God Save the Queen was the second single from the British punk band the Sex Pistols and became one of a handful of songs to be banned by the BBC. But why was God Save the Queen banned?
Here is what I found out:
God Save the Queen was banned by the BBC for “Gross Bad Taste” as the song was highly critical of the British monarchy and Queen Elizabeth in particular. The song contained lyrics such as “she ain’t no human being!” and was essentially an angry parody of the UK’s national anthem.
Contrary to its patriotic title, God Save the Queen is an angry rant against British politics and the monarchy.
Far Out Magazine indicated that the British Broadcasting Corporation so profoundly felt the extent of the offense that it flat out banned the song.
Not only BBC, but other Independent Broadcasting Authorities refused to air the song. Let us find out how the song reached No. 1 on the UK charts despite its ban.
And is it played on the BBC these days?
On this day 40 years ago, the Sex Pistols ‘God Save the Queen’ was banned by the BBC. https://t.co/REFvTjqRJB pic.twitter.com/x6QbwiD8TT
— Riot Fest (@RiotFest) May 31, 2017
Why were the Sex Pistols banned from the radio in England?
The Sex Pistols’ entire catalog was not banned from the radio in England. However, God Save the Queen was banned as it was seen as an assault on Queen Elizabeth II, and Anarchy in the UK was eventually banned following a television performance where the band used profanity extensively.
God Save the Queen was considered controversial for a few things:
- The song took its title directly from the national anthem of the United Kingdom.
- The song’s lyrics equated Queen with “a fascist regime”.
- The song attacked Britain’s social conformity.
Wikipedia’s discography of Sex Pistols mentions the track as the “most heavily censored record in British history”.
After the song was banned, Johnny Rotten (now known as John Lydon) said:
“We’re the only honest band that’s hit this planet in about two thousand million years. I don’t see how anyone could describe us as a political band. I don’t even know the name of the prime minister. The song, and its public impact, are now recognized as punk’s crowning glory”.
Johnny further added to the argument:
“You don’t write ‘God Save the Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song because you love them, and you’re fed up with them being mistreated.”
As per Rotten’s views, his purpose was to evoke sympathy for the British working class given the state that 1970’s England was going through. Britain was dubbed as the “sick man of Europe”.
Albums campaigns that thought outside of the box, including The Sex Pistols’ launch of God Save The Queen – one of the most controversial ever 🤘 https://t.co/vrWZ8uAtUe pic.twitter.com/TFdqeIubSI
— Official Charts (@officialcharts) October 14, 2021
Are the Sex Pistols still banned on the radio in the UK?
The Sex Pistols are no longer banned on the radio in the UK. They were first banned there in 1976 for Anarchy in the UK, and then again in 1977 for God Save the Queen.
So times have changed; Johnny’s snarling voice is deemed fit for the 21st century and is not forbidden anymore.
The Sex Pistols were trouble when they were created by the style icon Malcolm McLaren who knew how to make heads turn. Johnny Rotten was at the forefront of the punk group.
Soon after Rotten joined the band, they wrote God Save the Queen with lines like “God save the queen, the fascist regime”.
With Britain experiencing a recession and mass unemployment but also having a huge celebration called the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, No Future was a song for the times. The silver Jubilee marked the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s rise to the throne of England.
Record sales soared.
But many viewed the song’s release time as offensive. And the BBC immediately banned it. And the worst followed when many city councils refused to let the Pistols play in their town.
The government even tried to prevent Virgin Records from distributing the single.
Music Journalist Mick O’Shea believed that the BBC conspired to rig the UK charts to ensure no one played the song during the Queen’s 25th-anniversary celebration. But the BBC denied the accusations.
Even if there was a conspiracy to keep Sex Pistols off the charts, four decades later, things changed.
According to Channel 5, Johnny Rotten’s snarling voice was deemed acceptable in the 21st century. The band even helped open the 2012 Olympic Games in the presence of the Queen.
OTD in ’77, #BBC banned airplay of “God Save the Queen” by the #SexPistols 🚫 #JohnnyRotten said of it, “You don’t write ‘God Save The Queen” because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re fed up with them being mistreated!” @kexp pic.twitter.com/L9nvnwN7YW
— Kevin Cole (@djkevincole) June 1, 2018
What was so offensive about the song God Save the Queen?
The song God Save the Queen was considered offensive because it directly made allegations that the UK’s government was fascist, had no future, and that the monarchy was turning people into morons.
Shortly after the band’s second single’s release, the song started attracting heavy criticism for containing controversial lyrics. The band directly took the title from the UK’s national anthem.
This, in tandem with the Queen’s silver jubilee, the lyrics were too much for many sections of the British public to take.
The Wikipedia page also mentions that:
“The Conservative shadow minister for education condemned the song as ‘a symptom of the way society is declining’ and both the Independent Television Companies’ Association and the Association of Independent Radio Contractors banned its advertisements.”
Nonetheless, advance sales were sufficient to make the song land No. 1 spot in the UK’s charts.
I LOVE THIS PIC, MR. JOHN LYDON AKA JOHNNY ROTTEN!!! GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!! pic.twitter.com/7axh6c5S
— Rafa Rueda (@NeoZeiss) September 29, 2011
Does Johnny Rotten like the Queen?
Johnny Rotten actually likes the Queen. He has no problems with her at all. Instead, he now feels sorrow for the royal family.
Johnny appeared for an interview with The Guardian where he said that he would “sorely miss Britain’s monarch when she dies.”
The singer appeared on the Quietus video hour when the conversation turned to the topic of the recently published plans for the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Host John Doran asked Rotten if he was worried about how the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen might be used?
Rotten replied to this question saying the song was about a “political situation and the demand for the obedience to a monarchy I don’t believe in”.
Rotten moved on to the question of the Queen as a person, and he said: “I would sorely miss her as a human being on planet Earth.”
Rotten also added that:
“I love all the pageantry, too. I loved that last wedding. Oh, when the planes flew over the palace? It reminded me of World War II and all those films, and how grim it was fighting Nazis?
For me, it was a reintroduction to history, lest we forget.”
Johnny Rotten on the piano, fiddling around during The Sex Pistols Wessex Studios sessions between 17th – 24th October 1976 in London, as captured by Ray Stevenson. pic.twitter.com/xV445jbOej
— Bushman (@MrBushman1) October 28, 2021
Does John Lydon still play God Save the Queen?
John Lydon does not play God Save the Queen as the Sex Pistols broke up in 2008. His last performance of the song was on September 5, 2008, in Spain. He resurrected his band Public Image Limited after that, but they do not perform Sex Pistols songs.
John Lydon openly expressed his views in 2017 about the monarchy in the past and the use of his punk-anthem.
Lydon is keen to avoid using his band’s biggest song, stressing that he values Elizabeth II’s life. The connection between music and politics has always been close. It’s often been used as the channel to express views against anti-establishment regimes and represents mass ideas.
The Sex Pistols was not the only band doing so. A successful number of punk artists were taking a stand against certain ideologies.
And bands like Ramones, Patti Smith, and Sex Pistols led the movement with great enthusiasm. But while many punk bands came out of the left side of the political spectrum, not all punk bands lean that way.
Luckily, I covered that in my recent article. I got into all the best-known punk bands with conservative political views, including the 1 band that takes that to extremes.
Just click that link to read it on my site.
There aren’t many songs in history that were created on the verge of a nation’s divide.
But then there aren’t many intellectually articulate bands like the Sex Pistols who knew how to get the band noticed.
Band mastermind Malcolm McLaren was astute enough to change the song No Future’s title to God Save the Queen, ensuring it became the song of the decade.
And it did. But in negative ways. The music attracted negative criticism for its highly controversial lyrics and was considered an attack on the UK’s government.
The extent was felt by the general public when BBC banned the song for its awful lousy taste. But decades later, the song is looked at as the crowning glory for the Sex Pistols.
And honestly, it is hard to separate the band’s success from the looming environment that circulated the song.
Photo which requires attribution:
God Save The Queen, RoyalWeddingGirl by Paul Downey is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.