30 years ago this week the Sex Pistols released God Save the Queen as royalists prepared to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee. The anniversary has prompted some nostalgia for a period when a song could have such a power to shock. In an interesting interview, Simon Reynolds remarks "The myth of the song seems to be the truth about it. It was one of the last times, possibly the last time, that a song could send shockwaves through an entire society. It was an injection of energy and conviction that took almost a decade to dissipate. "
Some of the people involved in this fine act of cultural terrorism have been backtracking ever since - Vivienne Westwood becoming a Dame of the British Empire, Steve Jones hanging out with Cliff Richard... so it is important to recall what an outrageous gesture it was, and the reaction it provoked - including arrests on the river Thames during the Pistols' Silver Jubilee boat party. Les Back suggests that 'The thing that remains disruptive about God Save the Queen is that it insisted that England was/is in a state of soporific stupor. There could be no escape beyond the nostalgia in which the past is eternally replayed in the waking somnolence of nationalism'. The virulence of the lyrics have never been surpassed in a hit record in the UK: "God save the queen, She ain't no human being, There is no future In England's dreaming... When there's no future How can there be sin, We're the flowers in the dustbin, We're the poison in the human machine, We're the future Your future" (see the video here).
Subsequent anti-monarchist efforts have lacked the same impact only because the Pistols broke the taboo, in the process undermining the symbolic power of the royal brand. Still the final nail is yet to be banged in the feudal coffin, with Queen Elizabeth II 55 years on the throne next week. There's still space for some more republican efforts, so let's give an honorable mention to The Stone Roses' four line classic Elizabeth My Dear: 'Tear me apart and boil my bones, I'll not rest till she's lost her throne, My aim is true my message is clear, It's curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear'; to The Smiths' The Queen is Dead: 'Her very Lowness with a head in a sling, I'm truly sorry - but it sounds like a wonderful thing', and to The Manic Street Preachers' Repeat: 'Useless generation, Dumb flag scum, Repeat after me, Fuck queen and country". Or maybe even Shelley's England in 1819: "Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow Through public scorn, mud from a muddy spring, Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know, But leech-like to their fainting country cling".
Related posts: See also: Funk the Wedding 1981; We live to tread on Kings