The Sex Pistols: God Save The Queen

God Save the Queen Cover Art

Design by Jamie Reid
Design by Jamie Reid | Source

The Sex Pistols

In two and a half short years the British punk band the Sex Pistols caused moral outrage, challenged the establishment and inspired a generation of musicians. One of the highlights of their brief career came in 1977, the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee. Whilst many of the Queen's subjects were getting ready to celebrate with a holiday and street parties, the Sex Pistols were busy recording a new song. There was going to be nothing deferential about their new release; this song was designed to shock and it succeeded. The Sex Pistols irreverent version the National Anthem was received with glee by many disaffected teenagers, but many of their parents were apoplectic with rage. This is the story of how the Sex Pistols' second single came close to bursting the Queen's Silver Jubilee bubble.

God Save the Queen: The National Anthem

"God Save the Queen" (or King, when there is one) has been the National Anthem of Great Britain and Northern Ireland since the eighteenth century. The words were written by Thomas Arne, the music appears to be based on traditional compositions. Usually, only the first two verses are sung and it's rare these days that anyone knows the words beyond the first verse without having to read it.

God Save the Queen, Rotten Style

According to John Lydon, aka Jonny Rotten, he wrote his lyrics for God Save the Queen in one sitting whilst sitting at his kitchen table waiting for a pan of baked beans to heat up. The idea hadn't just come to him, he had been rehearsing it in his head for some time. His aim was quite deliberately to shake up the old British notions of deference and forelock tugging. Lydon wanted to confront the Establishment, wanted to irritate and discomfort them. His rant was a call to arms for the youth of the times to do likewise, and they did.


God Save the Queen: Gloriously Offensive

The official National Anthem is, of course, a glorification of the monarchy. Lydon's version was precisely the opposite. The Sex Pistols' song claimed that the Queen "ain't no human being" and likened Britain to a "fascist regime". That was probably all most people needed to hear to decide that the song was an outrage. There were, and still are, people who believe that the Sex Pistols committed an act of treason by releasing the single.

While the rest of the country celebrated the day of the Silver Jubilee in genteel style, the Pistols fuelled the fire surrounding their single by taking a cruise along the River Thames (in a boat named "The Queen Elizabeth") and blasting out the song outside the Houses of Parliament. When they docked they were met by the police who arrested several of the band's friends and crew.

However, God Save the Queen was more than a simple attack on the Queen. Lydon wanted to go further than just express resentment of the Establishment and the Monarchy, he wanted to stand up for the British working classes. The repeated refrain "no future, no future" was a reflection of the predicament faced by young working class people. They got it, even if their parents didn't.

One Single, Two Releases

There were two releases of God Save the Queen. The Sex Pistols originally signed to A&M records and a small number of singles were pressed. Later they signed to Virgin Records. If you own an original A&M disc, you are very lucky as they are amongst the most valuable records you can own, fetching up to £13,000 if in mint condition. If you own a Virgin single, well, just enjoy the music!

Why Didn't The Single Reach No.1?

In some ways, it was a miracle that the record ever reached the shops. Allegedly, some factory workers were so offended by the title of the song that they refused to package the records and threatened a strike. However, when the single was finally released on 27th May 1977 it sold rapidly and the song climbed the UK charts. The New Musical Express charts had the record at Number One, but in the official UK SIngles Chart it only ever reached Number Two.

The failure of the Sex Pistols to show up on the top spot led to accusations that the BBC, who oversaw the charts, had rigged it so that the Pistols remained in second place. The BBC had certainly banned the song from being played on their radio stations and TV channels, as had the Independent Broadcasting Authority, so they clearly had reason to want the song fail.

God Save the Queen Artwork

Jamie Reid produced several designs for the cover of the single. Several images were based around a Cecil Beaton portrait of the Queen defaced with swastikas, a safety pin through her nose and writing across her face. The design that appeared on the cover of the single, which was less offensive than others, is considered as one of the most iconic images of the punk era.

God Save the Queen - Video

The Diamond Jubilee Re-release

2012 sees the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. It's 35 years since her Silver Jubilee and the release of the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen. In April 2012 it was announced that the single would be re-released with the intention of getting it to Number One in the charts. One person was not amused: John Lydon. He quickly issued a statement distancing himself from the campaign, saying that it "undermines what the Sex Pistols stood for". Perhaps he understands that his work is done; Britain has changed.

In 1977 Britain was a very different place. We were a deferential society, we were easily shocked and the Sex Pistols are part of the reason we have changed. Nowadays, God Save the Queen is almost irrelevant. In the 35 years since it was released we have become comfortable with challenging our Queen and the Royal Family.

After Diana, Princess of Wales' death in 1997 the media and public were vocal in their condemnation of the Queen for her failure to mourn Diana's death in a manner that they felt was appropriate -it was implied that she was no human being! The Queen was forced to bow to public pressure.

As for the song itself, despite some forthright opinions, it has none of the violence, sexism or profanity that frequently appear in modern music. What it hasn't lost is its vitality and raw energy. Will I be buying it? I don't need to, we've had a vinyl copy of Never Mind the Bollocks (the Pistols' only album) for years. Should you? Why not, it's fantastically vibrant piece of Britain's history.

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Comments 32 comments

TexasBobby profile image

TexasBobby 4 years ago from Deep in the heart.

One of my "Albums That Changed Rock Forever" favorites. Nice write, Judi.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State

Nice work. Oddly enough, I'm currently in the midst of reading John Lydon's autobiography, "Rotten: No Irish - No Blacks - No Dogs" and I just finished the bit about the Pistols' river cruise during the Silver Jubilee!


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Bobby - good to hear from you! The Sex Pistols have got to be one of the most influential bands of the past 50 years. We used the "Never Mind The Bollocks" album cover as the inspiration for our evening reception invitations after our wedding - we just changed "bollocks" to "wedlocks" - it amused us anyway!


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi FatFreddysCat - we've got that book upstairs - my husband isn't a reader, but it's one of the few books I've bought him that he has read. I enjoyed it too.

Thanks for commenting, much appreciated :-)


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK

I remember it well. It’s hard to believe it’s 35 years ago. I didn’t actually own it, though I did end up with a cover of Never Mind The Bollocks. Why I had the cover and no record I cannot remember! It’s interesting to hear that John Lyndon has distanced himself from the re-release.

Your wedding invitations sound like they would have been fun!


MarshFish profile image

MarshFish 4 years ago

Great Hub, Judi. I'm with Melovy. It's hard to believe it's been 35 years since the album was released. I remember when the Sex Pistols made their last concert appearance together as a band. It was in January 1978 at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom/Arena. I lived 20 miles from S.F., and one of my high school classmates at the time went to the show.


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Melovy - it's so scary that it was 35 years ago. I got a stark reminder of the passage of time about 15 years ago when a young lad I worked with told me that he had seen "some of those old-fashioned people, what do you call them, punks". I aged about 20 years in two seconds!

Yes, the wedding invitations (and the wedding, of course!) were great fun, although not sure that my parents "got" it!

Thanks for your comments, appreciated as always :-)


thougtforce profile image

thougtforce 4 years ago from Sweden

Excellent hub as always and this brings back so many memories from back then! This song is of my favorites and I still have the vinyl too:))

Interesting, voted up!

Tina


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi MarshFish - I never got to see the Sex Pistols, I was just a couple of years too young (in my parents' opinion, anyway), so I envy your classmate. Is it a symptom of getting older that we can remember 35 years ago like it was yesterday, but I can't actually remember what I had for lunch today?

Thanks for taking the time to comment, great to hear from you :-)


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Tina - I've been having a nostalgic afternoon, courtesy of YouTube, since I finished writing the hub - I've worked my way through a few Sex Pistols' tracks, now I'm on the Undertones. As you say, great memories.

Lovely to hear from you, thanks so much for your comments and support :-)


Brainy Bunny profile image

Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

I love that story of your wedding invitations, Judi Bee. I was too young to be part of the punk scene at that time, but I became a huge fan of the Pistols (and several other punk bands) when I became a teenager in the early 90s. Great hub!


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Brainy Bunny - I was sort of a wannabe punk when it all kicked off in the mid/late '70s. We wore some of the clothes and listened to the music, but didn't really get into the scene too much. In the early '80s I was older and was more into it, although by then it was pretty much just a small scene. Had great fun in London for a few years though! My husband came up with the idea for the wedding invitations - he's a quiet genius!

Thanks for your comments, great to hear from you again :-)


Just History profile image

Just History 4 years ago from England

I was just a sweet seventeen year old when they came to life and music changed- out with Genesis and Pink Floyd and in with The Sex Pistols, Stranglers, Blondie, Undertones, Generation X......Jam............I am not sure that we took these words seriously, it was just a chance to rebel and now that the record is being re released- those who are up in arms are US- the ones who started it all, now parents ..........

It was a giggle but we're all grown up now...... Mind you it might explain why nothing my kids play upsets me!


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Just History - as you say, I was more swept up with the mood of the music and the chance of being a bit naughty than any political considerations! And I totally agree that there is nothing more vexing to a child than to have their parents NOT up in arms about their shocking choice of music!

Thanks for your comments, appreciated as always :-)


spartucusjones profile image

spartucusjones 4 years ago from Parts Unknown

Great Hub! "God Save The Queen" along with the "Nevermind The Bollocks..." album helped shaped rock & roll. Definitely important & influential musical documents.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

I remember it well! I was a full initiated punk! lol! with all the clothes and the makeup to match! I also can't believe it was that long ago, wow! I was a great fan of the Sex Pistols, and of course blondie and the rest, Billy Idol started back then too, we used to meet him in the local pub and watch his gigs, with generation X, ah such is memories! great hub, and video!


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Spartucusjones - glad you enjoyed this hub - love the Sex Pistols, even if Mr Lydon is now advertising butter on TV!

Thanks for taking the time to comment, much appreciated :-)


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Ooh Nell, I'm jealous - you met Billy Idol, how fab! Spent lots of time watching bands in pubs through the '80s, great times. Glad you enjoyed the hub and the video.

Thanks for dropping by, good to hear from you!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

Fabulous piece of history which I was clueless about. I do remember jamming to the song though. Excellent hub!!


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Linda - I've been really surprised at how many US hubbers have heard the song and enjoyed it! I had assumed that the Sex Pistols were only a very minor cult band in the US, good to know that they were more widely heard.

Thanks for your comments and support, appreciated as always :-)


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

I'm very familiar with the Sex Pistols. Not a group I listened to often. I enjoyed the tribute hub to them. Well done!!


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Good to know that their fame (infamy?) has travelled. Thanks again!


KrystalD profile image

KrystalD 4 years ago from Los Angeles

Very well written and interesting. I am excited to work more closely with you during the apprenticiship program as I can see I have a lot to learn from you. You have a lot of style :)


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Krystal - exciting times ahead for us indeed, can't wait!

Thank you so much for your encouraging comments, you are very kind :-)


traslochimilano profile image

traslochimilano 4 years ago from USA

Sex Pistols is very famous album and i like it very much. Nice hub


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi traslochimilano - glad that you enjoy the Sex Pistols' music and thanks for taking the time to comment :-)


SkySlave profile image

SkySlave 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Its always exiting to hear more about the sex pistols. I loved their music while growing up and i still take inspiration from them today. Its alive and energetic, it makes you want to jump up and shout. Awesome post.


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi SkySlave - had a wonderful moment earlier this week when I was playing Pretty Vacant and my daughter told me to turn it down! First they annoyed my parents, now my child - love it!

Thanks for your comments, much appreciated :-)


James Vernon profile image

James Vernon 4 years ago from UK

Really good hub. It's strange to think that a lot of punk songs from that era were meant to be terrible and the experts said nobody would actually choose to listen to it but a lot of it still sounds good many years later.


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi James - I agree that punk was originally very amateur and appeared disposable. It still sounds fabulous to me, but my 12 year old always asks for it to be turned off! But then again, I can't stand her R&B.

Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it.


chef-de-jour profile image

chef-de-jour 2 years ago from Wakefield, West Yorkshire,UK

I really enjoyed your article, it took me back to the good old days when a group of us would pogo all night long to the sounds of raw punk. Strange times because we all loved groups like T.rex and David Bowie too, and Queen. But Johnny Rotten and the Sex pistols we held in high esteem because they were intent on having a go at the nobs and aristocrats in language even young nutters like us could understand!

Votes and a share.


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 2 years ago from UK Author

Hi chef-de-jour, I remember that odd cross over between the music of the very slightly older generation with punk and disco. It made our school discos very eclectic events :)

Thanks for the vote and sharing too.

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