40 years of bollocks
Lessons we can learn from the Sex Pistols' legacy
40 years ago, Never Mind the Bollocks roared its way into the UK music charts and stamped its mark on British culture.
Of course, popular music was no stranger to revolution but as a nine-year-old boy this new shift felt pretty seismic. I was captivated by this record and the explosion of the British punk rock movement that surrounded it.
I’ll always remember the teenage girl from across the road, marching up the street in her tartan bondage trousers, my dad pointing to her safety pins and Never Mind the Bollocks badge like she was some new, strange species. Something had been ignited. There was an electricity in the air. You felt it on the estate where I lived, on the bus, in school, in the parks where we hung out. The frisson caused by this new spirit of rebellion was contagious.
More than that, it was an important lesson in the power of entertainment and storytelling.
Grabbing you by the balls
Punk had several great protagonists but, at the top of this tree, arguably, were the Sex Pistols. Every element of their image was pitch perfect. Huge, driving anthems. A snarling, spitting frontman wearing Vivienne Westwood S&M clobber. Provocative, anti-establishment lyrics that got them banned here, there and everywhere – which of course only fanned the flames.
Nothing was left to chance. Everything the Pistols did, said and wore was designed to grab attention. It wasn’t about perfection; it was about attitude. And this was summed up perfectly by Jamie Reid’s irreverent, brilliant, day-glo, cut-and-paste album cover. A safety pin through the queen’s nose; a bus on its way to ‘Nowhere’.
Iconic, memorable, fame-generating publicity at its best.
Richard Branson, the late 20th century giant of brand building, understood this of course. He signed them to his young Virgin label, and sailed them up the Thames to promote God Save The Queen accompanied by a hail of police megaphones.
Creating the perfect storm
Even though the Sex Pistols may not be the most authentic punk band, their architect, Malcolm McClaren – with a little help from the New York Dolls – saw its tribal potential for the UK. He wasn’t just moulding a band, he was making a scene. He tapped into a feeling, and once he’d hit upon the right components, he turned up the amplifier till our ears bled.
Punk spoke to the young, the disenfranchised. The Sex Pistols vented frustrated on behalf of those whose voice wasn’t being heard. By doing so, the Sex Pistols spearheaded a new youth movement. One that would become as culturally significant as Swinging London scene that twisted its way down Carnaby Street fifteen years earlier.
It was relatable and relevant, and not surprisingly, hugely successful. They weren’t the first punk band. But the Sex Pistols were the first to jut out their chins and stick two fingers up to convention.
Fortune favours the brave
It’s this fearlessness that had me hooked. In fact, the name of our agency, Dinosaur, was born from a seed of non-conformity. We wanted to side-step all those network-aping-acronyms-above-the-door. We didn’t want to settle for one of those ‘how-cool-and-clever-are-we?’ word choices. Instead we picked a name that stood out and reflected our love affair with big, ballsy ideas.
So, 40 years on, can Never Mind the Bollocks still offer anything for the advertising industry? I think so. The punk ethos is just as relevant today as it’s always been. If you want to stand out, you need to shake things up. You must toss in a dose of anarchy, upset the equilibrium and make a statement of intent.
Be brave. Be original. Be rebellious. Be punk.
Also published on Medium.