Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here Come the Sex Pistols (1978)

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ImageFrom the first, the Sex Pistols have evidenced an almost uncanny ability to turn heads. At a time when they had only three U.K. singles to their credit, they managed to garner big-money contracts from a succession of British labels and to inspire a furious bidding war among U.S. record companies. Though banned by the BBC and officially prohibited from performing in England, also, the Pistols have topped U.K. singles charts and become a major concert attraction there (while touring as the Spots, an acronym for Sex Pistols on Tour Secretly). In addition, they have received an incredible amount of positive attention in Britain’s music press and have made the cover of Rolling Stone.

Though such achievements and the audition of a few imported singles raised my expectations to a rather high level, the arrival of Never Mind the Bollocks did nothing to deflate them. Some will say that the instrumentation on this American debut is rudimentary, that group-leader Johnny Rotten sounds like a demented kid with a throat disease and that many of the lyrics are damn near unintelligible. They will be right. But this record, which frequently reminds me of the “My Generation”-era Who, contains some of the most dynamic music I’ve heard in years. Its deliberately obscured lyircs, like those of many 60s groups, reward those who listen long enough to decipher them. And front man Rotten, the quintessential angry young man, projects enough energy to light up New York City till the year 2000.

He and his cohorts focus their maniacal rage mainly on the decimation of England, a country where 18-year-olds face a 50 percent unemployment rate, class distinctions have become increasingly sharp and royalty has become an offensive anachronism to many. In “God Save the Queen,” a venomous, sardonic tune that topped British charts while its subject celebrated her Silver Jubilee, the group proclaims, “God save the Queen / She ain’t no human being / And there’s no future / In England’s dreaming.” “Anarchy in the U.K.,” my current favorite on the LP, offers an equally harsh assessment. England, sings Johnny Rotten, is not a glorious empire but “just another country” where anarchy may be right around the corner. That would be fine with the iconoclastic singer, who opens the song by calling himself an “anti-Christ” and closes it by screaming “destroy!”

Though tempered by a subtle, pervasive sense of humor, those are potent, frequently chilling declarations—particularly for the British. Imagine what it woudl be like if an American group hit on AM radio with a song about anarchy in this country; and while you’re fantasizing, imagine that the U.S. bicentennial had been marked by a chart-topper about the President being a subhuman leader of a fascist regime.

Of course, most such sentiments are as silly, simplistic and/or downright lamentable as the ravings of the MC5, an apparent Sex Pistols prototype that also empasized shock value. Even if the Pistols are sincere (and who knows), moreover, one suspects that they have a future in England’s upper class. Warner Brothers, which employs a pretentious, pseudo-makeshift dust sleeve on this debut, does what it can to portray the Pistols as street-rooted paupers. But they are, after all, signed to a big company; and they’ve already made more money than most other punk-rock groups put together. Like Alice Cooper, Mick Jagger and a host of other once-fledgling rockers, these “anarchists” will probably soon be just four more faces in the jet set.

But that’s rock ‘n’ roll, and it doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter that while I love the group, I wouldn’t necessarily want to be in the same room with them. What does matter is that, like a pitifully small number of other current rock LPs, this disc explodes on the turntable in a torrent of emotional fervor.

In the sanitized 70s, we need that mroe than ever. Sure, there’s a place for slick, carefully restrained groups like the Carpenters. But I, for one, am ready for a little craziness amidst all the polished, predictable pop. If you feel the same way, it’s time to head for your friendly neighborhood record store. Demand a copy of this LP and play it loud enough to wake the whole town. The 60s may be dead but, where the Pistols play, raw emotional outrage rocks on.

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