Sorry I haven’t posted anything in some time–it’s been crazy around here–so to make up for it, I tried to pick something really interesting for this installment of the virtual museum. These are Johnny Rotten’s (John Lydon) original handwritten lyrics for the Sex Pistols classic “God Save The Queen.” These had been on exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a display commemorating the band’s (unwanted) induction, and have finally made their way back to Recordmecca headquarters.
As you can see, these have the song’s original title “No Future” at the top, and a reference to “window leen” in the first verse that didn’t make it to the final song (window leen is the UK equivalent of Windex.) These lyrics are reproduced in Jon Savage’s comprehensive history of UK punk “England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond.” If you don’t know this song, or the story of the Pistols, stop reading this and immediately buy their album “Never Mind The Bollocks: Here’s The Sex Pistols” and this book. I can’t recommend these strongly enough.
Here’s a short history of this fantastic song, and the chaos surrounding it’s release, courtesy Wikipedia:
The single was released on 27 May 1977, and was regarded by much of the general public to be an assault on Queen Elizabeth II and the monarchy. The title is taken directly from “God Save the Queen“, the British national anthem. At the time it was highly controversial, firstly for its equation of the Queen with a “fascist regime”, and secondly for the apparent claim that England had “no future”.
Although many believe it was created because of the Jubilee, the band denies it, Paul Cook saying that, “It wasn’t written specifically for the Queen’s Jubilee. We weren’t aware of it at the time. It wasn’t a contrived effort to go out and shock everyone.” Johnny Rotten has explained the lyrics as follows: “You don’t write a song like ‘God Save The Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re sick of seeing them mistreated.” His intentions were apparently to evoke sympathy for the British working class, and a general resentment for the monarchy.
On June 7, 1977 – the Jubilee holiday itself – the band attempted to play the song from a boat on the river Thames, outside The Palace of Westminster. After a scuffle involving attendee Jah Wobble and a cameraman, the band and some of its entourage were arrested.
The song peaked at number 2 on the official UK Singles Chart used by the BBC, though there have been persistent rumours – never confirmed or denied – that it was actually the biggest-selling single in the UK at the time, and was kept off number 1 (by Rod Stewart’s I Don’t Want To Talk About It) because it was felt that it might cause offence. It did hit number 1 on the unofficial NME singles chart. It was banned by the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority which regulated Independent Local Radio, effectively denying it any media exposure. It was also not stocked by some shops. Since the official singles chart at the time was compiled using sales returns from a number of outlets amongst a wider participating roster, it is in theory possible that the single’s number 2 position was not the result of disregarding sales figures as such, but of the knowing selection for that week’s chart source data of a number of stores which were not selling the record.
The phrase “no future”, the song’s closing refrain, became emblematic of the punk rock movement, although its use in the song was ambiguous, the lyrics claiming that “there is no future in England’s dreaming”.
Before the group signed to Virgin, a small number of copies of “God Save the Queen” had been pressed on the A&M label. These are now among the most valuable records ever pressed in the UK, with a resale rate as of 2006 of between £500 to £13,000 a copy, depending on condition of the disc and how much a collector is willing to pay.
The song also features on the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, and several compilation albums.
Rolling Stone ranked “God Save the Queen” number 173 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, one of the group’s two songs on the list along with “Anarchy in the U.K.“. Sounds magazine made it their Single of the Year in 1977. In 1989 it was 18th in the list of NME writers all time top 150 singles. Q Magazine in 2002 ranked it first on their list as “The 50 Most Exciting Tunes Ever…” and 3rd in their list of “100 Songs That Changed The World” in 2003.In 2007 NME launched a campaign to get the song to number 1 in the British charts and encouraged readers to purchase or download the single on October 8th. However it only made #42.”