The day the BBC banned the Sex Pistols single…
1977 and the year of Queen Elizabeth the Second’s Silver Jubilee. As the country prepared to mark the occasion with street parties that summer, the Sex Pistols chose to mark the anniversary in their own unique style. Backed by Richard Branson (he of Knighthood fame) and his company, Virgin Records, the band released their single ‘God Save the Queen’ on May 31st to a storm of protest most notably of which came from the BBC.
It was a clever move by the band’s manager, Malcolm McClaren whose gamble paid off. Despite media condemnation the single began selling up to 150,000 copies a day and reached number two, only to be thwarted (apparently) by Rod Stewart’s ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About it’. Incredibly, the music charts refused to print the entry, leaving a blank space between the number one and number three spot, but that all played in the band’s favour as did the suggestion the chart had been ‘fixed’ to prevent it from reaching number one.
The BBC took serious offence to the song and banned it from their airwaves, whilst in today’s world it would mean next to nothing commercially, it was the BBC who were the main driving force behind an artist’s chart success. BBC airplay was paramount but in the case of the punk movement it symbolised everything they hated and McClaren achieved his dream of driving his punk band right into the heart of the mainstream elite with a single designed to inflict as much publicity as possible.
The single had been pressed and released by the A&M label before the band were signed to Virgin and these copies are now incredibly valuable, amongst the most sought after of all time. But even more so are the acetate copies which McClaren used to hand out as promotional freebies after gigs which are worth up to £20,000 a copy today.
The band members would later deny that it was meant as a slur against the English but rather a tribute to the working class and that it’s release in the Jubilee year was a coincidence. Whilst that may be true of the band one would suspect their manager was very well aware of the timing of it, as indeed would Branson.
Today of course it all seems pretty tame stuff, there is little left to shock the public in terms of lyrical content or imagery but in 1977 the British public and the BBC establishment were not universally prepared for the lightning bolt of Messrs’ Rotten, Matlock, Cook and Jones with the final hammer blow of the album to follow, Never Mind the Bollocks. Interestingly, Rotten would later state the reason for Matlock’s departure and the hiring of Sid Vicious was due in part to Matlock’s distaste for the single’s lyric. Matlock left the band before the single’s release on Virgin but told the press at the time that the inspiration for the song came from a song by The Move called Fire Brigade. Umm, not sure about that one, Glenn!
So here’s the inspiration (apparently) behind one of the most infamous singles of British chart history…
Categories: The Music Lounge