What does it sound like?:
There is a school of thought with the Sex Pistols that says all you really need is Never Mind The Bollocks, maybe The Great Rock n Roll Swindle, and perhaps the Kiss This compilation to round up the rest. And to those I say: “You’re probably right”.
For a band with a relatively short lifespan, and a relatively small (but perfectly formed) catalogue of songs, which have all seen the light of day in various releases (some of questionable quality) over the years, does this 4 CD really add anything to the legacy?
The earliest commercial release of some of these tracks was the Spunk Bootleg in late 1977 – believed to be McLaren’s attempt to scupper his own band. Later proper releases include Sex Pistols Box Set, This Is Crap, and a host of low budget releases (not exactly Bootlegs, but far from official, and not exactly high on quality control either).
And latterly, rarely a Record Store Day passed without a new issue of Never Mind The Bollocks – whether it be coloured vinyl, special boxing, or a series of 7” singles, minidisc, ringtone, 8 track cartridge, a bagpipe-heavy cover remix …
So surely there can’t be much left to flog off?
This set has 80 tracks – of which 8 have not been released before, and 30 of the tracks available (officially) in digital format for the first time.
It covers the bands growth and development from their first studio outing (in 1976, with Chris Spedding at Majestic) to the final NMTB sessions with Chris Thomas in 1977.
The Chris Spedding tracks are – or so it sounds to me – the original Spedding mixes with the Drum and Bass higher in the mix, and not the McLaren/Goodman curated mixes which lifts the guitar higher to create the sound of chaos, and not the tight rock band (with John’s vocal over the top – literally) that the Pistols were becoming.
The main bulk of the tracks on CD1 and CD2 come from various Dave Goodman helmed sessions at various studios – many have seen release before, but Dave Goodman’s curation of his tapes often led to confusion of which session begat which tracks.
Some of the Goodman tracks (recorded at Wessex Studios) were later over-dubbed and tacked into The Great Rock n Roll Swindle. The versions here are the original recordings with no guitar and drum overdubs, and arguable the better for it.
In late 1976, the band signed with EMI. The EMI demos (also on CD2) date from Dec 11th 1976 (10 days after the Grundy interview) suggesting that EMI weren’t about to give up on the band (but their patience was thin as by mid Jan 77 they were dumped by EMI).
Now whether it was Mike Thorne’s production smoothing the edges that Dave Goodman couldn’t, the band sound comfortable and competent in their playing. The ear-openers here are the instrumental versions where Matlock’s bass stays true to the beat and adds depth that Joney’s root note bass on NMTB just doesn’t have
CD3 contains various outakes and alternative mixes from the Chris Thomas NMTB sessions, plus a couple of (not very well recorded) demos from their Denmark Street Rehearsal Room – nice to have, but not essential.
CD4 is the (once mythical) Spunk bootleg – now available in various guises.
Spunk is basically Never Mind The Bollocks without Holidays In The Sun and Bodies, but adding Satellite, I Wanna Be Me, and No Fun (which would all be Chris Thomas-ed and released as B-Sides).
Whilst it may be the same songs – and often not clear which Goodman session was the source of the recording or the mix – there is a raggedy rawness about the Spunk versions.
What does it all *mean*?
Despite the myth of chaos, in the studio the Pistols always sounded disciplined in performance, and with each session you can sense a growth in confidence and competence as the raggedy becomes shiny (and even shinier when Chris Thomas had finished buffing the raw material).
Listening to the interplay of bass, drums and guitars, one does wonder if Steve Jones was on to something when he mused “Yeah, maybe we did get rid of Matlock too soon”
And now, cynically … It also means that there is new Pistols product available when the Danny Boyle show hits the telly (even if it is packaged in some sorely uninspired artwork, but the 7” box housing the CDs plus a 1” surrounding inlay is a nice touch)
John may have lost the case, but will no doubt gain an income stream from that TV exposure and this 4CD set.
And then I asked myself:
Do I need this? Probably not – I’ve got pretty much all of it on various sources.
Do I want this? See above
Will I buy this? And there’s the key question. Yes, I will buy this to finally get all the recordings together in one chronological place, and in decent sound quality. I may only listen to it sparingly in the future, but at least I own it
(Caveat: I will wait though until the price drops to around the £20 to £30 mark – not the 50 quids that’s being asked for at the moment.)
Ever get the feeling that there’s not much left to re-package?
(until the next RSD release of Never Mind The Bollocks)
Goes well with…
Wondering how much more Cash can be squeezed from the Chaos
Might suit people who like…
For completists only …
It’s a “nice to have” set bringing together various rag-tag releases, but would not be a recommended starting point for a Pistols journey of discovery and enjoyment