Happiness

Classic Album Covers : Never Mind The Bollocks - Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols’ only official album was released October 28th, 1977 on Virgin Records. By mid-January 1978, they had broken up, Johnny Rotten quitting at the end of a concert in the US, saying “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” as he walked offstage

Given the fact that their two and a half year career was the most spectacular PR stunt in music history, semi-controlled by one of it’s most nauseating self-publicists, Malcolm McClaren, maybe there was a little cheating going on. But not by the suitably anarchic artist who designed the cover for Never Mind The Bollocks – Jamie Reid

In 1976, McLaren sent a telegram to Jamie Reid: “Got these guys; interested in working with you again.” Reid’s stint as the Pistols’ art director would result in many of rock’s most provocative designs. The son of a liberal newspaper editor, he had studied at Croydon College of Art (where he and McLaren instigated student sit-ins), then bought a printing press, which he used to produce a “shit stirring” community paper; he also designed and printed the first English-language anthology of the situationists, a group of European artists of the 1950s who advocated anarchic pranks against capitalist ventures

“It wasn’t the pop phenomenon that interested me,” says Reid. “I saw punk as part of an art movement that’s gone over the last hundred years, with roots in Russian agitprop, surrealism, dada and situationism.” His posters and record sleeves, he says, were designed “to articulate ideas, many of which were anti-establishment and quite theoretical and complicated.” Work on the covers for the first Sex Pistols singles let Reid develop the powerful ransom note and newspaper clipping style that became iconic. First up ‘Anarchy in the UK’ ripped up the Union Flag on it’s sleeve, then ‘God Save the Queen’ famously depicted Her Majesty with a safety pin through her lip and swastikas in her eyes just in time for her Silver Jubilee

A couple of singles later, and finally the full album of bollocks landed ‘ a pink and yellow canary on heroin’ that defined punk visually ever after. Like the music, the design is incredibly simple to the point of being moronic,  but it works. The publicity generated by the Pistols’ antics made it unnecessary to put their faces on records — “They were ugly anyway,” Reid once said — so Never Mind The Bollocks’ cover flaunts what he calls “cheap hype.” He had to revise his design continually because of changes in the album’s title and contents. “It caused me enormous aggravation,” says Reid. The ransom-note lettering was quickly imitated by hundreds of punk bands. Reid did for art what the Pistols did for music — make it seem easy and fun

Though there are two differing versions of how the title came about (McLaren’s and Reid’s - they caouldn’t agree on anything about the cover going forward!) , it is clear that it was lead guitarist Steve Jones who, one way or the other, came up with the famous ‘never mind the bollocks’ line

The word ‘bollocks’ on the cover was seen as sufficiently indecent and offensive for shops to refuse to stock the album. McLaren was taken to court for indecency and public order offences. Virgin boss Richard Branson defended the cover, kept it in the news and the label won. Jamie Reid adds that the victory “proved that ‘bollocks’ was in fact a fine Anglo-Saxon word to be proud of,” and recalls that “I left the court in Nottingham to hear a newspaper vendor shouting ‘Bollocks now legal’ above the noise of the traffic

The ransom note look was carried over to the back cover where the tracks on the album are listed

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May 31, 2012

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