Today in 1977, Sex Pistols' single "God Save The Queen" was released in the UK, and almost instantly banned. It was the year of the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and in the conservative conventional UK, the single caused widespread offence, with lyrics including the phrase "God Save The Queen, She ain't no human being.."
Provoked to utter obscenities live on early-evening national TV in the UK, the group found themselves victims of an instant suburban backlash, becoming targets of hate to average citizens, and overnight heroes to a generation of revolting teenagers at the same time. Banned by TV and radio, the single was refused a place in the nation's Main Street shops, while workers at EMI Records' pressing plant refused to handle the record, which was seen by them
to be attacking the monarchy.
Whipped up into a frenzy of indignation by the media, the song was regarded by much of the general public to be an assault on Queen Elizabeth II, which, to be fair, it was. The title is taken directly from "God Save the Queen", the UK national anthem and was doubly controversial, for its equation of the Queen with
a "fascist regime", and for its claim that England had "no future". Pistols singer Johnny Rotten later said, "You don't write a song like '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 of seeing them mistreated".
Released as the band's second single
from their album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols,the single cover, depicting a defaced picture of Queen Elizabeth II (which in English law, is a form of treason), was designed by Jamie Reid, and in 2001 was named #1 in a list of 100 greatest record covers of all time by Q Magazine.
On 7th June 1977, on the
day of the Jubilee national holiday, Sex Pistols pulled off a publicity stunt by playing the song from a boat named The Queen Elizabeth as it sailed down the River Thames, eventually mooring outside the House of Parliament. The police were awaiting the boat's docking and, as the members of the party left the boat for dry land, a scuffle broke out, resulting in eleven people, including several members of the band's
entourage, being arrested.
In one week it sold 200,000 copies
in the UK, peaking at #2 (behind Rod Stewart's "I Don't Want to Talk About It") on the UK singles chart, though there have been persistent rumours -- never confirmed or denied -- that it was actually the biggest-selling single in the UK at the time, and the British Phonographic Industry conspired to keep it off the Number One slot.
I don't suppose we'll ever know, although none of the BPI's then executives were subsequently knighted, so perhaps Her Majesty wasn't very bothered, one way or the other...