Sex Pistols to re-release God Save the Queen ahead of Jubilee

By Mark Savage
BBC music correspondent

Published
Image source, Barry Plummer

The controversial Sex Pistols single God Save the Queen is to be re-released ahead of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee.

Originally issued during 1977's Silver Jubilee, the anti-royal song compares the UK to "a fascist regime" and says the Queen is "not a human being".

At the time, it was banned by BBC and commercial radio stations, with Radio 2 controller Charles McLelland saying the song was "in gross bad taste".

Despite that, it reached number two in the UK singles chart.

The song was only denied the top spot by Rod Stewart's I Don't Want To Talk About It - and rumours have persisted ever since that the charts were manipulated to keep it off number one.

But many retailers, including WH Smith and Boots, had refused to stock the single. One shop even blanked out the title in its chart countdown, so as not to offend the Queen.

Image source, Virgin
Image caption,
The original artwork will feature on the Virgin re-release

Originally titled No Future, the song was less about the royal family than a social critique of the country, which had fallen on hard times in the late 1970s, with the younger generation particularly affected.

Singer John Lydon later observed: "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."

But in 1977, the song caused an uproar.

"If pop music is going to be used to destroy our established institutions, then it ought to be destroyed first," remarked Labour MP Marcus Lipton. The Sex Pistols were banned from television, and many local councils refused to allow them permission to play concerts.

When they famously performed the song on Jubilee Day, on a boat sailing down the Thames, several members were arrested when they reached dry land.

The group also found themselves in physical danger. Drummer Paul Cook was attacked outside Shepherd's Bush Tube station by six men armed with knives and an iron bar. Lydon and the song's producers Chris Thomas and Bill Price were cornered outside a pub in Highbury and attacked with razors.

"It wasn't very nice," said Cook. "Everyone started getting paranoid. We had to be careful when we went out."

This time, the release is unlikely to cause the same sort of uproar it generated in 1977. Even Lydon has mellowed towards the royal family.

"I feel really sorry for them, because in many ways they're born into a gilded cage that has isolated them from reality," he told the BBC in 2015. "So I've got a sense of empathy about that".

Nonetheless, the band are aiming for the top of the charts again, with thousands of vinyl singles being pressed ahead of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations next month.

Four thousand copies will contain the recording released by Virgin Records in 1977, with Did You No Wrong on the b-side. Another 1,977 copies will carry the much-sought-after alternative pressing, made for A&M Records, which has an early version of the song No Feelings on the b-side.

The A&M version was deleted in 1977 when the label split with the band over their obnoxious behaviour. About 25,000 copies of the single were destroyed, and the rare remaining copies now sell for up to £16,000.

The band will be hoping that the scarcity of these releases will push the song higher up the charts than when it was reissued for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee 10 years ago.

Back then, it only reached number 80 in the charts.