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Never Mind the Bollocks,
Here's the Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols

Warner 3147
Released: November 1977
Chart Peak: #106
Weeks Charted: 12
Certified Gold: 12/2/87

Johnny RottenIf one is slightly cynical about things (and in America in 1978 I can't conceive of being otherwise), it's hard to view the meteoric rise of the Sex Pistols to the status of Genuine Phenomenon as anything other than the result of shrewd managerial reading of the public mood. Except for their visual trappings, they're certainly not doing anything that could be called remotely original, either musically or in their public pronouncements. So they're loud, crude, minimally skilled at their instruments; so they spit at queen-and-country, and the rock-and-roll tradition, at the music business, and at anyone rooted in the values of the Sixties. So what? The idea that kids should reclaim rock from the clutches of arrogant superstar tax exiles and balding corporate moguls dates back at least to David Bowie's "All the Young Dudes" and its contemptuous sneer at older brother "back at home with his Beatles and his Stones." The Pistols' stance of calculated obnoxiousness and musical primitivism is the same ploy every rocker from Elvis on down has utilized to garner publicity.

But, even granted all that, it would be a mistake to dismiss the Pistols as just this season's hype, for there's art lurking beneath the artifice of their debut album. Of course, to appreciate Never Mind the Bollocks you have to have a certain tolerance for loud noises. You also have to understand something perhaps not readily apparent, which is that the Pistols are wittily well aware of the contradictions in what they're attempting, the most obvious of these being that to reach mass audience they want they will have to seduce the very types they detest, especially once they invade America. But they go ahead anyway, in the songs "E.M.I." and "New York," knocking the record company that dropped them (because some execs believed they were seriously advocating anarchy) and sneering at the "bored old faggots" who are the habituès of Max's Kansas City (the trend setters who have helped make punk rock, at least in the U.S., the Next Big Thing). Unless we're being kidded, how else to explain the theatrical panache with which the Pistols deliver such utterly ridiculous lines as "I'm a lazy sod," or the very idea of giving themselves surnames like Vicious and Rotten?

The Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols
Original album advertising art.
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The blatant put-ons notwithstanding, however, the Pistols' political message comes across with undeniable power. It should be noted that, among other things, they happen to be the most legitimately influential protest songwriters in well over a decade; as with Bob Dylan, it hardly matters whether they are sincere at heart. "God Save the Queen," which they released as a single just in time to spoil the Silver Jubilee for a lot of their countrymen, is something of a small rock masterpiece (as well as the strongest track on this album) and a remarkable revival of the kind of spleen-venting the Angry Young Men of the British theater were doing twenty years ago. As James Wolcott has observed, there isn't that vast a gulf between John Osborne and Johnny Rotten, and if you doubt it, listen to the way Rotten yowls "God save the Queen... we mean it, man!"

As you may have gathered, I don't find the Sex Pistols particularly threatening, for all their revolutionary fervor. Rotten is a first-rate rock-and-roll singing actor (his Cockney whine is almost cute), and though the band still has some growing to do, when they're on they have a drive and power reminiscent of the MC 5. Never Mind the Bollocks may be a little repetitious at times, but the best cuts are viscerally exciting and easily accessible rock by any standard. Still, by the rules of the game the Pistols are playing, if somebody, like me, who represents many of the values they claim to be rejecting comes to terms with them, it smacks of co-optation. And so, that I do rather like them indicates a failure on their part, it seems to me. I hope that when they bring their peculiarly English brand of sonic assault to these shores in person, they will do their damnedest to make me uncomfortable about my endorsement. After all, if I read them right, that's their job.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 2/78.

Bonus Reviews!

Loud, raucous and irreverent, this LP delivers as promised. This is punk rock at its best, with no letup. Once it begins there's no getting up for air until the record ends. It's all simple riffs and elemental chords with a machine gun beat, but nobody does it better. Included here are all the notorious hits that so shocked the English establishment. Once you get past the rawness of it all, it becomes apparent that this band can craft some very relevant tunes. Best cuts: "Pretty Vacant," "God Save The Queen," "Anarchy In The U.K.," "EMI," "Holidays In The Sun."

- Billboard, 1977.

Get this straight: no matter what the chicmongers want to believe, to call this band dangerous is more than a suave existentialist compliment. They mean no good. It won't do to pass off Rotten's hatred and disgust as role-playing -- the gusto of the performance is too convincing. Which is why this is such an impressive record. The forbidden ideas from which Rotten makes songs take on undeniable truth value, whether one is sympathetic ("Holidays in the Sun" is a hysterically frightening vision of global economics) or filled with loathing ("Bodies," an indictment from which Rotten doesn't altogether exclude himself, is effectively anti-abortion, anti-woman, and anti-sex). These ideas must be dealt with, and can be expected to affect the way fans think and behave. The chief limitation on their power is the music, which can get heavy occasionally, but the only real question is how many American kids might feel the way Rotten does, and where he and they will go next. I wonder -- but I also worry. A

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

The premier punk album stands high in our survey, gobbing on everything else below. Critic Mikal Gilmore chooses it as his number one: "If, as Greil Marcus noted, punk was the event that tore rock history in half, setting many suppositions and ideals and customs crosswise from each other, then Bullocks may well be the signal dividing work of that movement -- and of all post-fifties pop. But as much as anything, I've elected it here because it reminded me (even more than the work of Patti Smith and Graham Parker that immediately preceded it and helped pave its way) that rock could still be a vital music of stylistic, political and generational bravado -- in fact, a tool of real pop-cultural insurgency.

It also reminded me that by accepting punk and the Pistols' challenge, or that by siding with the renewed spirit of revolt, one could stay faithful to every promise of eruption, defiance and transcendence that rock-and-roll had ever offered -- and that you could even raise the stakes on the whole sheband.

"Maybe there are better punk or post-punk LPs -- London Calling, Metal Box or Closer come to mind -- but the Pistols embodied the conceits and brilliance and limitations of the movement better than anybody, so they win my support and thanks."

Everything about the Pistols as historical figures is on this record: "Anarchy in the UK," the first punk hit, a record so shocking it had British radio programmers trying to stamp it out and a couple of established deejays losing their cool on air and vowing never to play punk; "God Save the Queen," number two in the week of Her Majesty's Silver Jubilee, only kept out of number one by a two-sided Rod Stewart hit; "Pretty Vacant," a generational anthem featured on Top of the Pops; and "Holidays in the Sun," a nasty piece of lyrical work conjuring up images of a "new Belsen."

Not only the singles shocked. "Bodies," a song about a girl carrying an aborted foetus around in a carrier bag, was the most ruthless putdown in rock since Positively Fourth Street.

Let the historian remmeber that it was Glen Matlock, not Sid Vicious, who had a major role in writing the seminal Sex Pistols material. He is rightly credited on the label.

In 1987, Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols was chosen by a panel of rock critics and music broadcasters as the #19 rock album of all time.

- Paul Gambaccini, The Top 100 Rock 'n' Roll Albums of All Time, Harmony Books, 1987.

The Sex Pistols on Compact Disc is as odd a concept as a home movie shot in Cinemascope! About the only validity this Compact Disc has is as a historic document charting a particularly pustular band on the often acned face of rock'n'roll. Never Mind... was the only LP to be released by the band -- all other LP and CD product is an attempt to cash in on the questionable veneration of the late Sid Vicious.

With the three chords they can muster the band are fairly competent, though Johnny Rotten performs better on two notes than three. The Pistols' music has an inevitable grinding repetitiveness.

Much has been made about the raw energy and simple recording standards that sent many bands back-to-basics in imitation. From Compact Disc these tapes are revealed for what they are: compressed and messy. How did producer Chris Thomas get mixed up with this? The Pistols' lasting effect was on the politics of the record industry and the wider connection between style and music -- not on recorded sound.

A budget CD single with just "Anarchy in the UK" and "Pretty Vacant" would have been more appropriate.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

It's an assault. A remembrance of things past and of a spirit almost lost. You feel the Sex Pistols. The hearing is almost irrelevant. This is dissolute, daring music that isn't easy in any way, but it is one of those rare recordings that somehow affects the way everything after it is heard. Never Mind the Bollocks was the one unchallenged rock & roll album of the seventies. Nihilistic, nasty, neurotic, and pneumatic, it was/is the spirit incarnate. The sound is tight, driving, and abrasive, just as was intended. A+

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

Never Mind the Bollocks (Here's the Sex Pistols) is a delightfully vulgar and viscerally pulverizing debut. Everything you need is here, including "God Save the Queen," "Pretty Vacant," "Holidays in the Sun," and "Anarchy in the U.K." * * * * *

- John Floyd, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols was the great punk rock wake-up call whose resonance still echoes in the modern rock community. * * * * *

- Anna Glen, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

Latter-day listeners will no doubt wonder what all the fuss was about. Never Mind... is a surprisingly traditional record and contains little of the atmosphere in which it was conceived. When this album was eventually released, rather ironically in the UK on Richard Branson's "hippyfied" Virgin Records in November 1977, the punk upsurge had already faded into a softer, more marketable "new wave." The very fact that the Pistols had released an album at all seemed to signify the end of punk's shaky ideology. The Sex Pistols' fantastic quartet of early singles, "Anarchy in the UK," "God Save the Queen," "Pretty Vacant" and "Holidays In The Sun" had already been unleashed. And the album release proved something of an anti-climax. Nobody who was around at the time will ever forget that intoxicating moment when "Anarchy..." and "God Save The Queen" first assailed their ears. Against the odds, the standard set by the singles was maintained throughout the album. In particular, tracks like "New York," a savage attack on manager Malcolm McClaren's time there, and the obvious "EMI," proved entertainingly virulent. It was nothing more or less than one of the all time great rock albums. Strangely, in 1977, that didn't seem quite enough, and in America it took twenty years before it would pass the million sales mark.

- Collins Gem Classic Albums, 1999.

Be afraid, be very afraid...from the harsh reality of the lyrics to the throbbing melodies spit from the guitar, this historically significant, quintessential punk album -- loud, snotty and angry youthful anarchy in all its glory -- defined a new genre of music and culture and instantly made many popular bands obsolete. With hard-rock production that other bands would kill for, radical Johnny Rotten and the lads created a phenomenon that lives up to the hype. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

An amazing record, Never Mind the Bollocks collects the handful of great Sex Pistols singles, recorded on the fly amid U.K. tabloid villification and a self-created air of apocalyptic meltdown. The great songs on the album -- none more than a few minutes long and built from the bricks of the most rudimentary riffs -- are twisted psychodramas that rush headlong into the frontier of working-class young-man rage with an intensity that no other band could capture. Johnny Rotten's lyrics -- direct, blunt, biting -- were like antisocial haikus that shone the spotlight of Rotten's scorn out, out, out, accusing, denouncing. It also sounded great. The production was minimal, the playing was primitive, the result was impossibly catchy and exciting. The Sex Pistols were great, then gone. At least they were spared the indignity of trying to follow up on the perfection of their debut. And, for enough cash, they will still come and play the old songs. It has become their final revenge.

Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols was voted the 17th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.

- Quinton Skinner, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.

"If the sessions had gone the way I wanted, it would have been unlistenable for most people," Johnny Rotten said. "I guess it's the very nature of music; if you want people to listen, you're going to have to compromise." But few heard it that way at the time. Packed with disgust, nihilism and raw guitar, the Pistols' only studio album sounds like a rejection of everything rock & roll, and the world itself, had to offer. True, the music was less shocking than Rotten himself, who sang about abortions, anarchy and hatred in general on "Bodies" and "Anarchy in the U.K." But Never Mind... is the Sermon on the Mount of English punk -- and the echoes are everywhere.

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols was chosen as the 41st greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

In a decade of social unrest, the grey façade of 1970s Britain was crumbling under high unemployment and apathy. The entire country seemed in a state of cold turkey, the optimism of the 1960s a distant memory. Along came a kick in the balls, literal as well as titular.

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Here's the Sex Pistols

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As soon as the Pistols played their first gigs, their notoriety was in danger of surpassing the music. This was a feeling intensified by Jamie Reid's luminous cover. With its iconic logo and use of an expletive, stores refused to stock it and a court case came to pass (dismissed after Richard Branson called in a linguistics professor to testify to the non-obscene origins of the word). With style about to overshadow substance, the marching steps that introduce "Holidays In The Sun" were a venomous reminder that beneath the artwork was an album that was about to alter our perception of music, fashion, and generational attitudes.

There is the ferocity of "Bodies," with its abortion-based theme, and Steve Jones' simple but devastatingly effective riff on "Pretty Vacant," which gave hope to useless guitarists everywhere.

"Anarchy In The UK," of course, is the album's most famous rallying cry but "God Save The Queen" matches it all the way as an epicenter of anger. Johnny Rotten bends and sculpts every note into a vituperative, royalty-aimed arrow. Few moments from popular music can ever match Rotten's guttural cry of "no future for you." Years of misery for the nation's youth were encapsulated right there and then.

- Ali MacQueen, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

For better or worse, this thirty-nine-minute blast of loud and proud scruffiness has become punk's ground zero. That's not to say it's the best punk record, or even necessarily the first. But it was the first one to tantalize, to terrorize, and eventually galvanize a large part of the rock-speaking world. And it remains an essential document for understanding the music's cyclical upheavals: When the Sex Pistols exploded, rock was mostly Foreigner. Safe stuff, with few aspirations toward rattling the status quo.

The Sex Pistols charged into the ring with an unruly sound, and an us-against-them ideology that disaffected kids everywhere understood immediately. These four musicians, barely competent on their instruments, took up the cause of England's unemployed and downtrodden, the legions of young people trampled by bad economics. As John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) said years later: "If we had an aim, it was to force our own working-class opinions into the mainstream, which was unheard of in pop music at the time."

Force them they did, with help from a rampaging guitar-as-blunt-instrument attack and manager Malcolm McLaren's formidable hype machine. Early gigs were newsworthy for rowdy behavior (the band was known to spit on and taunt its audiences) that led to, in several instances, near-riots. McLaren seized upon the notoriety, using television appearances and outrageous altercations with media to fan the flames, and by the time this album arrived, a sense of full-on revolt was in the air.

Never Mind the Bollocks doesn't really need any hype. Its snarled refrains and bellicose chants -- "No future for you!" Rotten sneers throughout "God Save the Queen" -- signal that this is a profoundly different rock and roll enterprise. The songwriting's minimal. There's, like, zero finesse in the playing. And yet when the band lunges into "Pretty Vacant" or "Anarchy in the U.K.," it unleashes an undeniable force, leading to explosions of awesome magnitude that proved key to the then-developing ethos of punk. Fans loved the Sex Pistols because the band's music mirrored and magnified the decay they saw all around them. People who loathed the band considered its music (and its tactics) fresh evidence of society's decline. Both sides, at least, agreed on the existence of a downward spiral.

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

The Pistols' only studio album sounds like a rejection of everything rock & roll -- and the world itself -- had to offer. True, the music was less shocking than Johnny Rotten himself, who sang about abortions and hatred on "Bodies" and "Anarchy in the U.K." But Never Mind is still the Sermon on the Mount of U.K. punk.

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols was chosen as the 80th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

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