wall of layered guitars in the studio that sounds like punk Phil Spector and brooks no imitation. The rock mainstream has come around to Jones’ guitar style enough that Never Mind The Bollocks… now sounds like contemporary rock rather than vintage punk.

“Bollocks” is a British slang term for the dog’s balls (or nonsense), and this album came under fire almost immediately upon hitting the shelves on October 27th, 1977. Sued for obscenity, the band and Virgin head Richard Branson were eventually and “reluctantly” found not guilty. Beyond the dirty word on its cover, this album was a thumb in the eye of the British establishment. It bespoke of abortions and mental illness, smeared the royal family and openly called for anarchy, and generally sounded like the worst nightmare of every upstanding British subject.

But Never Mind The Bollocks… has proved to be very useful indeed, becoming one of the most influential albums in the history of rock, and providing a guiding sneer for albums well beyond punk. Its nasty swagger can be found in Guns ‘N Roses’ Appetite For Destruction, its title was clipped for Nirvana’s generationally epic Nevermind, and its bad attitude has been aped by nearly every hard rock album to hit the shelves since the early 80s. The Sex Pistols may have been quickly consumed by the flames of their own nihilism, but while they were still burning brightly, their fire was second to none…

Listen: Anarchy In The U.K.

Listen: God Save The Queen

Listen: Pretty Vacant

Malcolm McLaren (1946-2010)

12 April 2010

Malcolm McLaren, the svengali behind the formation and rise of the Sex Pistols, died last week at age 64. Before his foray into the music business, McLaren came to prominence in the fashion industry. Along with partner Vivienne Westwood, he ran a shop on Kings Road in London that changed themes several times before becoming a bondage-themed store called Sex. It was at Sex that McLaren gathered the future Sex Pistols (including a frequent shoplifter named Steve Jones) and suggested they become a band. And it was McLaren who took a shine to a young outcast named John Lydon (whose I HATE PINK FLOYD t-shirt caught McLaren’s eye) and had him rehearse for the group by singing along to the store’s jukebox.

As manager of the Sex Pistols, McLaren was an impish character who delighted in stirring up controversy. He urged the group to release ‘God Save The Queen’ around the time of Queen Elizabeth’s silver celebration, and then arranged for them to play the song on a boat trolling the river Thames. When police predictably busted the performance, punk rock had one of its best photo ops. It was just another day at the office for Malcolm McLaren. “Malcolm was definitely the Brian Epstein of punk – without him it wouldn’t have happened the way it did,” said Jones of his ex-manager. “My fondest memory of Malcolm, and I loved the guy, was his birthday gift to me when I turned 21 – he got me a hooker and some heroin.”