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Thursday, April 26, 2018

SPUNK - How the Sex Pistols Pirated Themselves

Nothing quite shook my world like discovering punk rock and while the first songs I heard were Dead Kennedys tunes, it was the Sex Pistols who really grabbed me by the short hairs.  The first time I heard "Anarchy in the UK", it was a life changing experience.  Here were the snarling, menacing guitars that I’d loved hearing on songs like "Won’t Get Fooled Again", only they were more stripped down and raw.  This wasn't the record that made me want to pick up a guitar.  That honor goes to The Who's album Who's Next.  This was the record that made me want to pick up a guitar and WRITE! 





So believe me when I say that I have a little bit of a Sex Pistols obsession.  They really only put out one album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols.  Every release after was either a collection of demos or featured only part of the band.  However, I have multiple copies of this single album.




I own the American release.





Here's the Italian release (which came with a killer "punk" flyer advertising other bands from that time).





And I own the picture disc version.


I've also owned it on cassette and currently have the CD.  Aside from those, I have vinyl copies of bootlegs and follow-up releases that most people would never bother looking at, much less buy.  Suffice to say, John Lydon has made more than his fair share of royalties from me and I'm not sorry to have handed over the money.  

However, there is one Sex Pistols album in my collection which is special and there's a great story behind its creation.

In 1976, The Sex Pistols and the British punk scene had finally come to the attention of major record labels.  The music establishment realized there was money to be made off of all these kids who were dressing weird, forming bands and could barely play their instruments.  EMI signed the band to a two year contract and stuck them in the studio right away with producer Dave Goodman. 





EMI was a very old school, British label.  They knew about the Sex Pistols reputation.  How could they miss it?  Still, they thought that on some level it must all be part of an act.  They expected The Pistols to be proper musicians when not on stage or in front of the music press.  That was a huge mistake.  

Thus, when the band was asked to be on the Bill Grundy Show as a replacement for Queen, the Pistols acted as they always did and completely shocked a nation by calling the host a "dirty fucker" on live television.  According to Steve Jones (who uttered those offending words and a few more) it was because Grundy (a much older man) had made a pass at a teenage Siouxsie Sioux who had come to the set with them.

Whatever the circumstance, the only impression most people came away with was that The Pistols were animals and suddenly, EMI had a problem.  In order to save face, the label dropped The Sex Pistols and cut their losses less than a year into the band's contract.

While the mainstream press made them out to be devils, one record company took a chance on them anyway.  They were soon signed to Virgin Records who put them in the studio and recorded what would be their only official studio album Never Mind The Bollocks.  




Here's where my elusive album comes in.  In the months leading up to the release of Never Mind The Bollocks, another record started circulating in the U.K.  It was referred to as SPUNK and came in a plain white sleeve with no mention of the name of the band on the album label. It was a bootleg and it was sold out of the back of record shops.  Word got out pretty quickly that this was in fact the Sex Pistols, despite the song titles being changed on the label.  

For instance, the first track "Lazy Sod" was pretty obviously "Seventeen".  "Nookie" was actually "Anarchy in the U.K.".  "No Future" was "God Save the Queen".  There was no doubt in anyone's mind that these were the EMI sessions the band had done with Dave Goodman.

Virgin was furious.  The band's manager Malcolm McLaren had retained all rights to those recordings so they immediately thought he'd been the one to release them.  This would have violated the band's contract and McLaren denied he'd had anything to do with it.  Virgin was never able to directly connect it to him so they dropped their investigation into the matter.  Instead, they finished production and shipped Never Mind the Bollocks in October of 1977.  To this day, no one knows for sure who leaked those tapes, but anyone who's read anything about Malcolm McLaren knows it was probably him.





The thing about SPUNK for hardcore Sex Pistols fans, is it's the only recording of the band's original lineup.  Glen Matlock, the original bass player, played on the EMI sessions but he'd been fired by the band before they signed with Virgin.  Sid Vicious had been brought on to replace him, but to put it charitably, Sid couldn't play the bass for shit.  Instead, guitarist Steve Jones played all of the bass parts on Nevermind The Bollocks, so if you're me and you really want to hear the band at the height of their powers, you want to hear SPUNK.

Which brings me to the University of Georgia in 1998.  I was living in family housing with my wife and as we were walking to the mailboxes one day, I found a two crates of records just sitting there.  I left them, thinking someone would claim them.  They were still there a week later, so I brought them back to our apartment.  I reported them to the office and said if anyone wanted to claim them I'd be happy to give them back.  No one ever called.





There, in the middle of one of the crates, was SPUNK

It's not worth a ton of money, especially since it's been released on CD now, but I have it on vinyl and that's what matters to me.  Its sound is much less polished than Never Mind The Bollocks, but the band is tight and it's my favorite of my Sex Pistols vinyl releases.

Why?  

Because unlike all the others, it found its way to me.


4 comments:

Willy P said...

Finding crates of records in GA ageing for a week, very nice! Being at school makes it that much sweeter.

Cary said...

Those crates had some pretty good stuff in them. There was some sweet local Athens stuff that was out of print at the time like old Love Tractor and Pylon albums. That's also where I got my vinyl copy of Sid Sings (a collection of Sid Vicious recordings that's just as you'd imagine it would be... rough). Other stuff I wasn't as interested in like a lot of the new romantic stuff from the 80's.

Willy P said...

We were at a house party in 1980, and the host trotted out a copy of the Spunk album to show off. Dumbfounded teenagers, we could not believe such a title could be manufactured and we scoured it for a band name or any clues. Unfortunately it was removed from an older brothers collection so we could not give it a spin or there would have been hell to pay. The older brother had all manner of bootleg albums and tapes. Now that experience makes sense - He was a music nerd!

Cary said...

The other Sex Pistols vinyl bootleg that I have and rarely play is a recording of their first show in the U.S. (Atlanta, GA!). It's pretty rough with a lot of crowd noise, but it's still fun to hear as a piece of history. There's a saying that during that tour most people hated them but those who didn't went out and formed their own bands afterward. I've since read a few oral histories of different punk scenes in the U.S. and it would seem to be more true than you'd think. At that Atlanta show were people who went on to be in The Georgia Satellites, Drivin' n' Cryin' and others.

Like I hinted at in the beginning of the post, The Sex Pistols didn't make me want to pick up a guitar. The Who did that, but I quickly learned it was going to be really hard to become as good at playing it as Pete Townshend. It really took the wind out of my sails. Hearing The Sex Pistols though changed my mindset. I could pick out the beginning to "Pretty Vacant" right away and the chords to "God Save The Queen" were pretty easy to figure out. Suddenly that light goes on and you think, 'Wait a minute. I can do what they're doing and they have a record out!'

Next thing you know, you're joining bands and becoming lifelong friends with people named Willy-P.