Authenticity, meaning it, not ripping your fans off, doing it for the kids – all a bit overrated in my view, give me a cheapo cash-in to buy any day, especially if it comes in a shite cover and I’ve got most of the songs already! Enter: Sex Pistols Flogging A Dead Horse, 1980’s singles collection from a band who only ever made one LP with their proper line-up.
Obviously I’m a highly intelligent, handsome, discerning kind of guy who owns a, much cherished, copy of Never Mind The Bollocks so why did I buy it? Partly because I just love the cynicism at work here, I truly do – bundle up a load of shit, wrap it up in a crappy cover, call it Flogging A Dead Horse for God’s sake! and sit back and let the punters buy it. Well consumer, you could never say you weren’t warned. But the other parts of the equation was to get my hands on two B-sides, ‘No Fun’ and ‘Did You No Wrong’, as well as an urge to just pay homage to the gods!
Because, dear reader, they were fucking gods. Born as a conceptual joke, a vehicle for mischief and shaking up the status quo*, through a completely fortuitous mix of personalities and latent talents they became such an incredible band so quickly, it was like making Semtex by accident by randomly chucking some chemicals together in a lab. They were just too good. I love this about them, it all just combined perfectly, because of Matlock’s song writing abilities, Jones and Cook’s locking together and Rotten’s feral sarcasm, instead of just being McLaren’s little dolls, his agents in the destruction of rock – they simply became ROCK and banged out one of the great rock LPs. Of course the fallout and messiness that followed the split of the original band diluted what had been there, but they were still capable of banging out more than a few good tunes.
I would argue that Flogging A Dead Horse is the best way to get the full rock hit from the Sex Pistols, none of that wussy oddness and sharp corners that distracted from their full-on rock assault**. The first side alone contains their four biggest hitters, ‘Anarchy In The UK’, ‘God Save The Queen’, ‘Pretty Vacant’ and ‘Holidays In The Sun’, four of my favourite punk/rock songs ever*^ and four quite incredible singles period. The playing, the intensity, the sheer noise of them all. I always hum ‘Holidays In The Sun’ to myself in a totally non-ironic fashion whenever I go on a holiday, umm, in the sun; I can’t help it. But what a track! It’s those goose-stepping feet at the beginning that get me, can there be any more exciting start to a song? From there on in, you just know how great this is going to be.
The singles are interspersed with B-sideiness. I’m no real fan of ‘I Wanna Be Me’, but ‘Did You No Wrong’ is pure dumb rock, set up and punctuated with some real guitar greatness by Steve Jones; I first heard this track on his great 1989 Fire & Gasoline LP with Axl Rose on vocals. Even better though is their six-minute long cover of the Stooges’ ‘No Fun’, which is one of those rare beasts a cover of a song I really like, being even better than the original. Right from the start you get the sense you’re at the start of a rollercoaster, that bit, that lip just before you start to hurtle downwards as Rotten announces,
Right here we go now
A sociology lecture
With a bit of psychology
A bit of neurology
A bit of fuckology
No fun …
Even then you have to wait, Jones’ rebooting of the riff is so vast that it almost needs room to breathe before it crashes down on you. Rotten never, ever sounded so wild, so pained, so vital again as he did on ‘No Fun’, it’s almost frighteningly good at one point as he rages, sneers and screams. Iggy never got halfway close to this. In his autobiography Rotten: No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish he mentions how much he liked Iggy but that he found a flippancy about his lyrics he didn’t like, although he doesn’t change the lyrics here, it’s his sheer performance that drags this track over the cliff face. David Goodman just captures a vast, cavernous sound here. No fun? I disagree.
The second side of Flogging A Dead Horse just can’t compete, but given what it’s up against, that’s no disgrace. Whilst I do have a soft spot for Sid’s Eddie Cochran fixation, I was raised on the originals and I’ll stick with them thanks. Sid’s ‘My Way’ is always good, an appallingly egotistical tune given the back alley beating it so richly deserves. I have a lot of time for their angry cover of ‘(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone’, which has another, umm, vicious performance from Rotten^ and ditto the band’s great, poppy post-Rotten single ‘Silly Thing’, which originally had a very rude title indeed.
Overall though my fave track on side two is ‘No One Is Innocent’, train robber Ronnie Biggs’ bow on vocals. The band, effectively Jones and Cook, are absolutely at the top of their game here in this outrage-athon as Biggs lists various horrible folk who need some understanding. It’s crass, there’s a tasteless reference to Nazis^* and the gang vocals would give rise to a whole genre of thrashy terrace-chanting punks who came afterwards^^, and yet .. and yet .. I really like it. There’s something ridiculously English about the whole enterprise, travelling to Rio especially to record vocals from a criminal on the run from British justice.
God save politicians, God save our friends the pigs
God save Idi Amin and god save Ronald Biggs
God save all us sinners, God save your blackest sheep
God save the good samaritan and god save the worthless creep
But that’s enough about the music, I’m a much shallower prospect than that. Jamie Reid designed the cover as cheaply as he could, hiring the cheapest model he could find, keeping all the fonts bland – it’s designed to look like one of those cheapo pop hits LP’s you used to find at the time, with all the original songs replaced by session musicians. Ghastly. And just in case that and the title were a bit too subtle for you the back cover of Flogging A Dead Horse features a (fake) dog turd on a gold disc for Never Mind The Bollocks. If you didn’t get the joke/comment/complex visual metaphor then please, please, just get out of here you freaking knuckle dragger.
I’ll swear I just saw the horse move, a bit.
*and probably Status Quo.
**which are precisely what elevated Never Mind The Bollocks to greatness.
*^Hey why not run the two words together? we could invent a whole new genre and everywhere I went people would point at me and say, ‘Look daddy, that’s the man who invented Rockpunk’.
^see what I did there?
^*which we’re much more sensitive about today, than we ever were back then just 33 years after the war ended, look at how many UK comedy shows featured men dressed as Nazis (step forwards Monty Python). The past is a very strange country sometimes.
^^to much brain-dead effect.