The first incarnation of the band, without Johnny Rotten, was The Strand (in appreciation of Roxy Music and their 1973 hit of the same name), then The Swankers and, after meeting Malcom McLaren, the Sex Pistols.
“The Sex Pistols happened by virtue of my effete, cavalier methods of being a shop owner and haberdasher on the King’s Road and stopping kids stealing trousers out of my shop,” said McLaren. “[The shop] was intriguing for a generation of disaffected beings who decided that they couldn’t stand the thought of standing in that crowd any more, looking at those arena rock bands. [They wanted] to have a go themselves.”
Sex Pistol, Glenn Matlock, found himself working in McLaren’s shop, on occasion, “Even before John was in the band we had a spirit about the band. It mainly came from Steve (Jones) and then hanging out at Malcolm’s shop. Even then, before we started the band properly, we thought that we were ‘where it was at’ – and everyone else was past it.”
What was needed, however, was for someone to put that feeling into words – enter John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten). He met the rest of the band in 1975 after being spotted wearing a ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ T-shirt. Lydon was wearing the safety pin get-up even then – a major annoyance to the flappy flair brigade.
“I went out to sell Johnny Rotten – someone who couldn’t sing – and a band who couldn’t play,” declared McLaren. Although, not everyone give Malcom the credit for the band or that seminal album, ”None of it was McLaren,” retorted Lydon, “that was me. He likes to take the credit for other people’s work. He was a silly person. Always too full of himself, pretentious. You keep hearing this Svengali nonsense – it annoyed me very, very much.” Ah, politics. The band signed to EMI in 1976 and then, in 1977, Virgin, where the album was released.
Never Mind… is a truly great rock album, even placing the politics and chaos to one side. Anarchy In The UK, the band’s first single, for example, was explosive, as McLaren explained, “We only might know three chords but we have one fabulous word – and that’s Anarchy. It’s the attitude and, if you don’t like it, run for cover because we’re coming to get you.”
Matlock revealed that the impetus for Anarchy derived from a Faces 12-bar song called Have Me A Real Good Time. The band starting jamming, using that song as a basis, which then metamorphosed into Anarchy…. The lyrics, from Lydon, were inspired by the album’s cover artist, Jamie Reid, who had political, Situationist Manifesto pamphlets in which words like ‘anarchy’ were floating around. Lydon picked up on the flavour of the words, molding them into his own diatribe, “I wrote the words in 20 minutes, straight off the top of my head,” said Lydon. “It’s not so much what you say but how you say it. That’s what matters. We didn’t believe in poetry.”
The band were not seen as poets either, more a novelty, a toy, a new fad, something to prod like zoo animals. TV presenter, Bill Grundy, thought so. In fact, he launched the band to a new level of public awareness when he encouraged the Pistols to swear on prime time TV, catapulting the band to superstardom status and ruining his own career in the process, “Before that, we were building momentum in the music world,” said Pistols’ bassist, Steve Jones, “but as soon as we did the Grundy show, it wasn’t about music – it became who’s going to swear here, who’s going to throw up now. It became a bit of a joke, but you couldn’t buy that publicity.”
The album and the band took the world and music by storm, “When the Sex Pistols were laid to rest I think people were still recovering from shock,” declared McLaren. And boy did the band die – imploded more like. Touring the USA to publicise the album, now without Matlock but with Sid Vicious, the tour only lasted 14 days before the band broke-up. The Sex Pistols took just 18 months to help change the face of music for ever. They didn’t do it on their own – despite what the music press will have you believe. The Ramones were arguably more influential on a world stage and The Clash broke more social and musical boundaries. Yet, the Pistols were a musical force and highly influential. Above all? They sounded English. The band could only have derived from England unlike their fellow, surrogate, Yankee-Brits, the ‘Stadia Bands’ – more imitations than the real thing.
As far as finding the ‘best’ version of the album itself? There’s two real suggestions for you.…vinyl junkies need to hunt down the original UK vinyl release (although, as collectors will know, there are various different pressings to contend with). The best early CD version, the Virgin edition released in 1985, contains the extra track, Submission.
Universal also released a luxurious CD box set, around 2012, containing untold goodies but, more importantly, as Steve Jones said, “I think it’s a lot better. Whenever we’ve remastered in the past, it’s always been off a CD, as we lost the original master tapes. Miraculously, they were found in a studio vault we didn’t know existed. Things are a bit brighter this time and you hear the other bits and bobs you don’t usually hear on the record. I’m well happy with it.”
The tapes were remastered, for the very first time, by Tim Young under direction from original producer Chris Thomas. Along the way, a lost 1977 demo studio recording of ‘Belsen Was A Gas’, the only original Sex Pistols composition of the era thought not to be recorded, was found. In the box, there’s also the infamous Spunk bootleg album, released for the very first time in its original, untouched form, combined with a selection of unreleased Chris Thomas demos and outtakes from the recording of the album – including tracks with Sid Vicious on bass – plus all the original B-sides, live audio and a live 1977 DVD produced by Julien Temple and featuring many previously unseen performances plus DVD extras of promo videos and radio interviews.
Then there’s the hardback, 100-page 12” by 12” diary with quotes, rare and previously unseen photos, memorabilia and exclusive images. You also get a reproduction of the withdrawn God Save The Queen, 7” A&M single plus a poster, stickers and lyrics.
A magnificent box set for a magnificent album. As ‘Johnny Rotten’ said in a 1977 interview, the reason that the album was so good was because it required very little thought, “We just do it, which is more to the point. Do it and when you can’t do it no more, then don’t do it at all. If you have to sit down in your room and go ‘I’ve got to write a song, but what about?’…that’s rubbish. It just comes. It’s there.’