Friday, October 27, 2017

I'm Not An Animal

The Sex Pistols : Bodies

If the sessions had gone the way I wanted, it would have been unlistenable for most people. I guess it's the very nature of music; if you want people to listen, you're going to have to compromise.
-Johnny Rotten

On October 28, 1977 The Sex Pistols released their debut album, Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's the  The Sex Pistols . I didn't get around to hearing the album for years, but when I did, it both scared and excited me. It also disappointed me because , musically, it didn't really sound as revolutionary as we'd heard. Sure, Johnny Rotten was ferocious, especially those scathing lyrics. I began playing bar chords on my acoustic guitar and enlisted my ten year old sister into writing a song that began "There's a fucking little girl who lives down the street/ All she does is beg and eat".

In the US we had heard of the Sex Pistols but most of us didn't get around to actually hearing the Sex Pistols. I think it's a monument more than monumental. An album that came towards the end of a very specific time.

Here's what Billboard Magazine said about the album at the time of its release:

 Loud, raucous and irreverent, this LP delivers as promised. This is punk rock at its best, with no letup. Once it begins there's no getting up for air until the record ends. It's all simple riffs and elemental chords with a machine gun beat, but nobody does it better. Included here are all the notorious hits that so shocked the English establishment. Once you get past the rawness of it all, it becomes apparent that this band can craft some very relevant tunes. Best cuts: "Pretty Vacant," "God Save The Queen," "Anarchy In The U.K.," "EMI," "Holidays In The Sun."

Here's what the dean of rock critics, Robert Christgau, said in his A rated review:

Get this straight: no matter what the chicmongers want to believe, to call this band dangerous is more than a suave existentialist compliment. They mean no good. It won't do to pass off Rotten's hatred and disgust as role-playing -- the gusto of the performance is too convincing. Which is why this is such an impressive record. The forbidden ideas from which Rotten makes songs take on undeniable truth value, whether one is sympathetic ("Holidays in the Sun" is a hysterically frightening vision of global economics) or filled with loathing ("Bodies," an indictment from which Rotten doesn't altogether exclude himself, is effectively anti-abortion, anti-woman, and anti-sex). These ideas must be dealt with, and can be expected to affect the way fans think and behave. The chief limitation on their power is the music, which can get heavy occasionally, but the only real question is how many American kids might feel the way Rotten does, and where he and they will go next. I wonder -- but I also worry

Ali MacQueen wrote about the album for 1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die: 

In a decade of social unrest, the grey fa├žade of 1970s Britain was crumbling under high unemployment and apathy. The entire country seemed in a state of cold turkey, the optimism of the 1960s a distant memory. Along came a kick in the balls, literal as well as titular. 

 As soon as the Pistols played their first gigs, their notoriety was in danger of surpassing the music. This was a feeling intensified by Jamie Reid's luminous cover. With its iconic logo and use of an expletive, stores refused to stock it and a court case came to pass (dismissed after Richard Branson called in a linguistics professor to testify to the non-obscene origins of the word). With style about to overshadow substance, the marching steps that introduce "Holidays In The Sun" were a venomous reminder that beneath the artwork was an album that was about to alter our perception of music, fashion, and generational attitudes. 

 There is the ferocity of "Bodies," with its abortion-based theme, and Steve Jones' simple but devastatingly effective riff on "Pretty Vacant," which gave hope to useless guitarists everywhere.
 "Anarchy In The UK," of course, is the album's most famous rallying cry but "God Save The Queen" matches it all the way as an epicenter of anger. Johnny Rotten bends and sculpts every note into a vituperative, royalty-aimed arrow. Few moments from popular music can ever match Rotten's guttural cry of "no future for you." Years of misery for the nation's youth were encapsulated right there and then.

And from Tom Moon's 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die :

For better or worse, this thirty-nine-minute blast of loud and proud scruffiness has become punk's ground zero. That's not to say it's the best punk record, or even necessarily the first. But it was the first one to tantalize, to terrorize, and eventually galvanize a large part of the rock-speaking world. And it remains an essential document for understanding the music's cyclical upheavals: When the Sex Pistols exploded, rock was mostly Foreigner. Safe stuff, with few aspirations toward rattling the status quo. 

 The Sex Pistols charged into the ring with an unruly sound, and an us-against-them ideology that disaffected kids everywhere understood immediately. These four musicians, barely competent on their instruments, took up the cause of England's unemployed and downtrodden, the legions of young people trampled by bad economics. As John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) said years later: "If we had an aim, it was to force our own working-class opinions into the mainstream, which was unheard of in pop music at the time."

 Force them they did, with help from a rampaging guitar-as-blunt-instrument attack and manager Malcolm McLaren's formidable hype machine. Early gigs were newsworthy for rowdy behavior (the band was known to spit on and taunt its audiences) that led to, in several instances, near-riots. McLaren seized upon the notoriety, using television appearances and outrageous altercations with media to fan the flames, and by the time this album arrived, a sense of full-on revolt was in the air. 

 Never Mind the Bollocks doesn't really need any hype. Its snarled refrains and bellicose chants -- "No future for you!" Rotten sneers throughout "God Save the Queen" -- signal that this is a profoundly different rock and roll enterprise. The songwriting's minimal. There's, like, zero finesse in the playing. And yet when the band lunges into "Pretty Vacant" or "Anarchy in the U.K.," it unleashes an undeniable force, leading to explosions of awesome magnitude that proved key to the then-developing ethos of punk. Fans loved the Sex Pistols because the band's music mirrored and magnified the decay they saw all around them. People who loathed the band considered its music (and its tactics) fresh evidence of society's decline. Both sides, at least, agreed on the existence of a downward spiral.

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