“There are not many songs written over baked beans at the breakfast table that went on to divide a nation and force a change in popular culture.”
– Johnny Rotten
The release of Sex Pistols‘ “God Save The Queen”, timed to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, was met with both disdain and admiration. It resulted in a mountain of negative press, something that manager Malcolm McLaren was pining for.
It was on this day in 1977 that the song was banned from radio airplay on BBC. While it would’ve been the final nail in the coffin for any old pop song, “God Save The Queen” was not any old pop song: this ‘anti-establishment’ record getting kiboshed by the broadcaster resulted in an uproar against the BBC. If music fans couldn’t hear this controversial record on the radio, they would find other ways to listen.
The BBC cited the lyrics as “gross bad taste”–a criticism the band was more than happy with. Even with retailers like Woodworth refusing to carry the record, it flew off store shelves wherever it was available, selling 150,000 copies a day over the course of a week. It peaked at #2, only behind Rod Stewart’s “I Don’t Want To Talk About It.” Even the official charts refused to publish the song name.
The confrontation was elevated when the Sex Pistols got on a boat sailing on the Thames and blasted “God Save The Queen” (Virgin Records chief Richard Branson chartered the boat.) The ship was chased down and its passengers were arrested.
“It is remarkable that MPs should have nothing better to do than get agitated about records which were never intended for their Ming vase sensibilities,” said a Virgin Records representative when asked about the political representatives getting involved.
It was a statement that was heard all around the UK and all over the world, and the banning of “God Save The Queen” only helped stir more conversation around one of punk’s leading forces.
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