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Every song on the Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks ranked from worst to best

Never Mind The Bollocks was furious, funny, and wildly obnoxious. It also showed that the Sex Pistols knew how to write classic rock songs better than most...

Despite having released only one single by that point, by the spring of 1977 The Sex Pistols were the biggest news in British music. And yet the punk movement’s most high-profile standard bearers still had to prove to a lot of rock fans that punk had some musical substance to back up the hype. The Clash, The Damned, The Jam and several others already had debut albums out, and The Pistols were being swamped by their own self-created chaos.

They’d recently sacked bass player Glen Matlock, and when they went into the studio in March 1977 with his replacement, Sid Vicious, they found that he couldn’t play the required parts.

While the band signed and then unsigned to A&M records after being dropped like a hot potato by EMI, guitarist Steve Jones stepped into the breach to play the bass bits, and eventually, once the band finally inked a deal with Virgin, Never Mind The Bollocks… made it into shops at the end of October 1977. A less than promising background then, but as it turned out, it was worth the wait.


12. Seventeen

Side two’s opener proved to be one of the less focused tracks on this most sharp-eyed of records. There’s a certain weary, can’t-be-arsed quality to it, which, I guess, suits its subject matter. The final rabble-rousing chant “I’m a lazy sod” is one of the few times on this first album that they manage to sound indistinguishable from Sham 69. They could do better, and did.

11. Liar

This one can sound pretty, well, vacant at times, with vague, incoherent lyrics, but the fieriness of Rotten’s delivery, along with some of Paul Cook’s most splenetic drumming and the trademark snarling riff assault, lifts this track above mere filler status.

10. New York

Any group with Johnny Rotten on the mic is always going to sound pretty ferocious, but if anything, the Pistols suited the fast and furious approach that defined punk in the first place, which meant that this slower, sludgier track didn’t stand out as much as some of its neighbours.

9. Submission

Reputedly the result of Malcolm McLaren suggesting the band write a song about S&M, instead they wrote about being on “a submarine mission for you baby”, by way of a two-fingered salute to their beloved svengali. “I can’t figure out your watery love,” growls Rotten, to a slow, sludgy soundtrack. No, us neither, but the track still retains a certain sleazy menace.

8. EMI

Songs about ‘the industry’ are rarely enervating stuff for the listener, but the Pistols had already had enough run-ins with labels to last a whole career. Lyrically, this final, ‘fuck you and goodbye’ track is satisfyingly stinging – “You do not believe that we’re for real, or you would lose your cheap appeal” – and the refrain “Who? EEE-EMM-IIIII!’ always packs a punch. it’s rant first, song second, but few have ever ranted better than Johnny Rotten.

7. No Feelings

A wired, urgent rocker that spews the Pistols’ world-view all over the pavement, and asks us what we’re going to do about it. “I got no emotion for anybody else / better understand I’m in love with myself,” he hollers. Meanwhile, the vim and fizz of the performance suggest otherwise – nihilists or not, they still aim to thrill.

6. Bodies

By the standards of a band who would later release a song called Belsen Was A Gas, a song about a “girl from Birmingham / she just had an abortion” should be relatively easy-going fare. But the brutal judgement served on this woman (“Pauline”, allegedly a real Pistols fan who told them of abortions she’d had) in Rotten’s lyrics make for wince-inducing listening..

Yet it’s one of the strongest tracks on the record, partly because it’s so disturbing – I mean, you weren’t under the impression punk was meant to tread carefully around such topics were you? Pretty much the definition of Uneasy Listening.

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5. Problems

Lit up by Steve Jones’ slashingly simple but brutally effective guitar riff, this high-octane rocker could quite easily have been a fifth single from the album, had the band not near-imploded by that point. One of the heaviest tracks on the record and, aside from the singles, certainly among the best.

4. Holidays In The Sun

The Pistols’ first post-Matlock composition, and the album opener, began with the sound of jackboots marching and ended with Rotten wibbling incoherently about wanting to go “under the Berlin Wall”, by which point, we were too busy pogoing to question what he was on about.

The main riff may have sounded suspiciously similar to that of The Jam’s In The City, but you make your own rules in the punk game. Lines such as “a cheap holiday in other people’s misery” would prove to be among the best Rotten ever wrote, and the fascistic chant of “Reason, reason, reason” gave it a dystopian edge that only added to the sense of Year Zero that punk loved to promote.

3. Pretty Vacant

The Pistols’ third single is lifted to greatness chiefly by one of Johnny Rotten’s finest vocal performances, in which he snarls, sneers and roars an anthem of defiance for a blank generation while sounding anything but vacant – rather he seems to be storing up enough angry energy to fuel Britain’s wind farms for decades to come. As ever it’s built around a blindingly simple base – a handful of chugging power chords, a chantalong chorus and a few well-chosen lines (“You’ll always find us… out to luunch!”), but its powerful enough to shake any laid-back muso out of their complacency.

2. Anarchy In The UK

There can’t have been many more hair-raising couplets in rock history than “I am an anti-christ! I am an anar-kyste!”, and its impact has hardly been dulled with time or repeated listens. The scattershot references to the IRA, UDA, NME and council tenancies, and vows to “destroy passers by” made their singer sound genuinely unhinged and capable of doing serious damage to anyone within gobbing distance, while the pounding, relentless rock rhythm section underneath it make resistance futile.

1. God Save The Queen

Claiming to be an anti-christ, and indeed, an ‘anar-kyste’ were startling enough claims for a rock’n’roll frontman to make, but to then publicly dismiss our reigning monarch, observing “she ain’t no human being” in the year of her universally celebrated Silver Jubilee, represented a whole new level of provocation to the establishment. In terms of timing alone, this is a work of spittle-flecked, petulant genius.

More importantly, though, it’s also a roaring, swaggering firecracker of a rock’n’roll song, the like of which we’ve rarely heard before or since. One that sets your pulse racing just as thrillingly as “A Wop Bob A Loo Bop, A Wop Bam Boom” did 20 years previously

And that coda of “No future, no future for you” summed up much of the uniting sentiments that drew together punk’s audience of disaffected youth in the first place. Punk may have been dismissed as a novelty back then, but they’ll be playing this one long after her majesty is dead and gone.

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