Mar 052018
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

never mind the bollocks covers

Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols is generally regarded as one of the greatest rock albums of all time. In one fell 38-minute swoop, The Sex Pistols (more or less) burst on the scene, birthed punk rock, and bit the dust soon after. That last fall marked the 40th anniversary of its release is nearly as jarring as its opening track.

Like the band itself, pretty much everything leading up to and following the album’s release was controversial. From manager/impresario Malcolm McLaren’s publicity stunts – he famously arranged for the band to perform “God Save The Queen” on a boat on the Thames near Parliament during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (ending in his arrest) – to hardcore dealings with music labels, to “moving target” album release dates. Of the band members – Paul Cook/Steve Jones/Johnny Rotten/Glen Matlock/Sid Vicious – determining exactly who was responsible for each track is even subject to debate. [Matlock, a founding member ousted and replaced by Vicious prior to the album’s release, is listed as co-writer on 10 of the 12 tracks. Although inarguably critical, his actual influence relative to the other band members has been challenged by Jones.]

But as writer Steve Huey pointed out in his review on AllMusic:

…underneath the shock tactics and theatrical negativity were social critiques carefully designed for maximum impact. Never Mind the Bollocks perfectly articulated the frustration, rage, and dissatisfaction of the British working class with the establishment, a spirit quick to translate itself to strictly rock & roll terms.

The album debuted at number #1 in the UK in 1977. At the time, it didn’t sell nearly as well in in US – taking 10 years to reach gold status – but its impact and ultimate legacy on both sides of the Atlantic was undeniable. In a wide-ranging Yahoo Music/Backspin interview from early last year, guitarist Steve Jones called it “the main album for kids to have if you were part of the new revolution.” And further, “We only did one album and that one album has kept the whole ball rolling ever since… but maybe if we had done another album, it would have sucked.”

Today kicks off a short series celebrating Bollocks. The seminal work has been covered extensively, so let’s march right in…

Hayseed Dixie – Holidays in the Sun (Sex Pistols cover)


The album’s opening track – inspired by a trip the band made to Berlin in order to blow off steam – reportedly lifted the descending chords in its opening riff from The Jam’s “In The City” released six months earlier. Released as the album’s fourth and final single, Rolling Stone lauded the song in 2008 by ranking it #43 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. Bluegrass is anathema to punk, but of all the available covers of this track, this one is easily the most radical. Hayseed Dixie has appeared on these pages more than a few times in the past. On 2007’s Weapons of Grass Destruction – their sixth full-length album -the band replaces the opening sound of militant jackboots marching with a melodic mandolin and banjo duet. The vocal harmonies here couldn’t be any more opposite from John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon’s sneering and shouting. And the Dixies do it all with humor as you can see in their excellent video for the track.

Swarf Sisters Featuring Beki Bondage – Bodies (Sex Pistols cover)


With it’s scathing social commentary on the subject of abortion, “Bodies” contributed to the controversy that always surrounded the Sex Pistols. The enigmatic Swarf Sisters – mid-eighties alt/new wave/dance artists who reconstituted over the ensuing decades – teamed up with punk Vice Squad frontwoman Beki Bondage for this version. Cockney-accented spoken word vocals tell the chilling story with acoustic guitar accompaniment for the first two minutes while Ms. Bondage sings the echoed chorus. The song’s final minute veers hard into a straight punk remake. The entire effort is as disconcerting as the song’s original intent. The track appeared on a random 2009 Sex Pistols tribute album but it wasn’t until 2013’s appropriately titled Hardly Covered By The Press that the band released the song commercially themselves.

Bananarama – No Feelings (Sex Pistols cover)


A well-constructed rocker, characterized as “an homage to self-absorption” the original track showed high energy and Rotten/Lydon’s tone – although cynical – was relatively cheerful by punk standards. Vocal pop trio Bananarama’s punk influence and roots are well documented – legend has them living above a rehearsal studio used by Pistols’ Jones and Cook in 1981 while simultaneously rebuffing McLaren’s overtures to manage them. In late ’82, they applied their signature vocals and some Adam Ant-like/Bow Wow Wow percussion to “No Feelings” for use in a UK teen film. The track later appeared as a bonus on a 2007 re-issue of their first studio album Deep Ski Skiving.

Deadly Seven – Liar (Sex Pistols cover)


The boys “pay tribute” here to their overreaching manager, Malcolm McLaren, in this vitriolic screed. Las Vegas-based “riot grrls,” Deadly Seven, are beneficiaries of solid production and a great hardcore punk/metal arrangement. Scathing vocals recall the Plasmatics’ Wendy O. Williams on their 2009 Bloody Covers release.

The Presidents of the United States of America – Problems (Sex Pistols cover)


The album’s longest track clocks in at 4:11 but it’s high energy from start to finish. More than likely, the lyrics again refer to the relationship with McLaren – “The problem is you.” – and it’s interesting to see the word “suspension” being used in a second straight song. An uncharacteristic instrumental break here is the closest the band ever comes to a traditional rock jam. On their version, Seattle’s alt rock power trio, The Presidents of the United States of America, shift into overdrive and wrap up the song in under two minutes. The aforementioned instrumental break is replaced with a short and tight drums-only break. The song appeared as a UK bonus track on 2004’s Love Everybody.

The Bad Shepherds – God Save the Queen (Sex Pistols cover)


Released as their second single, the song cemented the Sex Pistols’ legacy even before the full album was released. Reaching #1 on NME, and a controversial #2 on the official BBC singles chart, the song coincided with Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. No song before it had ever provoked the establishment to this degree as it took on centuries old conventions and galvanized punk culture. Constructed as a driving rocker that closes with an English football chant-like “No future!” coda, the song has been immortalized and cited repeatedly for it’s influence on rock music. So what’s a cover to do? English alt-comedian Adrian Edmondson (Vyvyan Basterd from UK-sitcom The Young Ones) formed The Bad Shepherds in 2008 to perform punk and new wave classics on traditional folk instruments that include mandolin and uilleann pipes. The combination was legitimate and the now-defunct four-piece act was recognized with several accolades. “God Save the Queen” closed off their 2009 debut album Yan, Tyan, Tethera, Metheral (translated: One, Two, Three, Four!) This upbeat and jig-like version relies on mostly spoken, and sometimes yelled, vocals and ends with blended harmonies.

The Vindictives – Seventeen (Sex Pistols cover)


If there’s a throwaway track on this classic album, “Seventeen” – at 2:02 – is it. With the exception of the “punk” chorus repeating, “I’m a lazy sod” the album’s shortest song is relatively harmless by today’s standards. Chicago-punkers The Vindictives give it a power pop treatment with back-up punk harmonies on the chorus. This 1994 single sounds a bit like Beavis (without Butthead) providing lead vocals for Green Day.

Frazier Chorus – Anarchy in the UK (Sex Pistols cover)


The band’s debut single was released nearly a year before the album dropped, and was responsible for kicking off the publicity build-up around the group. The lyrics tapped into the disaffected mindset and anger of British youth at the time and called for upheaval with several references to the conflict in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Manager Malcolm McLaren told NME: “It’s a call to arms to the kids who believe that rock and roll was taken away from them. It’s a statement of self rule, of ultimate independence.” The classic track is number 56 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. On their 1989 EP Sloppy Heart, unheralded English electro-pop group Frazier Chorus constructed a sweeping, dreamlike arrangement with subtle harmonies built on singer/keyboardist Tim Freeman’s soft, accented vocals. The results are exemplary and couldn’t be any more starkly different than the original.

Belinda Carlisle & Radiator – Submission (Sex Pistols cover)


The legend here is that McLaren pushed the group to write a song about bondage, which prompted them to ignore him and write nonsense lyrics about a submarine. On this effort, the former Go-Go’s lead singer teamed up with British industrial alt-rockers Radiator. The track was released in 1997 and appeared the following year on The Greatest a compilation which was only released in Japan. The hard rocking version is heavy with high industrial beats-per-minute. The arrangement alternates Carlisle’s vocals between familiar sounding and electronically modified, all building to a frenetic crescendo and conclusion.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols cover)


The third single from the album became its second-most covered song after “Anarchy in the UK.” It was made notorious by Rotten/Lydon’s special emphasis on the second syllable of the word “vacant”. In another startlingly curious cover, English baritone Stephen Gadd brought his powerful pipes to The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Tim Redmond conducting for 2017’s The Anarchy Arias compilation. A travesty? Maybe to some, but it’s inarguably well produced and had the heavy involvement of ex-Pistol Glen Matlock.

China Girl – New York (Sex Pistols cover)


The original was a major diss of the proto-punk New York Dolls and in particular lead singer David Johansen. McLaren had “managed” the Dolls for a short time prior to his involvement with the Sex Pistols so another Rotten/Lydon unloading here should really come as no surprise. China Girl delivers an excellent surf-guitar tinged “Peter Gunn-styled” version. The lo-fi indie punk outfit from Albany, NY is an alternate persona of the band Puzzle Boys Interactive. The song appeared on the 2010 online compilation “Rate Our Music #04: Give Me Covers or Give Me Death” and includes a rock guitar solo which the Pistols would have hated.

The Hotrats – E.M.I. (Sex Pistols cover)


A parting shot to the label that first signed, and then subsequently dropped, the band famously closes the album. The chorus, a repeating taunt of “E.M.I.” provided a great hook. The Hotrats (named for a Frank Zappa album) are a side-project from Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey of Supergrass. They applied an acoustic, Violent Femmes-style to the track on 2009’s Turn Ons. The song keeps its fast-pace and adds a piano break before finishing the arrangement with a long 30-second fade out.

There’s unlimited supply: Part II of the series takes a look at several artists who covered the album track-by-track in its entirety.

Check out other Sex Pistols covers here.

  7 Responses to “Full Albums: Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols”

Comments (1) Pingbacks (6)
  1. Fascinating read!

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)