The Cover Uncovered: The trials and tribulations of Sex Pistols’ ‘Nevermind the Bollocks’

Album covers don’t get much more iconic than the Sex Pistols’ classic Nevermind The BollocksHere’s The Sex Pistols. Everything about the album is a triumph, from start to finish. Every nuanced facet to the ferocious record helped conceit a provoking image around the band that turned them into something much more than just a rock act. They were an unstoppable cultural entity, sticking two fingers fiercely up at the system at every turn.

The 1977 classic was initially titled God Save Sex Pistols and the record cover was designed by Jamie Reid, who decided to go against the grain with his artistic direction. Instead, it was bright pink and yellow with cutout lettering which immediately caught the eye and is unforgettable. The album’s title then changed in mid-1977 from God Save Sex Pistols after Jones came across the phrase, ‘never mind the bollocks’. He heard this from two fans who would always say it to one another, and there was something in the simple beauty of it that perfectly encapsulated the music of the Sex Pistols.

The use of the phrase ‘bollocks’, in the eyes of the establishment at least, was controversial and obscene and could have hampered the band. But in reality, it did the opposite and made the Sex Pistols become the face of the anti-establishment movement if they weren’t leading the charge already. The band wasn’t conforming to society’s norms and expectations; this album represented everything that the group stood for, and the fury that came their way in response was monumental.

Remarkably, London police visited every single Virgin record store branch in the capital and told them that if they didn’t remove the album cover posters in their windows, they would prosecute them under the 1899 Indecent Advertisements Act. Then on 9th November in 1977, shortly after the release, the London Evening Standard announced the arrest of a Virgin Records shop manager in Nottingham for displaying the record after being warned to cover up the word ‘bollocks’.

After the arrest, Virgin Records boss Richard Branson said that he would cover the manager’s legal costs and hired Queen’s Counsel John Mortimer to defend the employee. The label capitalised on the unavoidable talk around the album and published imaginative adverts for Never Mind the Bollocks appearing in music papers which showed these newspaper headlines about Sex Pistols controversies accompanied with the message, ‘THE ALBUM WILL LAST. THE SLEEVE MAY NOT.’

The Virgin Records worker was found not guilty in a court of the four charges. With the judge stating, “Much as my colleagues and I wholeheartedly deplore the vulgar exploitation of the worst instincts of human nature for the purchase of commercial profits by both you and your company, we must reluctantly find you not guilty.”

All the publicity that had circled the band thanks to this case had made the Sex Pistols a phenomenon. They stood up and didn’t back down at the first sign of problems fought for what they believed in made people fall even more madly in love with the group and that they could do no wrong.

The cover was equally as powerful and jaw-dropping as the fierce sentiment oozing out of every song on the album.

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