One thing you may not know about mass retailers like Target and Best Buy that still sell physical music by the ton: they only ever stock “current releases”. This is why so many groups who have already issued career spanning compilations always seem to have a new greatest- hits title out just in time for their big summer tour, Hall of Fame induction or whatever milestone has recently put them in the news. This new collection can be considered a new product and the artist with no new recordings can find themselves on the chain store shelves again. And so it is that we find ourselves considering The Original Recordings, a 2-lp set by the Sex Pistols whose proximate timing to the premiere of the TV show “Pistol” can’t possibly be a coincidence. Thus, it presents as a conspiracy, not the first one involving the Pistols. Let’s unravel it
Johnny Rotten has made no secret of his distaste for the whole shebang, especially the show itself, and calls this audio collection “substandard”. I can’t fault him for his objection to the program, I wouldn’t like somebody making a major motion picture that misrepresented my stupid teenage years either, but at first glance, the album doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. It’s got the bulk of their undisputed classic Never Mind The Bollocks, plus all their single b-sides and a handful of relative rarities (nothing previously unreleased). The artwork is nothing special, looks like the graphics intern was given half an hour to throw something together. At least they made sure to use the photo that looks most like the grinning-idiot TV characters for the cover. But musically, that track list looks pretty solid. How bad could it be?
Mastering and pressing wise, the tracks off Bollocks sound quite good to my ears, even having pulled my copy of the album – an unknown Warner Bros. pressing, likely from the 80s – to compare. It’s one of my favorite album productions ever, and this edition on nice, heavy wax sounds fine. Not better, a little cleaner and with maybe a little more low end. But it’s got that really dense, snarling guitar sound that I remember, with Rotten’s voice like a knife cutting through a massive-sounding band. So the mastering of the key tracks isn’t a problem. The b-sides all sound a little weak by comparison, placed next to the album productions, but they always have, on any homemade collection I ever made. The first disc, most of Bollocks plus “I Wanna Be Me” and their covers of “Stepping Stone” and “No Fun,” is a good listen.
But midway through side three, as we are subjected to some of the Rotten-free late period output with Steve Jones on vocals, leading up to Sid’s version of “My Way,” in place of the rather essential Bollocks tunes “Seventeen,” “EMI” and “Liar,” the mind begins to wander.
Now instead of stomping around the room wanting to destroy, I’m thinking about how the label must not have been able to include every single track on Bollocks without titling it that. They couldn’t have called it a new collection and gotten their product in the big shops.
But the inclusion of those three songs would have made this whole thing worthwhile – plenty of us could use a fresh copy, it’s the kind of album that gets played to death and worn out. Packaging it as a double with all the pertinent extras as LP 2 would have made an appealing deluxe edition, perfect for both the Pistols superfan as well as the vinyl buyer who has just learned about the band from the sitcom. The LP sides are short enough that space is certainly not an issue.
Rotten is right. It is unpleasant to see a band that was once disallowed from the big shops’ shelves, turning their position at the top of the charts into a blank space – one of my favorite gestures in the history of popular music – now kowtowing to the rules of chain shops and producing a shoddy product in order to get in there.
Don’t get the feeling you’ve been cheated. You should certainly have some Pistols in your record collection – their only studio album has never sounded quite right on CD. But this is not the thing to get. Just buy a copy of Never Mind The Bollocks, listen to those b-sides on the internet, or spend the dough to collect all those singles. and call it a day.