The Sex Pistols and Queen Elizabeth: from the scandalous punk concert on a boat to the current well wishes

John Lydon, Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols, sign their short-lived contract (it will last 6 days) with A&M. It was a few weeks before they shook England and punk emerged

June 7, 1977 was the jubilee day in england. Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her silver anniversary on the throne. Some ragged young men, with the appearance of not having bathed in days and furious gesture, they boarded a ship called, fittingly, the Queen Elizabeth. With them were artists, writers and a film crew. They walked for a few minutes along the Thames until they approached the Royal Palace. Suddenly a thunderous noise, a coupling that screeched in the ears and a ball of noise caused by various instruments pounded savagely. The Sex Pistols were expressing their opinion on the celebration and on the monarchy. They played No Feelings and God Save The Queen. On the bridges and on the riverbank the public crowded. There were the indignant, those who did not understand anything and those (the least) who looked amused. The Queen Elizabeth was surrounded by police launches. “The atmosphere on the ship was paranoid and claustrophobic but also very exciting,” he wrote. jon savage in his history of punk. In minutes the water was populated. The nerves were evident. The boys kept playing their songs. The policemen threatened, blew the high-pitched horns of their boats, yelled through megaphones. Malcolm McLaren insulted them from the deck, with the impunity that several meters away gave: “Damn fascist bastards.” Two approached the band’s manager, a master of the promotion. They told him that if they didn’t stop they were going to hurt them, that they were going to do everything the police weren’t supposed to do. The boat reached the shore again and the noise ball died down. All the crew members were imprisoned for a few hours.

The next day, the toothless, dangerous-looking, spiky-haired youths made it to the front page of the newspapers. Punk had made its irruption.

god save the queen It was the second single from the Sex Pistols. He turned up ten before that short river crossing. The subject caused a great scandal. It was not a version of the traditional song transformed into a British anthem. But of the cry of rage of Johnny Rotten and his companions (or henchmen, as they were seen in those years) against the queen, the monarchy and the state of affairs. A fascist regime/ that makes you an asshole/ (…) God Save the Queen/ She is not a human being/ There is no future/ In the English dream/ (…) There is no future/ There is no future/ There is no future for you.

Sex Pistols – God Save The Queen

The BBC banned the issue from broadcasting. Also the network of private broadcasters in England. The Pistols were the group of the moment but they didn’t appear on Top of the Pops. But all that only managed to generate more interest. The single sold frantically. It was a new sound (which many called noise), a new message, an attitude never seen before. In the official ranking, God Save The Queen came in second place. But many swear that it actually took first place, but through some ruse it was displaced so that the punk newcomer’s victory would not be so obvious. In the first place was I don’t want to talk about it by Rod Stewart. A good metaphor of the difference between what the Pistols did with the rest of the music market, of the rupture that punk meant.

The royal jubilees, the celebrations for the round anniversaries of Queen Elizabeth have some elements that tend to be repeated at every opportunity: large parades, street parties, recitals, Union Jack flags everywhere, commemorative supplements in the newspapers, special programs in television and the Sex Pistols. Since 1977 they usually reincarnate, reappearing for each anniversary of his majesty. The old punks do not usually miss the event. This time 45 years after their debut, on the Queen’s platinum anniversary, they reissue the single once again. The gesture no longer has anything revolutionary. Neither intends to insult the queen, nor denounce the fascist regime, as the lyrics said. It is almost a caress, an acknowledgment, one more form of nostalgia.

Police speedboats go out in search of the Queen Elizabeth, the ship on which the Sex Pistols were playing and defying the system (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)
Police speedboats go out in search of the Queen Elizabeth, the ship on which the Sex Pistols were playing and defying the system (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)

The Sex Pistols had already reissued the theme for the Golden and Diamond Weddings, that is, twenty-ten years ago. Both times with the hope that God Save The Queen would climb back up the rankings but her rise stopped far short of the top.

But there is a very valuable edition of the song. So much so that several specialists consider that It is the most expensive single in history. Before the Sex Pistols signed with Virgin and started putting out their singles and the Never Mind The Bollocks LP, A&M had printed 25,000 copies of God Save The Queen. But from the signing of the contract, the scandals of the four members of the band, effectively spread by McLaren, scared the executives of the record company and terminated the contract. They destroyed the run. The few surviving singles became the Holy Grail of vinyl collectors. The current value of those copies can exceed $25,000.

“God Save The Queen”: the cover of the controversial single
“God Save The Queen”: the cover of the controversial single

The economic and social situation in England in the 1970s was bad. That disintegration produced, among other things, punk. The Sex Pistols were its promoters and the paradigmatic group of the movement and of that era. His passing was fleeting but enduring. A year later they were separated and Sid Vicious, after murdering his girlfriend, would also die after a few months.

The cover of the single also became memorable. The face of the operated Queen: strips crossing her eyes and mouth. It was designed by Jamie Reid and was chosen at the beginning of the millennium by the British magazine Q as the best cover in rock history.

The Sex Pistols on the ship on June 7, 1977. They smoke, drink beer and in minutes they will start playing God Save The Queen (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)
The Sex Pistols on the ship on June 7, 1977. They smoke, drink beer and in minutes they will start playing God Save The Queen (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)

On this occasion, these platinum weddings, the seventy years of reign, the jubilee lasts four days. On Saturday there will be a big festival around Buckingham Palace with Alicia Keys, Elton John, Duran Duran and Diana Ross, among others. The Sex Pistols are not invited. But their leader does not see anything bad about these celebrations. “There are flags. People have fun. Tourists enjoy.” When journalists insist, they look for a controversial statement, he responds sensibly, “I’m not 21 anymore. I’m 66. Things look different from here.”

The advantages of the passage of time.

Johnny Rotten is definitely John Lydon now. And his opinion of the Queen and even of the monarchy is nuanced. He says that he doesn’t want the song to be misunderstood, that It was written against the system, against the monarchical institution and not against the queen. He says that it is a merit in itself to maintain the reign for seventy years and also appreciates the good condition in which the monarch is.

The advantages of longevity.

“I hope he lives for many more years. I don’t know anything about the monarchy but may she live many more years. I’m going to miss her when she dies, ”John Lydon declared a few days ago.


Johnny Rotten: from punk antichrist with the Sex Pistols to his wife’s 24-hour nurse and the wish to die together
The terrible and brief life of Sid Vicious, the punk icon who murdered his girlfriend and used drugs until he died