Sex Pistols

God Save the Queen

Song Review by

The Sex Pistols' biggest chart success in Britain and a record that helped change the country's entire musical landscape, "God Save the Queen" nearly reached the number one position even in spite of a daytime airplay ban by BBC Radio (and, by some accounts, figures had to be doctored to prevent it from hitting the top). Released in 1977 during England's celebration of Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee (the 25th anniversary of her ascension to the throne), the song -- a simple, mid-tempo rocker performed with blistering energy -- was immediately provocative in its gleefully snotty name-calling (the Queen as a fascist, a common tourist attraction, and an "old figurehead," not to mention the immortal couplet "God save the Queen/She ain't no human being"). But, on a deeper level, Johnny Rotten's lyrics also attacked some of the country's most cherished patriotic notions at a moment when those notions were being trumpeted the loudest; he declared the royalty ineffectual and irrelevant, and Britain a country in decline, clinging desperately to its crumbling imperial past and ignoring the bleak times ahead for its younger generation ("there is no future in England's dreaming"). Positive or negative, public reaction was swift and hysterical; while the song was a smash hit, the Pistols themselves were demonized by the media and the government as a threat to the most basic foundations of English society, and were even attacked and beaten in the streets of London (in the most extreme incident, Rotten was stabbed in the hand). As an act of public provocation, "God Save the Queen" was immensely successful; as a rock & roll anthem, it still sounds equally potent, even if so many groups subsequently tried to duplicate its attitude and controversial impact that the song now sounds very specific to its time and place. Structurally, the main body of the song is quite simple -- two or three power chords per section -- but what drives it home so perfectly is the climactic closing coda, a descending major-key progression that never appears otherwise in the song, over which Rotten snarls the apocalyptic chant "no future, no future, no future for you." But even though Rotten is crucial to the song -- not just in the theatrical rudeness of his vocal, but also the perceptive intelligence behind his lyrics -- he isn't the only reason for its success; guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook are magnificent, assaulting their instruments with a bludgeoning power that surpasses even Rotten's furious vocal. It's necessary to hear the song in the version present on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols to fully appreciate that power, as none of the demos or live bootlegs of "God Save the Queen" equal that performance; it's a monumental moment in rock history, and even if its subject doesn't hold quite the same relevance for American listeners, the qualities it represents -- youthful rebellion, attitude with intelligence, raw energy, and total commitment to performance -- make it positively transcendent.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols 1977 EMI / Virgin 3:19
No Image 1979 Warner Bros.
Flogging a Dead Horse 1980 EMI Music Distribution 3:21
No Image 1981
Various Artists
Harmony Vision / Vestron
The Swindle Continues 1988 Restless Records 3:34
We Have Cum for Your Children 1988 Sanctuary 3:13
No Future UK? 1989 BMG / Castle Communications
No Image 1991
Various Artists
Rhino
Kiss This: The Best of the Sex Pistols 1992 EMI Music Distribution 3:18
Pretty Vacant 1995 Receiver 3:38
Punk: The Worst of Total Anarchy, Vol. 3 1995
Various Artists
Disky 3:20
Give It Some Punk 1996
Various Artists
Receiver 3:38
New Wave Archive 1996
Various Artists
Rialto 3:38
Back & There Again 1997 Creative Man / Cargo 3:34
Archive 1997 Rialto 3:37
Pretty Vacant: The Best of 1976 1999 Cleopatra 3:37
Ultimate Punk Box Set 1999
Various Artists
Receiver 3:38
The Filth and the Fury [Virgin] 2000
Original Soundtrack
Virgin 3:19
This Is Punk 2000
Various Artists
Cleopatra 3:37
Greatest Hits of the 70's [Disky Box] 2000
Various Artists
Disky 3:19
Complete Collection 2001
Various Artists
Disky 3:19
There Is No Future 2001 Sanctuary / Trojan 3:38
Complete Punk Collection: Cash from Chaos 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:17
Q Anthems 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:18
No Future UK?/Spunk 2002 Castle Music Ltd. 3:38
Outrageous and Outspoken 2002 Ozit 3:46
Jubilee (Best Of) 2002 Virgin 18:46
Sex Pistols [Box Set] 2002 EMI Music Distribution 3:38
Modern Edge 2003
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:20
Never Trust a Hippy Hippy