The Sex PIstols: Never Mind the Bullocks – [Record 13]
Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols: is the only studio album by English punk rock group Sex Pistols, released on 27 October 1977, through Virgin Records. Fans and critics alike generally regard it as an important album in the history of rock music, citing the lasting influence it has had on subsequent punk rock musicians, as well as other musical genres that were influenced by such punk rock artists.
Special 35th Anniversary Limited Edition.
Double Vinyl Album Numbered Edition, Yellow & Pink Vinyl 1977 Copies Only. – 0844/1977.
Never Mind The Bullocks Here’s The Sex Pistols.
Record 1, Side 1.
1, Holiday in the Sun.
3, No Feelings.
5, God Save the Queen.
Record 1, Side 2.
8, Anarchy in the UK.
10, Pretty Vacant.
11, New York.
Live At Happy House, Stockholm, July 28th 1977.
Record 2, Side 1.
1, Anarchy in the UK.
2, I Wanna Be Me.
4, New York.
Record 2, Side 2.
7, No Feelings.
9, God Save The Queen.
10, Pretty Vacant.
11, No Fun.
Recording: Close to completing a deal with A&M Records, in March 1977 the Sex Pistols entered Wessex Sound Studios to record with producer Chris Thomas and engineer Bill Price. New bassist Sid Vicious played on the track “Bodies”, but his performing skills were not considered fit enough to record the full album, so the band asked manager Malcolm McLaren to convince previous bassist Glen Matlock to perform the instrument for the sessions. Matlock agreed on the condition that he was paid beforehand. When payment was not received, he declined to show up. As a result, Thomas asked guitarist Steve Jones to play bass so work could begin on the basic tracks. Jones’ playing was so satisfactory that Thomas had him play the bass tracks for all the remaining songs recorded during the sessions. Four tracks—-Clinton Heylin suspected they were “God Save the Queen” (Thomas stated he and Price “gave up” trying to use Vicious’ bass track), “Pretty Vacant”, “EMI” and possibly “Did You No Wrong”—were recorded during the two days at Wessex, with “God Save the Queen” and “Pretty Vacant” receiving vocal tracking from Johnny Rotten and final mixing during the period. As a result of these sessions, Thomas and Price began work in earnest on what would become the Pistols’ full-length album. Four days after recording was completed, the Pistols signed with A&M, yet on 16 March the label terminated the contract, and several thousand pressed copies of the forthcoming “God Save the Queen” single were destroyed.
Despite being dropped by A&M, McLaren instructed the Pistols to continue work on the album. While McLaren pondered whether or not to sign the offer presented by Virgin Records, he signed a French deal for the group with Barclay Records in early May 1977. At the same time, the group resumed work with Thomas and Price. Thomas temporarily departed the session partway through (a timeframe Heylin places as sometime in late April and early May), leaving Price to produce what Thomas estimated as five songs. Heylin narrowed down the potential Bollocks tracks Price may have produced to “Liar”, “New York”, “No Feelings”, “Problems”, “Seventeen” and “Submission”, in addition to the non-album track “Satellite”.
Meanwhile the band had been rejected by several potential labels, including CBS, Decca, Pye and Polydor. Eventually Virgin’s offer was the only one that remained. McLaren still hoped to sign with a major label, and posited issuing a one-off single with Virgin in order to increase the band’s appeal to the larger record companies. Virgin owner Richard Branson refused, so on 18 May the Pistols finally signed with Virgin. Two weeks later, the label rush-released “God Save the Queen” as a single. During promotion of the single, Rotten stated that work on the album was ongoing, and, obscuring Jones’s assumption of bass duties, insisted that the bass performances on the in-progress album were split between Matlock “on the Chris Thomas tracks” and Vicious.
The band returned to the studio with Thomas and Price on 18 June to record “Holidays in the Sun”, the first song they had written without Matlock. That night after visiting a nearby pub, Rotten, Thomas and Price were attacked by a large group of men, and the incident made newspaper headlines the following Tuesday. That month an eleven-track preview of the album began circulating, first reviewed in the fanzine 48 Thrills. At this point, Rotten maintained that the forthcoming album would include no cover songs, and none of the Sex Pistols’s previously released singles bar “Anarchy in the U.K.”, which was out of print. With “Pretty Vacant’s” release as a single, it was due to be replaced on the tracklist. The Pistols returned to Wessex once more that August to record a brand-new song, “Bodies”. It was on this track Vicious recorded his only bass part for the album.
Release: With the completion of “Bodies”, the time came to finalise the album’s tracklist. Though Jon Savage claimed there were three versions of each track available, Heylin states that alternate versions for only five tracks (“EMI”, “No Feelings”, “Seventeen” and “Submission”, plus an “album” mix of “Satellite”) existed. It was not until 20 September that the tracklist was finalised, which Heylin said “suggests just how bogged down by the process they had become”. Richard Branson spent the night deciding the tracklist and which versions to use, and included all the hits on the record, despite the objections of the band, McLaren’s management company Glitterbest and most of Virgin. Due to the album’s long completion time, the Pistols and McLaren decided to release “Holidays in the Sun” backed with “Satellite” as the band’s fourth single. “Holidays in the Sun” was not as successful as past singles—it charted at number eight and dropped out of the top 20 after four weeks—which Heylin attributed to the group’s announcement that their album would be released on 4 November and that the single would be included on the LP, despite previous statements to the contrary. In an attempt to stem criticism over the decision to include all four previously released Sex Pistols singles on the forthcoming LP, Virgin indicated the possibility of an “alternative album” being issued simultaneously, featuring a new title and two new songs replacing “two of the former hit singles”. A label spokesman stated, “We’ve put the singles on the LP because most people wanted it that way. But the alternative set would enable us to overcome the multiple stores’ ban”. A ten-song test pressing was made, though no new cuts were included, with “Satellite” and “Submission” instead being added as bonus tracks.
The Sex Pistols’ contract with Virgin stated that its music would be distributed by Virgin in the United States provided Branson matched any competing offers McLaren received. However, McLaren wanted to negotiate separate deals in every territory, regardless of what the contract stipulated, which angered Branson, as the clause for American distribution was an important one he had fought for. Branson knew he had been outmanoeuvred by McLaren, for he could not sue to enforce the contract or else be perceived as acting like EMI or A&M. Competition for the band in the United States narrowed down to Warner Bros., Arista, Columbia and Casablanca Records, with Warner Bros. signing the band on 10 October for £22,000.
Before Virgin could release Never Mind the Bollocks, Richard Branson discovered that two other Sex Pistols albums were competing with his label’s. In October, a bootleg named Spunk featuring high-quality recordings of Sex Pistols demos and recording sessions with Dave Goodman was released on a label called Blank. Among the rumours of who was behind the release of the tapes included Goodman, Glen Matlock and McLaren, who has always considered Goodman’s versions to be a more accurate representation of the band. Meanwhile, the French pressing of Never Mind the Bollocks on Barclay had added “Submission” to the slated 11-song tracklist, and was due for release a week before the Virgin’s edition. As McLaren’s separate deal with Barclay meant that the French release could not be halted and given the Virgin head was aware of how easy it was for import records to arrive in Britain, Branson rushed production of Never Mind the Bollocks to ensure it would come out a week earlier than intended. Nevertheless, the Barclay version was already available in the UK at the time Virgin had its version ready. Ten thousand copies of Virgin’s pressing erroneously only listed 11 tracks on the sleeve yet contained 12 on the actual record.
Even with the availability of Spunk, the release of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols was eagerly awaited in the United Kingdom. With advance orders of 125,000 copies, Never Mind the Bollocks debuted at number one on the UK Album Charts the week after its release. A ban of the album enacted by major retailers resulted in the record selling well through independent vendors instead.
Packaging, title and obscenity case: The album was originally going to be titled God Save Sex Pistols. Jamie Reid’s cover concept refrained from including a picture of the group and instead was dayglo red and yellow in colour with cutout lettering and a finish resembling crude screen-prints. The album’s title changed in mid-1977, based on a phrase supplied by Steve Jones. Jones said he picked up the phrase “Never mind the bollocks” from two fans who would always say it to one another. Johnny Rotten explained its meaning as a working-class expression to “stop talking rubbish”.
In the United Kingdom, the album was subject to what Heylin described as “blatant acts of censorship exercised by media and retail outlets alike”. London police visited the city’s Virgin record store branches and told them they faced prosecution for indecency as stipulated by the 1899 Indecent Advertisements Act if they continued to display posters of the album cover in their windows. The displays were either toned down or removed. However, on 9 November 1977 the London Evening Standard announced on its front page headline “Police Move in on Punk Disc Shops”, and reported how a Virgin Records shop manager in Nottingham was arrested for displaying the record after being warned to cover up the word “bollocks”. Chris Seale, the shop’s manager, “it would appear, willingly set himself up as a target, possibly at Branson’s behest”, according to Heylin, who noted that he had been visited by the police on four separate occasions and resumed displaying copies of the record in the store windows after they had left on each occasion. After Seale’s arrest, Branson announced that he would cover the manager’s legal costs and hired Queen’s Counsel John Mortimer as defence. Meanwhile advertisements for Never Mind the Bollocks appearing in music papers attempted to politicize the issue, showing newspaper headlines about Sex Pistols controversies that were underlined with the message “THE ALBUM WILL LAST. THE SLEEVE MAY NOT.”
The obscenity case was heard at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court on 24 November. Mortimer presented the case as a matter of police discrimination. During his cross-examination of the arresting officer, he asked why the newspapers The Guardian and Evening Standard (which had referred to the album’s name) had not been charged under the same act. When the overseeing magistrate inquired about his line of questioning, Mortimer stated that a double-standard was apparently at play, and that “bollocks” was only considered obscene when it appeared on the cover of a Sex Pistols album. The prosecutor conducted his cross-examination “as if the album itself, and not its lurid visage, was on trial for indecency”, according to Heylin. Mortimer produced expert witnesses who were able to successfully demonstrate that the word “bollocks” was not obscene, and was actually a legitimate Old English term originally used to refer to a priest, and which, in the context of the title, meant “nonsense”. The chairman of the hearing was forced to conclude:
Much as my colleagues and I wholeheartedly deplore the vulgar exploitation of the worst instincts of human nature for the purchases of commercial profits by both you and your company, we must reluctantly find you not guilty of each of the four charges.
Legacy: In 1985, NME writers voted Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols the thirteenth greatest album of all time. In 1993, NME writers voted the album the third greatest of all time.
In 1987, Rolling Stone magazine named it the second best album of the previous 20 years, behind only The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The same magazine named it 41st on their list of the five-hundred greatest albums ever in 2003. In an interview during 2002, Rolling Stone journalist Charles M. Young stated:
Never Mind the Bollocks changed everything. There had never been anything like it before and really there’s never been anything quite like it since. The closest was probably Nirvana, a band very heavily influenced by the Sex Pistols.
In his 1995 book, The Alternative Music Almanac, Alan Cross placed the album in the number 6 spot on his 10 Classic Alternative Albums list. In 1997, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols was named the 24th greatest album of all time in a Music of the Millennium poll conducted in the United Kingdom by HMV Group, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM.
In 2005, the album was ranked #276 in Rock Hard magazine’s book of The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time. In 2006, it was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest albums ever, and in the same year NME voted the album the fourth greatest British album.
Noel Gallagher was interviewed for a television program called When Albums Ruled The World for the BBC, he said, ‘When albums ruled the world’, of the album’s opening with ‘Holidays in the sun’, “That is extremely provocative, what we can only assume is jackboots”, which he followed by saying, “As soon at that starts, everything that has gone on before is now deemed fucking irrelevant, as soon as he starts anti singing.” He then said of Pretty Vacant, “One of the 1st things you learn when you pick up the electric guitar is that riff.” He then further commented, “I made 10 albums and in my mind they don’t match up to that, and I’m an arrogant bastard. I’d give them all up to have written that, I truly would.”