Originally issued in a plain black sleeve, the single was the only Sex Pistols recording released by EMI, and reached number 38 on the UK Singles Chart before EMI dropped the group on 6 January 1977, a month after the Bill Grundy incident, in which members of the band used profanity during a live television broadcast.
In the documentary The Filth and the Fury, John Lydon described the composition of the song's opening lyrics, explaining that the best rhyme he could devise for the first line, "I am an Antichrist", was the second line, "I am an anarchist".
The lyrics endorse a particularly sensational, violent concept of anarchy that reflected the pervasive sense of embittered anger, confusion, restlessness, economic frustration and social alienation which was being felt by a generation of disenfranchised youth amidst the repression and squalor of British life in the 1970s. Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren considered the song "a call to arms to the kids who believe that rock and roll was taken away from them. It's a statement of self rule, of ultimate independence." In 2007, the surviving members (not including original Pistols' bassist Glen Matlock) re-recorded "Anarchy in the U.K." for the video game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock because the multi-track master could not be found. The "Guitar Hero" version also appears in the film adaption of the A-Team.
In 2012, it was announced that a limited edition 7" inch picture disc of the song would be released on 21 April 2012 to mark Record Store Day.
With its "inflammatory, venomous lyrics [and] crude energy", the Sex Pistols' debut single "established punk's modus operandi". Producer Chris Thomas layered multiple tracks of Steve Jones's guitar to create a "searing wall of sound", while Johnny Rotten spewed the vocals "as if his teeth had been ground down to points."
Megadeth's version has incorrect lyrics. Dave Mustaine explained that he could not understand Johnny Rotten's singing, so he made up the parts he could not understand (in addition, the country is changed to "USA", though the title is kept unchanged). The song's music video is a montage of live footage of the band, cartoon political figures, various scenes of violence, and of a man being forced to watch (much like Alex's therapy in A Clockwork Orange). Steve Jones played the second solo.
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera took offence to this version and to Green Jelly mocking The Flintstones, but later relented, as this version was featured on the soundtrack to The Flintstones film that was released in 1994.
The London-based indie label Criminal Records is releasing a tongue-in-cheek version of the song by the band 'rocketclover' for the 2010 Christmas holidays. The release is linked to a Facebook campaign to get the single in the charts, in the same fashion of the Rage Against X Factor campaign.
Billy Childish recorded a cover of the song with his punk rock group The Blackhands.
German band The BossHoss covered the song on their album Do or Die.
The Australian singer-songwriter Scott Matthew included his version in the 2013 cover album "Unlearned".