Music: Behind the song: Banned on the run

Every day we look at events and people who inspired a classic hit

Today: the Sex Pistols and 'God Save the Queen'

First released: 1977

Highest UK chart position: 2

Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols' manager and provocateur, knew the value of publicity. The public, he thought, were tiring of rock superstars such as Rod Stewart and Elton John, and hating the posturing of Roxy Music and long set-pieces from Emerson, Lake and Palmer. His group of four disaffected London lads would appeal to certain youth elements and outrage everyone else.

The ploy worked better than even McLaren could have imagined. The group was signed to EMI and a single, "Anarchy in the UK", was released. Following an ill-tempered, four-letter-worded television exchange with the veteran broadcaster Bill Grundy, supplies of the single were withdrawn and the band was paid pounds 50,000 to leave the label.

A&M then signed the Pistols, but a protest from other stars made them renege on the deal. This time, the Pistols collected pounds 75,000. With some reluctance, the Pistols signed with Richard Branson's Virgin.

John Lydon, who became Johnny Rotten, wrote the lyrics to "No Future" while living in a Hampstead squat. It was arranged, quite competently, as it happens, by the other Pistols - Steve Jones (guitar), Glen Matlock (bass) and Paul Cook (drums). Admittedly, Rotten had a job staying in tune - as if he cared - but this only added to the effect. McLaren saw the song as an alternative national anthem and renamed it after its first line, "God Save the Queen". Virgin announced that their first Pistols' single was to be "God Save the Queen" and all hell broke loose. The pressing plant refused to press the single and the printers the sleeve, so these disputes had to be resolved.

In truth, the song's lyrics mean little. To call Britain "a Fascist regime" means that Johnny Rotten hadn't a clue what he was writing about. John Peel played the single twice, and then both the BBC and the IBA banned it on grounds of bad taste.

The single came out just before the silver jubilee of the Queen's accession to the throne. Royalists threatened violence against the Pistols, and Jamie Reid, designer of the cover, which defaced a picture of her Majesty, had his leg broken. The Pistols allegedly threatened to kill the DJ Bob Harris for not playing their records.

Not only did the public have difficulty hearing the single, they also had trouble buying it. WH Smith, Woolworths and Boots refused to stock it. Many people bought it in Virgin's own stores. It came into the chart at No 10 and looked as though it would be at the top during jubilee week itself.

Anxious to avoid that, the authorities came to an instant decision: shops which sold their own records could not be included in the chart. Hence, Virgin's sales for the crucial week were ignored for the purposes of compiling the chart, and Rod Stewart stayed at No 1 with "I Don't Want To Talk About It".

After that, the Pistols did another nihilistic single, "Pretty Vacant", but they soon disbanded, with Rotten being replaced for a one-off release by the train robber Ronnie Biggs. Sid Vicious, who had replaced Glen Matlock before "God Save the Queen" was released, died of a drugs overdose while on bail for murdering his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. The Sex Pistols lasted little more than a year as a chart act, but they had opened the door for other confrontational groups.

In 1996 the Pistols reformed, and Radio 1 broadcast a whole concert live. In 1997 EMI, which now owns the Virgin catalogue, issued a special edition of the LP Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, to celebrate 100 years of EMI.

'Behind the Song', by Michael Heatley and Spencer Leigh, is published by Blandford, price pounds 14.99. Independent readers can buy the book for pounds 12.99 (including p&p). To order, call 01624 675 137.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

    £7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

    Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

    £27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

    Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

    Day In a Page

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate