[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