The saga of the first Sex Pistols Ip was tortuous in the extreme. Everybody concerned -the band, Glitterbest, and Virgin Records - fought about the track listing, the release date, indeed about whether the Sex Pistols should release an album at all.
This state of confusion is reflected in the graphics. Early proofs show some of the permutations the Ip went through. It was originally called 'God Save Sex Pistols' until Steve Jones came up with the final title. The changes went on, deliberately, right up until the point that the record was rush-released to avoid competition from importing.
Another reason for all the proofs was that the finished sleeve was a printing tour de force. It took Jamie many goes to get the final product right, partly because of difficulties in the actual printing process. Yellow is a notoriously bad colour to print as it shows up any impurities in the process very clearly. And, although the sleeve gives the impression of being simple, it uses a series of complex overlays. Fluorescent colours are hard to print as well, which doubled the difficulty.
The sleeve caused a stir when it came out, partly because it appeared shoddy and partly because it didn't feature any picture of the band, instead appearing as some obscure, anonymous manifesto. In fact, it was a feature of the finished sleeve that it deteriorated very quickly: if left out in the sunlight, the yellow and the pink faded, just leaving the black of the overlays.
The album's title also caused a stir on its release. Some music and trade papers refused to carry the word 'Bollocks', the ISA banned some scheduled advertising, and a Nottingham record shop owner, Christopher Seale was prosecuted for indecent advertisement under an 1889 Act. Glitterbest wanted to force the issue and in fact printed up a fake police notice - using the old Suburban Press techniques - in preparation for a campaign on being found guilty. However, Virgin hired John Mortimer and 'Bollocks' was made legal.
Almost as an indulgence, Jamie and John Varnom put together a poster for the album slightly after the event. All the songs from the album have their own graphic - a relic from the time when it was planned that the Sex Pistols would just release ten singles - and were collaged together. The repeated 'Liar' image, used for the Hamilton's catalogue, dates from this period.
(Extract from 'Up They Rise' - Jamie Reid)
SEX PISTOLS 'Never Mind The Bollocks' (Virgin)
WHAT ARE you waiting for? True love, school to end, Third World/civil war, more wars in the Third World, a leader, the commandos to storm the next aeroplane, next week's NME, The Revolution? THE SEX Pistols album! Hail, hail, rock and roll, deliver them from evil but lead them not into temptation. Keep them quiet/off the street/content.
Hey punk! You wanna elpee-sized 'Anarchy' single? You wanna original 'Anarchy' in a black bag? You wanna bootleg album? You wanna collect butterflies? Very fulfiling, collecting things... very satisfying. Keep you satisfied, make you satisfied, make you fat and old, queueing for the rock and roll show. The Sex Pistols. They could have dreamed up the name and died. The hysterical equation society makes of love/a gun = power/crime shoved down its own throat, rubbed in its own face. See, I'm just as repressed and contaminated as the next guy. And I like The Sex Pistols. Aesthetically, apart from anything else. Three of them are very good-looking. And the sound of the band goes..."/ don't wanna holiday in the sun/I wanna go to the city/There's a thousand things I wanna say to you..." All very Weller, but is this a Jagger I see before me? No, it's the singles, all four of them - 'Anarchy In The U.K', 'God Save The Queen', 'Pretty Vacant', and 'Holidays In The Sun' - constituting one third (weigh it) of the vinyl. Of course, there are other great songs, this is no first-round knock-out. This is no Clash attending the CBS convention; no Jam voting Conservative; no Damned fucking an American girl with a Fender bass; no Stranglers distorting Trotsky and Lenin for their own cunt-hating, bully-boy ends.
No, this is The Sex Pistols. The band which started it all. Great songs like 'Submission', a numb-nostrilled 'Venus In Furs'/'Penetration'/'I Wanna Be Your Dog', in form hypnotic, in content writhing. Pain through a dull, passive haze. Is that a whip in your hand or are you abnormal?
"Submission/Going down, dragging her down/Submission/I can't tell you what I've found". Smack? Geeks? What's the mystery and who grew up on New York Dolls? Dogs yelp as the drill continues. Most unhealthy and ya like it like that? Well, it grows on you. A bit like a cancer.
Great songs like 'No Feelings': "I got no emotion for anybody else/You better understand I'm in love with myself/My self/My beautiful self. Ah, solipsism rules, as Tony Parsons used to say before he got wise. Good dance tune, anyway, while 'Problems' says it all: "Bet you thought you had it all worked out/Bet you thought you knew what I was about/Bet you thought you 'd solved all your problems/But YOU are the problem".
Watcha gonna do? Vegetate? Listen to The Sex Pistols album? Great songs gone, ineffectual flicks of the wrist like 'New York', which probably has David Johansen quaking in his heels, and 'E.M.I'. You guessed it, they're bitching. "You're only twenty-nine/You gotta lot to learn". In spite of this inspired opening, 'Seventeen' rambles a little and the guitars do go on a bit. "I just speed/That's all I need".
Whaddya think of it so far? Well, I've saved the best bit for you to linger over. You've already heard two songs the band co-wrote with Sid Vicious (as opposed to Glen Matlock, The True Pop Kid): 'E.M.I' and 'Holidays In The Sun'. Here's the third. It's called 'Bodies'. "She was a girl from Birmingham/She had just had an abortion/She was a case of obscenity/Her name was Pauline, she lived in a tree/ She was a no one who killed her baby/She was an animal/ She was a bloody disgrace/Bodies/l'm not an animal/Bodies/I'm not an animal/Dragged on a table in a factory/An illegitimate place to be/In a packet in a lavatory/Died in a baby screaming/Bodies/Screaming fucking bloody mad/Not an animal/It's an abortion/Bodies/I'm not an animal/ Mummy/I'm not an abortion/Look at it squirm/Gurgling bloody mess/I'm not a discharge/She don't want who likes that/I don't want a baby who looks like that/I'm not an animal/I'm not an animal/I'm not an animal/Mummy".
What? Good God? Was I shocked! Did I jump! Is that what they wanted, to shock people? Do they mean it? Is it satire of the most dubious kind? Did John's Catholic schooling leave its mark? I don't know where 'Bodies' is coming from and it scares me. It's obviously a gutter view of sex/dirt/blood/reproduction and if the song is an attack on such a mentality it's admirable.
But, as with 'Holidays In The Sun', Rotten never allows himself to make a moral judgement and, going by things he's said, he seems refreshingly capable of making them. I wish The Sex Pistols had said in 'Bodies' that women should not be forced to undergo such savagery, especially within a "Welfare" State. I'm sick of unlimited tolerance and objectivity, because it leads to annihilation. I wish everyone would quit sitting on the fence in the middle of the road. I think 'Bodies' will be open to much misinterpretation and that to issue it was grossly irresponsible.
I don't really know anything about music but The Sex Pistols seem to play as well as anyone I've heard, and I've heard Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend records. I never knew what was meant by "guitar hero" - it sounds like the kind of phrase a mental retard might mouth. "Guitar hero" - you mean as in "war hero", that kind of thing?
Why should anyone wish to play more usefully than Steve Jones, or drum more elaborately than Paul Cook, or play better bass than Sid Vicious? What purpose could it serve to outdo them?
So what are The Sex Pistols? For the tabloids a welcome rest from nubiles; for the dilettantes, a new diversion (Ritz has a monthly punk column); for the promoters, a new product to push; for the parents, a new excuse; for the kids, a new way (in the tradition of the Boy Scouts, the terraces and One-Up-Man-Ship) in which to dissipate their precious energy.
Johnny Rotten, Oliver Twist of this generation: "I wanna some MORE, Malcolm!"
(Julie Burchill - New Musical Express 4th November 1977)