Arguably the most controversial song in the Sex Pistols cannon, ‘Belsen Was a Gas‘ was originally drafted by Sid Vicious prior to joining the band. With added input from Johnny Rotten it became part of the bands live set from December 1977 onwards. It was previously thought a studio version with John Rotten on vocals was never recorded. However, 35 years later, as part of the 2012 Never Mind The Bollocks super-deluxe box set, the track has been unearthed.
Previously, only live versions and a post-Rotten 1978 take with Ronnie Biggs on vocals were known to exist but the recovery of a studio demo with Johnny Rotten on vocals earlier this year caused huge excitement amongst hardened Sex Pistols fans the world over. The demo was presumed lost but has now been restored for use on the forthcoming 35th anniversary super deluxe box set release of the seminal ‘Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols’ album through Universal Music UK this coming September 24th.
The demo was recorded at the Pistols Denmark Street rehearsal room by their soundman John ‘Boogie’ Tiberi on a TEAC four-track and adds reverb to Rotten’s vocal.
“John decided to work on ‘Belsen’ with Sid, rearranging the lyrics while Steve and Paul worked on the track and I wired up Denmark Street to put it down to a 4-track,” remembers John Tiberi. “It really shouldn’t have to be said but that’s Sid on bass. It was very clumsy, no monitors, sound insulation was non-existent. I think they all enjoyed doing it outside of the Wessex environment, which had by then become quite oppressive. When I played it to (Pistols producer) Chris Thomas he probably thought I was barmy and couldn’t understand the reverb vocal, but that’s the way John wanted it. I thought it was good as a kind of sketch idea.”
The controversial subject matter and dark humor of the song was designed to upset and provoke and is certainly an interesting footnote to the Sex Pistols finite catalogue of songs.
Update: The track was given a vinyl release in 2014 as part of the ‘Never Mind The Bollocks Alternative Takes’ Box Set. A second (and previously unreleased) version of the demo was also featured on the b-side.
Listen to the demo here…