38 Years Ago: The Sex Pistols Release ‘God Save the Queen’
Thousands upon thousands of musical acts go their entire careers without having any hit songs, or even any recognition at all. Then there are the thousands of bands that release one song that becomes wildly popular, maybe for the summer, and then fade away into obscurity.
The Sex Pistols don't fall into either category. They released four singles from Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols: "Anarchy in the U.K.," "Pretty Vacant" and "Holidays in the Sun" ... and while some of their other songs elicited strong reactions from the British public, none were quite so shocking as "God Save the Queen," released on May 27, 1977.
The Sex Pistols had already garnered a bit of a reputation after signing to big-time record label EMI and releasing their first single, "Anarchy in the U.K." Then EMI dropped the band after they appeared on an early morning British talk show, where they drunkenly let fly a barrage of profanity. But they'd already spent EMI's advance money and were a hot commodity in the rock and roll world. You can watch the incident in the video below. There is, of course, NSFW language:
So they signed with Virgin Records and set out to release what would be their only studio album. After recording, they released "God Save the Queen" as their second single, and people began reacting almost immediately. The shock felt by the British public was in no small part due to the fact that the single hit shelves during the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's ascension to the British throne.
When the single was being pressed, shipped and stocked, many workers refused to handle it. The song, with lyrics like "God save the Queen / She ain't no human being," was considered by the general monarchy-loving public to be an attack on Queen Elizabeth, the British Royal Family and all of England.
The song was banned from being played on radio and TV, but it still hit the No. 1 spot on NME's chart. It reached No. 2 on BBC's official chart, prompting accusations that a conspiracy among music and broadcast executives intentionally kept it from reaching the top slot.
June 7, 1977 -- just a few days after the single was released -- was the official date marking the Queen's Silver Jubilee anniversary. The Sex Pistols, along with a group of rowdy fans and band creator Malcolm McLaren, boarded a ship named The Queen Elizabeth and headed for open water. They played a short set before being arrested:
Eventually, the Sex Pistols imploded under the weight of their own fame. Johnny Rotten reverted back to his given name of John Lydon and formed the band Public Image Ltd, which saw their fair share of hijinks, as well.
As for the single, an original pressing of "God Save the Queen" is one of the most-valued bits of vinyl around today, so keep your eyes open at garage sales and thrift stores. And in case you've never heard it, or even if you just want a refresher, here's "God Save the Queen":