God Save The Queen (as made famous by The Sex Pistols)

“God Save the Queen” is a song by the British punk rock band the Sex Pistols. It was released as the band’s second single and was later included on their only album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. The song was released during Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. The record’s lyrics, as well as the cover, were controversial at the time, and both the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority refused to play the song. The original title for the song was “No Future”, with the lyrics themselves being a general expression of the band’s view of the Monarchy or any individual or establishment commanding general obligation.[2]

The song reached No.1 on the NME charts in the United Kingdom, and made it to No. 2 on the official UK Singles Chart as used by the BBC. This led to accusations by some that the charts had been “fixed” to prevent the song from reaching No.1.[3]

The single was released on 27 May 1977, and was regarded by many of the general public as an assault on Queen Elizabeth II and the monarchy. The title is taken directly from “God Save the Queen”, the national anthem of the United Kingdom. At the time it was highly controversial, firstly for its equation of the Queen with a “fascist regime”, and secondly for the lyric “there is no future in England’s dreaming”. According to Glen Matlock, who had co-written the song—although he was no longer a member of the band by the time it was released—the bass was inspired by The Move’s “Fire Brigade”.

Although many believe it was created because of the Silver Jubilee, the band have denied it, with Paul Cook saying that “it wasn’t written specifically for the Queen’s Jubilee. We weren’t aware of it at the time. It wasn’t a contrived effort to go out and shock everyone.”[4] Johnny Rotten has explained the lyrics as follows: “You don’t write ‘God Save The Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re fed up with them being mistreated.”[5] He intended to evoke sympathy for the English working class, and a general resentment towards the monarchy.

On 7 June 1977—the Jubilee holiday itself—the band attempted to play the song from a boat named the Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames, near the Palace of Westminster. After a scuffle involving attendee Jah Wobble and a cameraman, eleven people, including Malcolm McLaren, the man who organised the concert, and several other members of the band’s entourage, were arrested when the boat docked.[6]

The song peaked at No. 2 (below Rod Stewart’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” released as a double A-side budget single along with “The First Cut Is the Deepest”) on the official UK Singles Chart used by the BBC, though there have been persistent rumours that it was actually the biggest-selling single in the UK at the time, and was kept off No. 1 because it was felt that it might cause offence.[3][7][8]

Various sources state that it was indeed the highest-selling single of the week,[9][10] despite a ban by the BBC and some major retailers[11] and, in order to prevent it from reaching the top of the “official” BMRB chart, for one week compilers “decreed that shops which sold their own records could not have those records represented in the chart”, and thus sales from Virgin Megastores were not counted. [12]

In addition to the BBC, the single was also banned by the Independent Broadcasting Authority which regulated Independent Local Radio. On at least one singles chart for the period, TOP 20 POPS, the song’s position at No. 2 was represented by a blank line. In March 2001, the BBC published an article that said “God Save The Queen reached number one in the UK in 1977 despite being banned by the BBC and marked a defining moment in the punk revolution.”[13] The NME magazine chart did in fact place the single at number-one during the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II.[11][14]

The phrase “no future”, the song’s closing refrain, became emblematic of the punk rock movement. The lyric provided the title of Jon Savage’s 1991 history of the Sex Pistols and punk rock, England’s Dreaming.

Before the group signed to Virgin, a small number of copies of “God Save the Queen” had been pressed on the A&M label. These are now among the most valuable records ever pressed in the UK, with a resale value as of 2006 of between £500 to £13,000 a copy, depending on condition of the disc.[15] The highest recorded sale price of £13,000 was achieved in 2006 by UK collector Marshal Peters who sold a copy of the single complete with its A&M card envelope, of which only nine copies are known to exist.[16] The B-side of the A&M single was “No Feeling”, an early rough mix or performance of “No Feelings”. (A later version was released on the Pistols’ debut album.) Record Collector magazine named the A&M single the most collectable record of all time.[17]

“God Save the Queen” was featured on the band’s only album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, and several compilation albums.

Rolling Stone ranked “God Save the Queen” number 175 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time[18] and it is also one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[19] It was Sounds magazine’s Single of the Year in 1977.[20] In 1989, it was eighteenth in the list of NME writers’ all-time top 150 singles.[21] Q magazine in 2002 ranked it first on its list of “The 50 Most Exciting Tunes Ever…”[22] and third on its list of “100 Songs That Changed The World” in 2003.[23] In 2007, NME launched a campaign to get the song to number 1 in the British charts and encouraged readers to purchase or download the single on 8 October. However, it only made number 42. In 2010, the New Statesman listed it as one of the “Top 20 Political Songs”.[24]

In 2010, the song was ranked amongst the top 10 most controversial songs of all time, in a poll conducted by PRS for Music.[25]

In 2002, the song was re-released to coincide with the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, whereupon the single charted in the top 20. In 2012, it was announced that the single would be re-released on 28 May 2012, coinciding with the 35th anniversary of the original release and the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.[26] Lydon has voiced his disapproval over the re-release and the campaign, saying in a statement: “I would like to very strongly distance myself from the recent stories and campaign to push ‘God Save The Queen’ for the number one spot. This campaign totally undermines what The Sex Pistols stood for. It is certainly not my personal plan or aim. I am proud of what The Sex Pistols achieved and always will be but this campaign totally undermines what The Sex Pistols stood for. This is not my campaign. I am pleased that the Sex Pistols recordings are being put out there for a new generation, however, I wish for no part in the circus that is being built up around it.”[27] The 2012 re-release peaked at no. 80 in the singles chart.[28]