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Sex Pistols released their second single, “God Save the Queen,” during Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. To mark the colliding of the events, the punk band celebrated their music and snubbed the royal festivities set to take place days later. The police weren’t amused.

Sex Pistols aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames on 1977.
Sex Pistols aboard the Queen Elizabeth | Brian Cooke/Redferns

Sex Pistols planned to exploit Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee

While the Sex Pistols recorded their debut album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, frontman John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) came up with a brilliant idea. As he was writing “No Future,” which was later renamed “God Save the Queen,” Rotten recognized the possibility of the Sex Pistols releasing the song during Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee.

According to the Guardian, he had a plan to exploit the festivities. In 1977, the queen celebrated 25 years on the throne, and her Silver Jubilee festivities were to commence in June. Sex Pistols released “God Save the Queen” in May through Richard Branson’s Virgin Records. The BBC banned the song, even though it isn’t about the queen.

The Guardian wrote, “Keen to milk the controversy, McLaren and Virgin came up with the wheeze of having the Pistols play on a boat cruising the Thames, a parody of the Queen’s waterside procession.”

Sex Pistols talking aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames in 1977.
Sex Pistols | Brian Cooke/Redferns

Sex Pistols played a concert on a boat that toured around London days before Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee riverboat procession

On June 7, the Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren rented a riverboat called the Queen Elizabeth. It set sail from Charing Cross Pier carrying the Sex Pistols, other artists, and a film crew.

The whole thing was a provocative promotion for the new album. It mocked the queen’s Silver Jubilee riverboat procession planned for two days later.

Initially, the Sex Pistols‘ Jubilee boat trip went well. Rotten, Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, and Steve Jones stood around talking with others and drinking. However, according to Mashable, the tension on the boat quickly escalated when the Sex Pistols started to perform their songs.

The feedback was unbearable, but they plowed through “Anarchy in the U.K.” as they sailed passed the houses of Parliament. However, as the Guardian wrote, “the event quickly turned into the kind of fracas familiar from other Pistols gigs.”

Sex Pistols played through “God Save the Queen,” “No Feelings,” and “Pretty Vacant” until police boats encircled the Queen Elizabeth. They forced the boat to shore and argued with McLaren and Branson.

“I remember ranks of police were thundering up the gangplank,” Allan Jones, editor of Uncut, then Melody Maker, told the Guardian. “McLaren stumbled and got to his feet and rather dramatically raised a clenched fist and shouted: ‘You f***ing fascist bastards,’ at which point he was dragged off, beaten up, arrested and thrown in a police van.”

Journalist Jon Savage told the Guardian, “Before the police came, it was a great party. Make that a capital G.”

“God Save the Queen” later became No. 2 on the U.K. singles chart.


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The punk band reissued “God Save the Queen” for the Platinum Jubilee

Sex Pistols haven’t finished being provocative. They’ve reissued “God Save the Queen” ahead of the queen’s Platinum Jubilee this June, 45 years after their jubilee boat trip through the Thames River.

According to the Guardian, Virgin Records released four thousand physical copies of the song, with “Did You No Wrong” on the B-side, on May 27. Meanwhile, another 1,977 copies of the single’s original version through A&M Records have also been released, with the original B-side, “No Feeling.”

The original A&M version of the single is one of the most sought-after releases in rock history. The band signed to the label outside Buckingham Palace in March 1977. However, after a couple of incidents, A&M dropped them six days later. Nearly all of the 25,000 pressed copies of “God Save the Queen” were destroyed, making the surviving copies extremely rare. Copies of the A&M version have sold for up to $22,155.

The only difference with the reissue is that Sex Pistols won’t be floating down the Thames River in the Queen Elizabeth, and the song won’t be banned or blacked out on the charts.