National Album Day: The album that changed my life
October 13 has been announced as the first 'National Album Day' – a day to celebrate the UK's love of the album. We talk to Martin James, course leader of our popular music journalism course who tells us about the album which changed his life…
October 13 has been announced as the first ‘National Album Day’ – a day to celebrate the UK’s love of the album. We talk to Martin James, course leader of our BA (Hons) Popular Music Journalism course who tells us about the album that changed his life…
...Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols (Virgin 1977)
The first band I ever saw was Pink Floyd. I was bored.
A few days later I first heard the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’. I was enthralled. In those few moments my life changed forever. I went home, took in my flared jeans, ripped up my t-shirt, cut my hair shorter, swapped my platform shoes for baseball boots and declared myself a punk rocker. My parents were… disappointed.
So what was it that captured my imagination with such passion? The thrill seeking, breakneck speed, three-minute songs with snarling vocals was certainly part of the appeal. The outrageously attired band and fans were definitely another. The combination of horror and disgust among older music fans was also an important attraction. But the main thing was that this felt… real. Where Pink Floyd seemed arrogant and distant, the Sex Pistols was close up, in your face and about as personal as music could get. This was ours.
It’s surely every teenager’s right to consider their music to represent the defining moment of their lives. Punk was our rock’n’roll, our prog rock, our glam rock – only it was better than any of the dinosaurs that had gone before. Put simply 1976 was my year zero and punk became my defining youth moment and, as soon as it touched me, my Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Todd Rundgren albums were shoved to the back of the cupboard and gradually replaced by wonderful slices of 7″ vinyl by the likes of The Ramones, The Clash, The Damned, Eater, The Buzzcocks, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Penetration and The Adverts.
But no one seemed quite so relevant, quite so threatening to me as a 14 year old boy, as the Sex Pistols. For a brief moment they felt like the most dangerous band on the planet. Singles like ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and the later ‘God Save the Queen’ were pure outsider uproar with Jamie Ried’s cut and paste sleeve-art designed to challenge society’s sacred cows as much as the music did.
When my dad, an otherwise level headed, intelligent man, saw the band swear on national TV he declared that he would smash any records by this filth if I ever brought them into his house. So I hid my Sex Pistols records under my bed, in a space marked ‘my generation’. Such was his hatred of the band I think he’d have preferred me to keep a collection of porn there.
But the Sex Pistols felt like pornography. They felt forbidden. And when the album came out in 1977 that generational divide seemed to gape like the Grand Canyon - an aching chasm between what once was and the here and now. Shopkeepers were taken to court for displaying the album cover. Woolworths, Boots and WH Smiths refused to stock it. TV and radio adverts for it were banned. Red top papers wanted to ban it. Every upstanding citizen had an opinion on it. It was surely a work of some evil.
What was it about the album that upset people so much? Was it the challenging lyrics about the boredom of London’s satellite towns, of women taking control of their own bodies, chaos replacing order, the monarchy deposed, contractual rape or cultural tourism? (What did you think Johnny Rotten was singing about; punch ups in the streets?) No it was the sleeve that brought the nation’s finest citizens to the letters page of the Daily Mail. To be more exact, it was that word stencilled large… bollocks.
A simple, seemingly dumb image of cut-up newsprint and stencilled letters over fluorescent yellow backing (pink on the back), Jamie Reid’s sleeve-art looked like a ransom note. And in those few words the Sex Pistols' debut album seemed to declare that popular culture had been taken hostage and it could never be the same again. There was no future… and England’s dreaming.
Ironically Never Mind the Bollocks… Here’s the Sex Pistols also represented the end of the punk dream. The album and band were now part of everyone’s lives, the focus of everyman’s conversation. Sex Pistols was as mainstream in the nation’s cultural consciousness as Shaking Stevens and as the album sleeve moved from under that bed and into the cultural mainstream, suddenly it didn’t feel like ours anymore.
“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” asked Johnny Rotten from the stage of the band’s final gig only eighteen months after they’d first emerged. The answer seemed like a resounding ‘Yes!’ but that short journey from Pink Floyd to Never Mind the Bollocks… lit a spark in me that would never die. And there was a future after all.