In 1977 when there was still the remnant of a taboo about criticising the monarchy, "God Save the Queen" was about as rebellious as rock could get. At a time when most of Her Majesty's subjects were flag-waving for the Silver Jubilee, it provoked outrage and enthusiasm in equal measure. It was so hot in fact that it nearly didn't get released at all.
Dropped by EMI for, among other things, swearing on TV, the band were briefly on the books of A&M Records, but here too the bosses bowed to public pressure just as they were about to release the single. When it was eventually issued in June 1977 by the more open-minded Virgin, such was the hype that it went straight into the charts at No 2. It only later transpired that A&M had got as far as pressing 200 copies before it got cold feet. Half of these are thought to have been destroyed while the rest were presumably secreted into the duffle bags of quick-thinking A&M staff.
By 1988, despite the Virgin re-issue being widely available, the A&M copies were changing hands for pounds 300 a throw. As the rarest item by the genre's most famous exponents, the record became the punk collector's Holy Grail.
Beanos Records in Croydon, the largest second-hand record shop in Europe, has handled only four copies in the last 15 years. It recently sold one of its two copies for pounds 2,500. "For records to realise this sort of price they have to be by an important, desirable artist, be very limited edition and be in pristine condition," says shop founder David Lashmar. "The buyer may be a sad 'anorak' collector, a serious investor or just a huge fan with a lot of spare cash." Former punks made good? Mr Vicious would turn in his grave. "For most collectors, the 'I've got it so nobody else can bloody have it' factor is sufficient motivation."
The Pistols were important but the music was just a part of it. "God Save The Queen" is more a cult object than music - a design classic if you like, the ultimate example of product and marketing material as one and the same thing. They weren't selling music so much as membership. Of course the timing was as much a part of Malcolm McLaren's vision for the band as the rips, zips and tartan creations of his partner Vivienne Westwood. It was an art school experiment that became The Cult With No Name virtually overnight. They broke new ground in bad taste, but in today's climate Johnny Rotten and co would find controversy a much sought-after commodity. At the butt-end of the Nineties it takes a confession of domestic/canine abuse - the Prodigy's delightful "Smack My Bitch Up" - to invite that invaluable BBC ban with its accompanying headlines of outrage.
But how many of these new singles are likely to show a 2,000 per cent return in ten years' time? Perhaps Rotten wasn't far off when he said: "The Sex Pistols finished rock 'n' roll. This was the last rock 'n' roll band. It's all over now, Rock 'n' roll's shit. It's dismal. Grandads dance to it."Reuse content