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(Credits: Far Out / Wikimedia)

Music

45 years on, the Sex Pistols' song 'God Save The Queen' still rattles the establishment

@jackwhatley89

While we don’t like to spend too much time talking about the national sport of their fair isle: football, it is hard to ignore some of its more potent cultural events. The FA Cup is one such moment. A bastion of competitive integrity, the cup competition sees the entire football league, and beyond, pit themselves against one another until a final two teams battle it out at Wembley under the watchful eye of the president of the Football Association, HRH Prince William. The final for 2022, the year of the platinum jubilee, was somewhat disrupted however when one set of fans meticulously booed the national anthem ‘God Save The Queen’. The very next match, that team would encourage more blowback by choosing another anthem to play before their match: the Sex Pistols’ classic ‘God Save The Queen’.

As one might imagine, the collective spitting of sugared tea across middle England at this apparent disrespect was tailored and measured for the Queen herself. Of course, things are a little more complicated than that. The team in question have long-running socialist ties and have a more than disjointed relationship with authorities, much like the Sex Pistols, the song was really just a small fraction of their anger.

Few songs are as easily identifiable as the Sex Pistols’ punk anthem ‘God Save The Queen’ if you can’t name the track title, album and humble beginnings of the song from Steve “Cutie” Jones’ first razor-sharp trouser-ripping chords then the chances are by the time Johnny Rotten arrives with his razor-sharp vocal you’re left in no doubt. The duo’s fractured relationship, seen in Danny Boyle’s new series PISTOL, which airs via Disney+ on the 31st of May, is mended across this political anthem.

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Working as part of the punk legends’ iconography, Rotten, AKA John Lydon, once said of the archetypal punk tune: “These are fun songs. Done for a laugh. ‘God Save The Queen’? It’s kind of high camp, in a way,” said Sex Pistols singer in 2002. Echoing the words of the football club who booed a silly little song, Rotten proclaimed: “You certainly don’t think it’s going to be taken as a declaration of civil war.”

45 years on from the original’s release, ‘God Save the Queen’ is still able to rile the mainstream, even if the vulgar band who committed it into our collective ear passages has moved toward the centre of the road. By the end of 1977, the year of its release and Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee, the Sex Pistols had seen their way through a seemingly endless succession of battles. Not only across television, the newspapers and radio but also in the spittle-dripping concerts, most of which were left entirely gobless. The reason for much of this turmoil was the band’s controversial single ‘God Save The Queen’.

Originally called ‘No Future’ and driven by Glen Matlock’s bass, the band member was kicked out of the group prior to its release and replaced by Sid Vicious. The band’s second single, and a landmark moment on their only album Nevermind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols, would fuel an onslaught on the band that wouldn’t subside until their break up in 1978. in truth, it was what they and Malcolm McLaren had always planned.

Despite the year being 1977 and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the band have always denied that they wrote the song — a track clearly aimed at the establishment, even likening the Queen to a “fascist regime” only a few decades on from World War II — to deliberately coincide with the event. 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.”

Rotten once said of the lyrics: “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.” Despite the grandiose sentiment much of what the band was doing was fuelled by pure unbridled enthusiasm and the ability to enrage a previously untouched sense of authoritarianism, especially on the part of the young singer.

Rotten told Rolling Stone in 2017: “I’d written this down as one solid piece. We did quite a bit with [producer] Chris Spedding before doing the album, and he taught me aspects of song structure and how to not ignore the music and just to stop ranting. Music was new to me. Even though I had bought records ever since I can remember, it’s quite different to be in the studio trying to keep in time with the tune and fit the words in.”

Rotten embellished further on the lyrics and once again, despite the obvious sentiment, the song was not a glinting guillotine ready to let a royal head roll: “To me, the lyrics themselves were a fun thing. It was expressing my point of view on the Monarchy in general and on anybody that begs your obligation with no thought. That’s unacceptable to me. You have to earn the right to call on my friendship and my loyalty. And you have to have value-proven points in order for me to support you. That’s how it is.”

The song was released on the 27th of May, 1977, just a few days before the Queen’s celebrations and the boat trip down the Thames that McLaren had planned to promote the release. However, he needn’t have bothered. Not only had the song’s little airplay guaranteed it was being touted as a controversial classic, but as soon as the BBC banned it from its airwaves it was a sure-fire hit single. The song was scheduled to hit the top spot but was, somewhat mysteriously, kept off the top of the by Rod Stewart’s ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’. People suggest that in order to prevent it from reaching the top spot 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 the band’s label Virgin at their Megastores were written off.

It stopped the song from hitting the top spot but never took the track out of the hearts and minds of the masses. A typification of British wit and incandescence, the song remains an integral part of any rebellion, teenage or otherwise. Even 45 years later, ‘God Save The Queen’ has the ability to rattle the establishment and sends fears of revolution sparking through the powder keg of parliament. While we may profess to have progressed culturally, to be accepting of new and interesting creativity wherever we see it and to support those wishing to express themselves, there is something plainly terrifying about four angry kids, a few guitars and a chorus sharp enough to bring the palace to their knees.