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Review: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

February 3, 2018 Bands & Gigs, Blasts from the Furnace, Blogs, Music Comments Off on Review: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
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Only one record mattered to me in 1977. Tightly coiled within the grooves of a treasured seven inch single, the three minutes of sonic exhilaration soundtracked my summer during that year of street parties, flag waving and anarchy.

I wasn’t alone. After all, that was the power of The Muppets back then. When the “US frog-fronted puppet ensemble” (to quote the Guinness Book of Hit Singles) released its take on the novelty 1960s tune Mahna Mahna in May 77, the infuriating nonsense refrain swept through playgrounds like a dose of cheery chicken pox. Children across Britain were powerless to resist.

Never mind the bollocks that our older teen brothers and sisters were listening to. The Muppets made it a blissful time in which to be a kid.

I realise now, of course, that other records mattered more in 1977. While I wait in vain for a deluxe, digitally remastered version of The Muppet Show album (featuring Mahna Mahna along with other classic tracks including The Great Gonzo Eats a Rubber Tyre to the Flight of the Bumblebee), the Sex Pistols’ debut LP, also released in the year when the two-sevens clashed, is onto its umpteenth fancy reissue.

Sex Pistols 'NMTB' 40th '3D'If you failed to buy a copy of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols in any of the 40 years since its original release, you can now pick up a ruby anniversary edition that includes three CDs, a DVD of live footage and a 48-page hardback book. And if that all sounds a bit bloated and decadent – the kind of thing that might commemorate the cocaine-speckled sheen of mid-70s Fleetwood Mac rather than the Pistols’ expectorated glob of neon yellow punk bile – you probably haven’t been paying attention to the way the music industry works.

As far back as 1980, there was a Sex Pistols compilation called Flogging a Dead Horse. What makes you think they’d stop now? But if it’s the music you want, this 40th anniversary edition, released at the end of last year, is as good a means as any to acquire it.

The first CD is the original album in all its tainted, threatening glory, a fearsome burst of noise that still manages to give me the creeps. The second CD is a collection of B-sides, demo versions and alternative mixes, a breadcrumb trail of tracks that lead us to the final studio decisions made by the album’s producer, Chris Thomas. And if these versions sound raw, beware of the third disc’s collection of live recordings; they seem to spatter the listener with blood. It’s a shrill and shambolic reminder that when witnessed at first hand, this group really was incinerating what rock music had become.

In January 1978, John Lydon left the Sex Pistols, taking his rabid, rolling Rs with him, and leaving the band to collapse into a curious comic-strip caper devoid of seditious threat. Within little more than 18 months, British punk had done its job of elbowing the hippies aside and letting a new creative generation flood in. However, while the Sex Pistols may have been the shock troops, Never Mind the Bollocks’ bludgeoning garage guitars could never be a template for the good stuff to come. It would take groups like The Fall, or Gang of Four, or Lydon’s own stark and strange Public Image Limited to create the real benchmarks for rock’s reinvention.

Sex Pistols 'NMTB' 40th '3D'But listen again to Never Mind the Bollocks while holding images of 1977 in your head – the Queen’s silver jubilee and the Black and White Minstrels, picket line violence and the Muppets and me – and you sense the urgent necessity of its brutal attack, its recalibration of what was culturally worthwhile.

Four decades ago, my mind was elsewhere. But considering all the stuff I’ve listened to since, I owe Never Mind the Bollocks a lot.

And the Muppets? Not so much.

By Damon Fairclough

 

Never Mind the Bollocks: the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is out now on USM/UMC

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