God Save the Queen (Sex Pistols song)

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"God Save the Queen"
Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen.jpg
Single by Sex Pistols
from the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols
B-side"No Feeling" (A&M release)/"Did You No Wrong" (Virgin release)
Released27 May 1977
RecordedOctober 1976, March 1977
StudioWessex Sound Studios, London
GenrePunk rock[1]
LabelVirgin, A&M
Songwriter(s)Glen Matlock, John Lydon, Paul Cook, Steve Jones
Producer(s)Chris Thomas, Bill Price
Sex Pistols singles chronology
"Anarchy in the U.K."
"God Save the Queen"
"Pretty Vacant"
Music video
"God Save the Queen" on YouTube

"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 studio 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; both the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Independent Broadcasting Authority refused to play the song, including a total ban of its airing by the BBC.[2] The original title for the song was "No Future", with the lyrics themselves being a general expression of the band's view of the monarchy or any individual or establishment commanding general obligation.[3]

The song reached No. 1 on the NME charts in the United Kingdom, and made it to No. 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.[4]


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 song's title is taken directly from the national anthem of the United Kingdom of the same name. At the time, it was highly controversial for its equation of the queen with a "fascist regime" and 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". Guitarist Steve Jones stated that when Matlock first played him the song it didn't sound like 'God Save The Queen': "It was like 'Love Me Do' or something".[5]

Although many believe it was created because of the Silver Jubilee, the band have denied it, with 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."[6] 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."[7] 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, 11 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.[8]

The song peaked at No. 2 (below Rod Stewart's "I Don't Want to Talk About It" released as a double A-side budget single along with "The First Cut Is the Deepest") on the official UK Singles Chart used by the BBC, though there have been persistent 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.[4][9][10]

Various sources state that it was indeed the highest-selling single of the week,[11][12] despite a ban by the BBC and some major retailers.[13] In order to prevent it from reaching the top of the "official" BMRB chart, 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 Virgin Megastores were not counted.[14] Virgin had few doubts that theirs was the higher-selling single; the company's sales total out of stock exceeded the officially cited sales for the Rod Stewart single.[15]

In addition to the BBC, the single was banned by the Independent Broadcasting Authority which regulated Independent Local Radio. On at least one singles chart for the period, TOP 20 POPS, the song's position at No. 2 was represented by a blank line. In March 2001, the BBC published an article that stated ‘"God Save the Queen" reached number one in the UK in 1977 despite being banned by the BBC, and marked a defining moment in the punk revolution.’[16] The NME magazine chart did in fact place the single at number-one during the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II.[13][17]

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 titled 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 and £13,000 a copy, depending on condition of the disc.[18] The highest recorded sale price of $22,155 was achieved at auction 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.[19] 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 named the A&M single the most collectable record of all time.[citation needed]

"God Save the Queen" was featured on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, the band's only album, and several compilation albums.

Rolling Stone ranked "God Save the Queen" number 175 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time[20] and it is also one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[21] It was Sounds magazine's Single of the Year in 1977.[22] In 1989, it was eighteenth in the list of NME writers' all-time top 150 singles.[23] Q magazine in 2002 ranked it first on its list of "The 50 Most Exciting Tunes Ever..."[24] and third on its list of "100 Songs That Changed The World" in 2003.[25] 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".[26]

In 2010, the song was ranked among the top 10 most controversial songs of all time in a poll conducted by PRS for Music.[27]

In 2002, the song was re-released to coincide with the Queen's Golden Jubilee, whereupon the single charted in the top 20. 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.[28] 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."[29] The 2012 re-release peaked at no. 80 in the singles chart.[30]

On Piers Morgan Live in 2015, in response to the song's backlash from those who loved the Queen, Lydon stated: "I never said I didn't either, I just don't like the institution".[31]

Use in other media[edit]

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.[citation needed]

On 3 November 2016, Andrew Rosindell, a Conservative MP, argued in an early day motion for a return to the broadcasting of the national anthem (named "God Save the Queen") at the end of BBC One transmissions each day (The practice was dropped in 1997, ostensibly due to BBC One adopting 24-hour broadcasting by simulcasting BBC News 24 overnight, rendering closedown obsolete),[32] to commemorate the Brexit vote and Britain's subsequent withdrawing from the European Union. At the evening of the same day, BBC Two's Newsnight programme ended its nightly broadcast with host of that night Kirsty Wark saying that they were "incredibly happy to oblige" Rosindell's request, and then played a clip of the Sex Pistols' similarly named song, much to Rosindell's discontent.[33]

In his 1983 novel, The Place of Dead Roads, William S Burroughs echoes the infamous coupling of the song when describing the United Kingdom with the words "God save the Queen and a fascist regime … a flabby toothless fascism, to be sure. Never go too far in any direction, is the basic law on which Limey-Land is built."[34] Burroughs also claimed he sent a congratulatory letter to the Sex Pistols following the release of the song.[35]

Chart performance[edit]

Cover artwork[edit]

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.[41] A photograph of the image is held by the National Portrait Gallery, London.[42]

Cover versions[edit]

Motörhead version[edit]

"God Save the Queen"
God Save The Queen MH.jpg
Single by Motörhead
from the album We Are Motörhead
B-side"One More Fucking Time/God Save the Queen (Enhanced Video)"
RecordedJune–August, 1999
StudioKaro Studios, Brackel, Germany
Songwriter(s)John Lydon / Steve Jones / Glen Matlock / Paul Cook
Producer(s)Motörhead, Bob Kulick, Bruce Bouillet, Duane Barron
Motörhead singles chronology
"Born to Raise Hell"
"God Save the Queen"
"We Are Motörhead"

A cover version by the English heavy metal band Motörhead was released as a single in 2000 to promote their album, We Are Motörhead.

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.

A performance of the song recorded during the band's twenty-fifth anniversary concert at Brixton Academy, on 22 October 2000, appears on their 25 & Alive Boneshaker DVD.

Single track listing[edit]

  1. "God Save the Queen" (Paul Cook, Steve Jones, John Lydon, Glen Matlock)
  2. "One More Fucking Time" (Lemmy, Phil Campbell, Mikkey Dee)
  3. God Save the Queen (Enhanced Video)" (Cook, Jones, Lydon, Matlock)


  • Phil "Wizzö" Campbell – guitar, vocals
  • Mikkey Dee – drums
  • Lemmy – bass, lead vocals

Anthrax Version[edit]

American "big four"[43] thrash metal band Anthrax recorded a cover of the song on Armed and Dangerous (EP) (1985).

The SCTV satire[edit]

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.

Red Flag version[edit]

In 2002 American synth-pop project Red Flag featured the "Dustbin Mix" on the "Cause and Consequence"-Maxi CD.[44]


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External links[edit]