For their second single, The Sex Pistols followed their call for “Anarchy” with a direct shot at the British monarchy. For publicity-hunting manager Malcolm McLaren, the timing – Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 – couldn’t have been more perfect. There was no denying the inflammatory nature of the song’s lyrics – with the Queen being referred to as a “moron” in a “fascist regime” – and the closing “no future” refrain became a symbol for the angry working class and the punk movement itself.
The song explodes with energy from its opening chords, which build – along with singer Johnny Rotten’s anger – into a brief instrumental break. After Steve Jones’ guitar lick, Rotten comes back for a final verse before launching into the aforementioned refrain. Cover Me readers might be interested to know that original Sex Pistol bassist and co-writer Glen Matlock’s opening riff was admittedly influenced by 60s’ rockers The Move’s song “Fire Brigade” (in the chorus) and Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody.”
The single sold 200,000 copies in the first week and despite being banned by the BBC went on to top the UK charts. [The BBC were famously believed to have suppressed the song at number 2 on their charts as “punishment,” not allowing it to be seen formally at number 1. It reached number 1 on the NME chart.] The iconic song charted again in 2002 and 2007 on its way to becoming one of rocks most legendary hits recognized by Rolling Stone, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and various magazine polls.
There are dozens of generally uninteresting covers of the song that are little more than re-makes. We’ve sifted through the bollocks and found the ones you should know about. If you’ve been following this series, you’ve already heard a few. The unique twists below come from at least five different countries, proving once again that the sun never sets on the British Empire!
The Swing Easy Orchestra – God Save The Queen (Sex Pistols cover)
Imagine the Japanese Johnny Rotten – Shigeru Nakano – singing in English over a terrific ska arrangement. Shigeru is hard on the ears but the track is infectious and it’s easy to look past his off-key vocals. The horns are fun and the rhythm guitar is supplemented with a few nice rock guitar flourishes in the arrangement. From the 2011 album In The Mood For Ska: Plays Punk, New Wave Classics. Watch out for the false ending – the song’s not over when you think it is.
Mr. Irish Bastard – God Save The Queen (Sex Pistols cover)
More horns – right from the start – more fun, and the ever-present tin whistle, mandolins, banjos, and electric guitars. The Irish Bastard (Himself) on vocals couldn’t be more enthusiastic on this Celtic Punk rocker that appeared on the 2011 tribute album Never Mind The Bastards, Here is Mr. Irish Bollocks. Who knew these guys hailed from Münster, Germany? We love our Bastard.
The Bollocks – God Save The Queen (Sex Pistols cover)
Not to be confused with The Bollock Brothers, these Bollocks appear on the PGA – Italian Punks Go Acoustic… For Good, a late-2012 compilation. On the track, a snappy Dixieland jazz arrangement surrounds the gravelly English vocals of these emerging Italian artists. The series has become an annual artist collective effort to raise money for an Italian charity that provides musical opportunities for disabled children.
Nouvelle Vague – God Save The Queen (Sex Pistols cover)
Perennial franco-cover band favorites, Nouvelle Vague, strip things down here on the 2009 album 3 to just Mélanie Pain’s kind-of-sad accented vocals and Olivier Libaux’s acoustic guitar. The “café-style” version also translated well to their live Acoustic album.
Artichoke – God Save The Queen (Sex Pistols cover)
Artichoke literally opens the door (via recording that very sound) then turns the whole acoustic/folk song style on its head. The ukulele-and-vocal duet – featuring Tim Sellers and Ema Tuennerman – then sprinkles in some kazoo, modestly altered (but not auto-tuned) vocals, and more random sound effects into the arrangement. The track appears on their 2006 Never Mind The Bollocks tribute album that we wrote about here.
- “Bad” nightclub comedian version from The Young Ones’ Neil. (1984)
- “Viking” metal version from Quorthon (1997) not to be outdone by Lemmy’s Motörhead metal version (2000).
- Tex-Mex version from The Whiskey Daredevils. (2007)
- Sugary J-Pop version from Haruna Ikezawa. (2009)
- In case you missed them, we wrote about The Bollock Brothers’ interesting new wave spin here and The Bad Shepherds terrific folk-jig version here.
More singles: Part V of the series provides a view of “Pretty Vacant.”