Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen, arguably the most iconic single in punk rock history, is to be reissued to mark Elizabeth II’s upcoming platinum jubilee.
The band’s second single after Anarchy in the UK, it was released in 1977 alongside the Queen’s silver jubilee with a decidedly anti-royalist bent, comparing the monarchy to a “fascist regime … She ain’t no human being / and there’s no future / and England’s dreaming”.
Despite being banned from BBC radio and television, the song reached No 2 – held off the top by Rod Stewart – though rumours have persisted ever since that the charts were manipulated to keep the song away from the No 1 spot. In its listing on the charts, it was blanked out so as not to offend the Queen.
Now, the song has another chance to reach the top, as thousands of physical copies are repressed for release on 27 May. Four thousand copies of the version released on Virgin Records will be released, with Did You No Wrong on the B-side. Another 1,977 copies of the single’s original version on A&M Records will also be released, with its own original B-side, No Feeling.
The original A&M version is one of the most sought-after releases in rock history. The band had signed to the label in a ceremony outside Buckingham Palace in March 1977, but after a couple of incidents – including a friend of A&M’s director being threatened by a hanger-on of the band – they were dropped six days later, and nearly all of the 25,000 pressed copies of God Save the Queen were destroyed. Copies of the A&M version have since been sold for up to $22,155 (£17,700).
Pistols drummer Paul Cook later said that God Save the Queen wasn’t written to mark the silver jubilee: “We weren’t aware of it at the time. It wasn’t a contrived effort to go out and shock everyone.” Originally titled No Future, it had been performed on tour in 1976.
Nevertheless, under the aegis of manager Malcolm McLaren, the band renamed it God Save the Queen, and embraced the potential for provocation. They performed a concert on the jubilee itself on a boat called the Queen Elizabeth, sailing on the Thames – various members of the boat party were swiftly arrested when they docked.
Lyricist John Lydon, AKA Johnny Rotten, later brushed off the idea that it was a sustained, angry attack on the monarchy. “God Save the Queen – it’s kinda camp in a way. You certainly don’t think it’s gonna be taken as a declaration of civil war,” he said. Nevertheless, the band members were subjected to physical attacks by offended listeners in the wake of the song’s release, including with razor blades and iron bars.
The release comes amid other high-profile activity for the band: Pistol, a Danny Boyle-directed TV miniseries dramatising the Sex Pistols, is to premiere on 31 May. Lydon unsuccessfully sued the rest of the band over use of their music in the show, with a judge ruling that the band’s legal agreements meant they were entitled to make majority decisions over such uses.