...one of the great ranting tracts against middle class mediocrity...
Chris Jones 2007
History plays funny tricks, but for anyone who was around in the Summer of ’77 it seemed like this album was always there. In fact Never Mind The Bollocks…was released in October of that year due to label wrangles that had seen the band jump from A&M to EMI and thence Virgin, as manager, Malcolm McLaren wheedled yet larger amounts of cash from the fiasco. However a large proportion of the band’s fans had heard the charmingly entitled Spunk bootleg featuring demos for the album. With just about every track in place it showed that what was to come was every bit as good as we’d been led to believe.
This was Iggy and The Stooges’ Raw Power fed through a glam filter and served up with panache. It was a stroke of genius to use producer Chris Thomas, who had helped shape one of glam’s masterpieces: For Your Pleasure by Roxy Music. To be fair, the Pistols’ aesthetic reeked more of Gary Glitter than any art school pretentiousness. After all they were staunchly anti-pose in any sense of the word. But the album has a rich, deep sound that makes it far more enduring than contemporaneous releases like the Clash’s or the Jam’s debuts.
While the most middle class member of the band, bassist Glen Matlock, had been ejected by this point, his replacement, Sid Vicious was proving to be nothing more than a figurehead for the generations of cartoon punkdom to come. He couldn’t play. So Matlock was redrafted for the sessions. Rumour has it that session guru, Chris Spedding, was also recruited to fill out the sound, though Steve Jones has to take a vast amount of credit for the creative process here. His arpeggiated chords and muscular riffing defined their sound and remains distinctively recognisable to this day.
The one thing that was entirely new was, of course, the singer. John ‘Johnny Rotten’ Lydon had been spotted by Jones for all the right reasons. The ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ t-shirt; the green hair and the sneering, almost Dickensian persona were ideal to cement the reputation of the band as the tabloid reader’s betes noires. What’s more he was cleverer than people realised, and musically knowledgeable too. His love of prime krautrock (Neu!, Can etc.) and the distinctly un-cool (for the times) Peter Hammill of Van Der Graaf Generator, made the band’s situationism even more potent.
The lyrics are iconoclastic and yet resonate with relevance even today. “Holidays In The Sun” with its Nazi rally opening contains a huge amount of sobering truth just in its first line: ‘A cheap holiday in other people’s misery’. Lydon’s Catholic upbringing was also brought to the fore in “Bodies”, a scouring attack on abortion. Far more than just an anti-everything diatribe, Bollocks is full of with and bile. No one is spared, especially not the band’s previous label (“EMI”) or their pre-punk heroes, the New York Dolls (“New York”).
Along with Nirvana’s masterpiece, Nevermind, thirty years later, Never Mind The Bollocks stands as one of the great ranting tracts against middle class mediocrity. Every child should have a copy.