Never mind the bollocks, here's the Sex Pistols: An epic recording

Producers go to any lengths to achieve greatness
Photo: Nationaal Archief, Den Haag

SANTA CRUZ, July 30, 2013 — “Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols” is an iconic album. You do not have to be a self-described punk rocker to have heard about it. Recorded over thirty years ago, it still stands up today as a solid rock record, if not altogether representative of any current iteration of the musical subculture it helped create.

While polished and well produced, the album manages to retain the urgent vitriol of the moment. Because punk is, by design, a simplistic milieu, it is no small accomplishment to create an album that flatters the players while not robbing the work of its vitality.


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One of the more interesting things about the recording of “Never Mind The Bollocks” is that the bass player of record (Sid Vicious, aka John Ritchie) barely played on the album. If the accounts of band members and studio engineers are to be believed, Vicious only made it to the studio once during the process. 

Such is the plight of the producer. Their job is to polish a band’s material, add flourishes and improvements while always being mindful to keep the band’s musical vision intact. It is not always easy. Producers must also act as liaison between artist and label and, in the upper echelons of rock, the label will be in constant contact with the producer throughout the recording process, asking for demos, looking for hits.

It is routine for producers to hire and fire musicians, to send band members home mid-project, and sometimes to pick up an instrument themselves late at night after the band has left. Producers do what they have to do to get the project finished on time and within budget while ensuring that the finished product sounds amazing. They are some of the unsung heroes of rock music, and this is why the more successful producers get points (a percentage of sales royalties) on the albums they work on.

On “Never Mind The Bollocks,” the absence of a bass player was probably an unexpected benefit. For all the kids who picked up a bass guitar because of him, Sid Vicious was not a very solid player. Had he shown up at the studio ready to play, one could assume he would have dragged the process down. The producer, Chris Thomas, decided Vicious’ initial efforts were too sloppy to keep. Rather than attempt to teach the current bassist how to play his instrument, Thomas logically charged guitarist Steve Jones with playing bass on the rest of the album. 


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Sex Pistols lore has it that former bass player Glen Matlock played bass on “Anarchy in the UK,” no small favor considering he had been kicked out of the band in favor of Vicious. The bass playing throughout the album is solid, belying the tinny chaos of the band’s live sound then.

The producer often has to make tough decisions and often has to grow a very thick skin. They are often dealing with pampered individuals who believe they are better musicians than they are or who have never had to play under the microscope of a studio atmosphere. Most truly great rock albums owe an anonymous debt to their producers, men and women who kept things on schedule and made sure nothing was more important than the finished product.

 

Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.


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Russ Rankin

Santa Cruz, California native Russ Rankin is the vocalist for the seminal California punk band Good Riddance, the hard rock band Only Crime as well as currently performing original songs as a solo artist. Rankin is a dedicated vegan, an avid animal rights advocate, a political activist and has been a regular columnist for AMP Magazine and New Noise Magazine as well as contributing to various magazines such as Alternative Press, Razorcake and others. 

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