Welcome to the first ever edition of Alternage Presents: Influential Punk Albums. This will be a series where I look back on punk albums, old and new, get into the history of each band, dive into an album, and break down how it impacted the punk. In this edition, I look at one of my favorite areas when it comes to the punk genre, British scene, and specifically, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.
The Sex Pistols formed in 1975 and originally consisted of Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, and Glen Matlock, who was replaced by Sid Vicious in 1977. At the time, it was quite disputed why Matlock was out of the group, but it was later revealed that he was kicked out because he didn’t “look like a Sex Pistol.” Jones later said he regretted kicking Matlock out of the band because things weren’t the same once Vicious, Johnny Rotten’s friend, was brought in. The band signed to A&M records in March of 1977 outside of Buckingham Palace.
The Sex Pistols worked on their debut record throughout the spring of 1977, trying their hardest to keep Sid out of the studio due to his incompetence as a bassist. Rumors swirled that Matlock was brought back as a studio musician in order to record the bass on the record. This was shot down, though, when it was revealed that Steve Jones recorded the bass on the album, secretly dubbing over Vicious’ recording after he left the studio. Before the release of the album, the band put out three singles that all became top ten hits: “God Save the Queen,” “Pretty Vacant,” and “Holidays in the Sun.”
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols was released on October 28, 1977, with immediate praise. Rolling Stone called it, “just about the most exciting rock & roll record of the seventies,” and said the band played “with an energy and conviction that is positively transcendent in its madness and fever.” It was an instant hit, debuting at #1 on the Billboard charts in the UK, selling over 125,000 copies in pre-sales alone.
The album received its fair share of censorship due to issues like its title, which led to an arrest of Chris Seale, the owner of a record store who refused to cover up the word “bollocks” in the window of his shop. When taken to court regarding the title of the album, it was defended that the word really was referring to the idea of nonsense and not the slang term that it was known for by most. The court ruled in favor of Seale, stating, “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.”
While the band didn’t stay away from political issues on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, they also tackled more universal topics, like not having emotional or romantic feelings for someone. Tracks that became instant hits were “Problems” and “Anarchy in the UK.” The album brought an intensity and grit that hadn’t been seen by many at the time, with Rotten’s vocals being considered as game changing, using a combination of singing and a sneering throughout the album.
To say that this album impacted the punk scene is an understatement. The Sex Pistols and this album helped pave the way for the UK punk scene. They were the poster children of punk at the time and helped other groups rise by having them as opening acts. Groups like The Clash and The Damned opened for the band before and after the release of this album, with Joe Strummer seeing punk as the future of music through The Sex Pistols. The band even hit a domino effect when it came to The Buzzcocks. Pete Shelly and Howard Devoto saw the Sex Pistols and helped organize a show for them. This led them to starting work on music for The Buzzcocks, which later down the line gave us Joy Division, The Fall, The Smiths, and Factory Records. In the American punk scene, they inspired bands like Bad Brains; “Redbone in the City” has clear similarities with “God Save the Queen.”
The mark that The Sex Pistols left on punk music forever changed it. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols inspired many artists, including the band I’ll feature next time, The Clash, and their record London Calling.