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"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 song is an attack on the treatment of working-class people in England in the 1970s by the government.
The song reached #1 on the NME charts in the United Kingdom, and made it to #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.
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 denies it, 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." 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." 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.
The song peaked at No. 2 (below Rod Stewart's "I Don't Want to Talk About It" released as a double A-side single along with "The First Cut Is the Deepest") on the official UK Singles Chart used by the BBC, though there have been persistent unconfirmed 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. On at least one singles chart for the period, TOP 20 POPS, the song's position at No. 2 is represented by a blank line. It did reach No. 1 on the unofficial NME singles chart. It was banned by the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority which regulated Independent Local Radio.
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. 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. 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.
"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 and it is also one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. It was Sounds magazine's Single of the Year in 1977. In 1989, it was eighteenth in the list of NME writers' all-time top 150 singles. Q magazine in 2002 ranked it first on its list of "The 50 Most Exciting Tunes Ever..." and third on its list of "100 Songs That Changed The World" in 2003. 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".
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. 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." The 2012 re-release peaked at no. 80 in the singles chart.
The song could be heard during Journey along the Thames, a two-minute film directed by Danny Boyle and played at the beginning of the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, an event opened by the Queen, and held during her Diamond Jubilee. A camera traverses the route the band took in the boat the Queen Elizabeth, between Tower Bridge and Westminster, as the song plays.
In an Early day motion of 3 November 2016, as a celebration of the Brexit vote and Britain withdrawing from the European Union a right-wing Conservative MP argued for a return to the broadcasting of the God Save the Queen (national anthem version) at the end of BBC 1 transmissions each day. The practice was dropped in 1997. That evening, the BBC's Newsnight programme ended its nightly broadcast with a statement that it was happy to accede to Rosindell's request by playing out with a clip of the Sex Pistols' version.
The single's picture sleeve, featuring a defaced image of Queen Elizabeth II, was designed by Jamie Reid and in 2001 was ranked No. 1 in a list of the 100 greatest record covers of all time by Q magazine.
The cover art gives further reference to the Sex Pistols by using the same cut-out words to form the title as the Sex Pistols' single cover.
Single track listingEdit
- "God Save the Queen" (Paul Cook, Steve Jones, John Lydon, Glen Matlock)
- "One More Fucking Time" (Lemmy, Phil Campbell, Mikkey Dee)
- God Save the Queen (Enhanced Video)" (Cook, Jones, Lydon, Matlock)
- Phil "Wizzö" Campbell – guitar, vocals
- Mikkey Dee – drums
- Lemmy – bass, lead vocals
The SCTV satireEdit
On the 18 March 1983 episode of SCTV in the Mel's Rock Pile segment, Mel Slirrup (Eugene Levy) has a tribute to punk rock featuring a number by the band The Queenhaters—Martin Short (lead singer), Andrea Martin (lead guitarist/back-up vocals), Eugene Levy (secondary guitarist), Joe Flaherty (bass), and John Candy (drummer)—performing "I Hate The Bloody Queen", a sound-alike song that almost matches the original it is spoofing, with references to the Falklands War ("I'd like to drown the Queen/Off the coast of Argentine/Throw her off a battleship/With her Falkland war machine!") and the problems that Princess Diana was, and would be soon having with her in-laws ("I feel sorry for you, Lady Di/Having a mother-in-law like that!"). This spoof of The Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" even has its own cover version by Mudhoney on the tribute album Oh Canaduh! 2.
Other covers and usesEdit
- The song was covered by Anthrax on their Armed and Dangerous EP in 1985.
- The last part of the song with Rotten singing "no future" is sampled repeatedly, by Rotten/John Lydon on his post-Sex Pistols band Public Image Limited (PIL) song "Acid Drops".
- Part of the song was played by the Foo Fighters in the 2007 MTV Europe Music Awards.
- It was also covered by Quorthon on A Black Mark Tribute. The song was released on Bathory's final box set In Memory of Quorthon.
- UK rock band The Enemy performed the song live as part of their two homecoming gigs at Coventry's Ricoh Arena in 2008.
- In 2009, Nouvelle Vague released a cover of the song on their album 3.
- Madonna sampled the song during "Dress You Up" on her 2009 Sticky & Sweet Tour.
- A cover version named "God Save The President" serves as the national anthem of the fictional country Groland.
- The Bad Shepherds with Adrian Edmondson do a folk influenced cover of the song on their album Yan, Tyan, Tethera, Metheral.
- A karaoke version appears in Lost in Translation.
- The melody was used for the song "Skyd din hund" (Shoot your dog) by Danish metal band Red Warszawa which appears on the "Helt op i bageren" and "Skyd Sven" demo tapes.