Main content

God Save The Queen

Punk's greatest hit - social commentary or nihilistic rant?

Fact title Fact data
Release date:
27th May 1977
Written by:
Sex Pistols
First recorded by:
Sex Pistols
Also recorded by:
Nouvelle Vague, Motorhead

Synopsis

To many this song represents the horrendous nihilism which supposedly drove the punk movement: noisy and tuneless. To others it remains the paragon of rock 'n' roll excellence at a time when the music world had become both complacent and obsessed with material gain. Whatever your stance, there's no denying that God Save The Queen polarised the British public like no other song since Rock Around The Clock in 1955.

There's no future, no future, no future for you!
God Save The Queen

Sex Pistol's drummer Paul Cook's claims that this song had nothing at all to do with the Queen's Silver Jubilee taking place in 1977 seem ingenuous to the point of perversity. How could a band who (often at the behest of their manager, Malcolm McLaren) courted controversy at every turn, honestly profess ignorance of something that was inescapable in that year in the UK? But even if the band were being deliberately provocative this was no simple three-chord thrash. Behind the two fingered salute to the establishment was a social critique of a country which had fallen on hard times and was in danger of ignoring its younger generation.

As singer John 'Johnny Rotten' Lydon said: "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."

It's long been believed by many that the record represented such a threat to the establishment that the BBC refused to allow it to reach number one. The fact is that whether you believe the conspiracy theorists or not, God Save The Queen reached the number two slot on the week that marked 25 years since the coronation, just behind Rod Stewart. Produced by ex-Beatles engineer and Roxy Music producer, Chris Thomas, its ringing guitar intro by Steve Jones was a clarion call for dispossessed youth who rallied to the sentiment that there was "no future in England's dreaming."

Like many songs featured in The People's Songs, God Save The Queen is overwhelmingly associated with the act that first wrote and recorded it: Sex Pistols. But like the band, its energy and sense of dissatisfaction sum up perfectly what it felt like to be young and alienated in 1977. It also renewed the sense of 'anyone can do this' to that generation in much the same way that Skiffle had done more than a decade before.