Sex Pistols' Shock Album Grows Old Disgracefully

By | October 27, 2002 at 12:00 AM

The seminal album of British punk rock celebrates its 25th birthday on Monday and shows no sign of growing old gracefully.

On October 28, 1977, the Sex Pistols unleashed their debut album, “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols,” on an unsuspecting world.

It shot straight to the top of the album charts and stayed there for an astonishing 47 weeks.

Everything about the album was designed to shock, from its provocative title, its 12 short, explosive songs and its garish pink and yellow pop art album cover.

The names of the tracks were printed on the album sleeve in wonky black type, making them look like classic anonymous ransom demands cobbled together from letters cut out of newspapers.

Aggressively marketed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Records, it quickly became the defining album of punk. The faces of the band’s frontman Johnny Rotten (news) and bassist Sid Vicious leered out at television viewers across the land.

“The Sex Pistols were a turning point for us, the band we had been looking for,” Branson later wrote in his autobiography.

“(They) generated more newspaper cuttings than anything else in 1977 apart from the (Queen’s) Silver Jubilee itself. Their notoriety was practically a tangible asset.”


The album even spawned a court case.

A week after its release, a policewoman spotted a window display in a record shop which consisted of a dozen Sex Pistols posters and album covers, all with the “B” word prominently displayed.

She marched into the shop, ordered the display to be dismantled and arrested the manager, who was charged under the Indecent Advertising Act.

The case, heard in the central city of Nottingham later that month, revolved around the alleged indecency of the word bollocks – British slang for testicles.

The decisive evidence came from James Kingsley, a professor of English at Nottingham University and a former priest, who successfully argued that the word was accepted slang and had been in use for centuries.

He explained that a bollock was an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “small ball.” Bollocks was also 18th century slang for clergymen, owing to their reputation for talking nonsense, or, in common parlance, a load of old balls.

Kingsley won the day, the shop manager was acquitted and the Pistols’ notoriety was assured.


Two tracks, above all, stood out from the album – “God Save the Queen” and “Anarchy in the UK.”

The first, a crude tirade against Queen Elizabeth and her family, was punk’s riposte to the outpouring of monarchist fervor which had swept the nation months earlier during the queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations.

“God Save the Queen, the fascist regime,” the track begins. “God Save the Queen, she ain’t no human being… and our figurehead is not what she seems.”

The Pistols marked the track’s release as a single by steaming up the River Thames on a boat, mooring outside the House of Commons and playing it at full blast from the deck.

The album’s other key track, “Anarchy in the UK,” opens with Rotten’s menacing laugh, followed by his braying voice.

“I am an antichrist, I am an anarchist,” he sings, stretching the norms of English rhyme to breaking point.

It wasn’t subtle but it struck a chord with restless young Britons, fed up with the feel-good disco tracks and saccharine ballads which dominated the charts at the time.

A quarter of a century on, “Never Mind the Bollocks” has lost a lot of its shock appeal.

Measured against albums released by rap and hip-hop artists today, it barely merits a “parental guidance” sticker to warn parents of its explicit lyrics. But the album, along with the heroin-induced death of Vicious in 1979 and his girlfriend Nancy a year earlier, have ensured the lurid fascination with the Pistols has endured.

“God Save the Queen” was re-released earlier this year to coincide with the Golden Jubilee and a Hollywood director has mooted a film about the life of the band members.

“Never Mind the Bollocks” is 25. God forbid it should ever slip into quiet, middle-aged respectability.

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