Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols (1977)
Welcome back to YDCS! I had a bit of a break last week with Thanksgiving and family in town, but we’re back this week with the singularly most influential album in the history of the punk movement, Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols (Shorted to Here’s The Sex Pistols from here out) by the Sex Pistols. A controversial group to say the least, the band was barred from performing in parts of Great Britain and were led by hardcore anarcho-anti-establishmentarian Johnny Rotten. After being dropped by their record label and being rejected by almost every other label out there, they were picked up by Virgin Records for their one and only studio album. When you have one album to espouse your feelings against ‘The Man,’ what do you do? You make sure you fit as many of your radical ideas in as possible, and shout for the heavens and ears of the crowds to hear. Here’s The Sex Pistols was a massive hit and the attempted censorship by the British government did more to fuel the flames of interest than it did to quell them. Although the band never had another studio album, the punk legacy that they started in 38 minutes revolutionized music for the next four decades.
Here’s The Sex Pistols is the grandfather of the punk movement that started to form around this time, and I would assert that this album influenced the later development of grunge, alternative, and indie. Countless bands, from Nirvana to Guns ‘N Roses and more, have gone on to credit their success, in part, due to the groundbreaking nature of the Sex Pistols. Here’s The Sex Pistols is a rock album at its core and embodies the essence of rock and roll. You may not agree with the band, their politics, or even like their sound, but what you can’t deny is that they stood up for what they believed in, in the face of government and commercial censorship, and shouted for everyone to hear. Rock and roll is all about standing up for yourself and standing up to ‘The Man.’ The Sex Pistols were the first ones to do it with anger, incorporating obscene language, controversial ideas, and a sound that had never been heard before. I hope you enjoy this slice of musical history! Never mind my commentary, here’s the Sex Pistols!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Holidays in the Sun: Could you imagine putting a record on in 1977 and this is the first song that you hear?! Rolling Stone magazine’s top albums for 1977 were this, two albums by the Ramones, then Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, Low by David Bowie, Aja by Steely Dan, and a Jimmy Buffet album. A split clearly occurred in 1977 between mainstream pop rock and emerging subgenres in rock. “Holidays in the Sun” sounds absolutely nothing like anything else on that list, and you know exactly what you’ll be listening to as soon as that wailing guitar opens up and the ‘Johnny Rotten sneer vocals’ start. The lyrics tell the story of a band vacation to the Jersey shore that turned in to a trip to West Berlin, and the song features a shredder of a solo in the middle. This is stereotypical punk and a fantastic track. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Bodies: A song that has maybe never captured the emotion of an abortion quite so clearly, “Bodies” is a shocking song now and was part of the reason for the original censorship of the album. Not only did the band present their reality of abortion (leaving interpretation up to the listener), they managed to use no fewer than five ‘f-words’ to do it. I don’t care for the subject matter, but I do respect that the band was brave enough to speak their mind, and like true artists, let the listener make up their mind. They don’t tell you what to think, just angrily present their experience. Dad’s Rating 8/10
No Feelings: I liked “No Feelings” quite a bit. Musically this is one of the more engaging songs on the record with a great breakdown in the middle that’s definitely worth checking out. If you’re not keen on Rotten’s voice then this is probably the softest introduction to it. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Liar: “Liar” initially doesn’t sound like anything else on the album with a simple drum beat and single strummed chord introduction. Where the rest of the album features guitars turned up to 11 and almost indistinguishable lyrics, “Liar” goes a step above by showing that even on a ‘soft’ song the band manages to be brash. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Problems: One of the best displays of musicality on the album, there’s a lot of skill shown across every section on “Problems.” Rotten’s vocals are at some of their most dynamic on this track, Steve Jones’ ability on the guitar is on full display, both in the solo and on the rocking bass line, and Paul Cook’s drums are in full fury. I recommend listening to this one a few times to get the full effect of each section, but even if you only listen to it once, it’s a great track. Ending with lyrics that drone “Problem” is a great artistic decision. It’s an awesome example of how when there are too many problems for society to fix and they require personal action, no matter how much you hear droning about the problem, you’re not going to be incentivized to change until it affects you personally. Great track! Dad’s Rating 8/10
God Save the Queen: A song so controversial that it was banned from airplay in England. You know what they say about things that are banned, it just makes people want it more. “God Save the Queen” is a stunning rebuke of the monarchy, likening it to fascism, and statement on the future of England under a monarch, making tongue-in-cheek use of the title of the national anthem. This is possibly one of the most politically charged and significant songs in the history of rock. Songs like this show the fullest extent of freedom of speech. Without challenging the status quo, we become complacent as a society. Challenging the status quo reminds us that there are people who don’t agree with it and reminds us of our basic rights. Most people won’t agree with the band likening the monarchy to fascism, but it’s important to hear their voice. Dad’s Rating 10/10
Seventeen: “Seventeen” is one of my least favorite songs on the album. I interpreted it to be a satirical look at people who are lazy and don’t want to contribute to society, but I think it’s a little too well done to hit that on the nose. It comes off as autobiographical as opposed to satirical. Not their best piece. Dad’s Rating 5/10
Anarchy in the U.K.: I think that the message on this one is pretty clear. This is the most punk rock song to ever punk rock. A call to arms advocating violent anarchy, particularly from the militarized political groups of the 1970s, including the groups involved in the civil wars in Ireland and Angola, “Anarchy in the U.K.” is legendary in punk rock circles. Musically, this is a wall of sound. There’s almost no discerning different track loops, the instruments are all playing on top of each other, and it’s a fantastic song. Again, not agreeing with the message, but its cultural significance can’t be understated. “Anarchy in the U.K.” set the standard for what punk would sound like, and there’s only a few songs that can claim something similar. Dad’s Rating 10/10
Sub-Mission: “Sub-Mission” is a lot like “Liar” in that it doesn’t sound like the rest of the album. That’s particularly refreshing considering that if you’ve listened up to this point then you’ve been assaulted with sound for the past 30 minutes. This is one of the more experimental and comparatively restrained songs on the album. It features what sounds like a synthesizer but may also be tapping on the guitar interspersed throughout the song. I liked this song, it’s a great song that doesn’t get as much attention as the big ones on this record. It’s a very different sound for the band and shows the range of what punk can be. Give this one a listen! Dad’s Rating 7/10
Pretty Vacant: This is probably the most standard rock track on the album. It kicks off a softer sounding end to the album that focuses more on the message in the lyrics than throwing a deafening sound at your face. “Pretty Vacant” is an unsurprising rock track that condemns mindless public thought. It’s not the best song on the album, it just doesn’t stick out. Dad’s Rating 6/10
New York: I like “New York” more than I do “Pretty Vacant.” It has a harder rock sound than the former, however; it displays the same level of musicianship and more vitriolic songwriting than before. I suppose I expected every song to be about taking down ‘The Man,’ and when these last few songs turned into more personal critiques, I became less interested. Dad’s Rating 6/10
EMI: “EMI” is a good way to finish the album! Is there a better way to finish an album off than giving the proverbial finger to your old record label?! Not only did they call them out on their record with a different label, but it’s a legitimately good song! You won’t find bands doing this anymore, and it goes to show that the Sex Pistols were about more than making money, they were about making a statement. Dad’s Rating 7/10
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