Done for a laugh. God Save The Queen? Routinely attacked in the street by disgusted members of the public, he endured machetes in the kneecaps and bottles in the face. Its Jamie Reid-designed cover, featuring the Queen with newspaper print gagging and blinding her, was voted the best record sleeve ever by Q magazine. So how did the song come about? Why did it cause such outrage? Bored of strikes and limited job prospects, and disenchanted with the stiff and accepted ways of doing things, young people found their voice by adopting a DIY ethic in what they wore and the music they played.
Loud, anti-establishment, iconoclastic and angry, the punks wanted to shake society from the ground up. Jordan and Johnny Rotten Credit: Rex Features The band were magnets for trouble, which thrilled record companies looking to cash in on this new youth trend. But if God Save The Queen was to prove controversial the following summer, then events in the intervening months were no less dramatic.
There was a national outcry. Punk had screamed its arrival, live on national television. But anger at the Pistols was not confined to the label and to newspaper editors. Planned concerts were cancelled by universities and town halls. The outrage was even shared by students; half the audience of students at a Leeds concert were reported to have walked out on the band. The album was recorded piecemeal between late and summer at Wessex Sound Studios, a converted Victorian church hall in Highbury, London.
One of the songs was God Save The Queen, a rant about the monarchy. The song was set to a propulsive beat and a monster three-chord guitar riff written by Glen Matlock, who was soon to be replaced on bass by the doomed Sid Vicious.
Lead guitar player Jones gave the song almighty welly, its bassline mimicking the main riff. The signing took place at 8am outside Buckingham Palace, a two-fingered salute to the establishment.
Alcohol flowed and things quickly got out of hand. When the kids started climbing the playground fence to see the band spill out of a Bentley with bottles of vodka cascading behind them, the headmistress called the police. Most of the 25, copies of God Save The Queen were destroyed the few remaining copies are among the most valuable records in the world today. The band were once again label-less. Either way, God Save The Queen was released on 27 May as the nation prepared its bunting and its street parties.
The single sold , copies in one day, rising to , in its first week. However, due to the content and the cover, the BBC refused to play it. The band and McLaren sensed skulduggery, believing that the record industry had colluded to keep the song off the top spot. The papers, rather predictably, went bonkers at the blatant disrespect.
On 7 June, the band played a gig on a boat as it floated past the House of Commons, two days before the Queen did the same as part of her official celebrations. The event delighted fans but, once again, shocked the nation. But McLaren, it seems, knew exactly what he was doing. By that point the Pistols had become a circus.
The whole thing was a brilliantly calculated publicity stunt.