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The Sex Pistols’ classic rock song “God Save the Queen” is ostensibly about Queen Elizabeth II. During an interview, the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten said the song wasn’t about her. He also discussed his opinions on the Queen.

Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten holding a microphone
Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten | Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

The BBC banned the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’

1977 was the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, which marked the 25th year of her reign. That year, the Sex Pistols released their hit “God Save the Queen,” which criticizes the British monarchy. The BBC banned “God Save the Queen.” According to the 2006 book Sex Pistols: The Inside Story, Laurie Hall of the record label EMI discussed the ban in 1977.

“I think the BBC is always likely to ban that type of record because it has to reflect public opinion, if you want to use the word,” Hall said. “And public opinion, as I said, was that which was being expressed in the press. And what the Sex Pistols were doing was allegedly against public opinion and against good taste, as many people like to understand it.”

What the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten thought of Queen Elizabeth II

In a 1977 interview, Rotten said Queen Elizabeth II was not the subject of “God Save the Queen. “I mean the bloody record isn’t about the Queen. It’s about what you feel about the f****** woman,” he stated. “She’s probably just like everybody else but like watching her on telly, as far as I’m concerned, she ain’t no human being.”

Rotten further claimed that Queen Elizabeth II was in a “rut.” “She’s a piece of cardboard that they drag around on a trolley,” Rotten opined. “Like, go here, Queen, go there. And she does it, blindly, cos she’s in a rut. She does get in a rut, but there’s always a way out.”

Queen Elizabeth II with troops during the Silver Jubilee
Queen Elizabeth II during the Silver Jubilee | Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

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The way ‘God Save the Queen’ performed in the United States and the United Kingdom

“God Save the Queen” was not a hit in the United States. It did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100. The Sex Pistols released the song on the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex PistolsNever Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols became a minor hit in the U.S., reaching No. 106 on the Billboard 200 and staying on the chart for 12 weeks. 

“God Save the Queen” was far more popular in the United Kingdom. According to The Official Charts Company, the song peaked at No. 2 in the U.K., staying on the chart for 14 weeks. None of the Sex Pistols’ other singles charted as highly. Meanwhile, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols was No. 1 for two of its 48 weeks on the chart.

“God Save the Queen” features some of the most famous references to Queen Elizabeth II in music even if it’s not truly about her.