So fast-forward half-a-dozen years to the summer of 1977. I’ve just left school, a move that neither party had any regrets about, and change is in the air, personified by the nascent Punk music, which I’d just arrived at via Dr. Feelgood and Eddie & The Hot-Rods. And the old order was in mortal combat with the new in the shape of the Silver Jubilee versus the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen”.
One thing you need to know about 1977 is how few conduits for infomation there were. The idea of the internet would have been in the realms of science fiction along with holidays on the Moon, and it would be another 3 years before we even got a telephone at home. We had to walk the best part of a mile to the nearest pay phone…but then, most of the people I’d have called didn’t have a phone either. And no, children – we didn’t have mobile phones back then either. Deprived upbringing ? My dears, you have no idea…
Three TV channels and no option of satellite or cable, four BBC radio stations [the nearest commercial station was over 40 miles away and could only just be picked up, and we were on the wrong side of the country to receive Radio Luxembourg].
Punk fanzines were in their infancy, you had to know where to find them and, in any case, by their very nature they tended to chronicle events that had happened, rather than breaking news. The mainstream media was then, as now, firmly in favour of the status quo and therefore wasn’t considered a trusted source of information.
That just left the music press, basically Sounds, NME and Melody Maker, on the newstands every Thursday. I always favoured Sounds, because it tended to cover the kind of stuff I was getting into. NME always seemed a bit too much up its own arse, if you know what I mean, and MM just wasn’t a contender at all.
With that in mind, you’ll appreciate that it was often necessery to piece together what was happening in non-mainstream circles from a number of fragmented reports and rumours. At best, we were usually a week behind.
So, Mrs Windsor versus the Sex Pistols. History records that in the week of the Silver Jubilee celebrations, “God Save The Queen” peaked at #2 in the official UK charts kept off of #1 by Rod Stewart’s “I Dont Want To Talk About It”…an ironic title, as ever since plenty of people have wanted to talk about it.
I ought to point out that the record charts were far more important than they are today. Kids used to take radios to school on a Tuesday, when the new chart was released, so as to be the first with the news. Every Punk single that forced its way into the MOR-laden Top 20 was therefore a small victory in an on-going war. Or so it seemed at the time, anyway.
I think the rumours of dirty deeds in the chart compilation office were circulating almost immediately [as pointed out, “almost immediately” then meant “within a week or so”]. Had the BBC doctored the charts so as not to cause offence to Mrs Windsor ? Had the palace actually applied a bit of pressure to BBC executives who might have half an eye on a knighthood for services rendered ? We didn’t know, but we knew what we thought…
The story that I heard later – and I’ve no idea if it’s true, but it at least seems plausible – was that the chart compilers suddenly changed the rules – sales of records would no longer be counted if they were from a record label’s own stores.
Of course, this made no difference at all to most record labels, because they didn’t have stores. But Virgin, the Pistols label, did. And bearing in mind that many record outlets refused to stock “GSTQ”, Virgin stores must have accounted for a large proportion of sales.
Although presumably they also sold a fair few elsewhere just to make #2.
Well, as I say, I’ve no idea if this is actually true. And if the palace did apply pressure in an attempt to mould unruly popular culture to their own designs, we’ll probably never know for sure. All I can say is that at the time it seemed like the Esthablishment were applying the screws to something that displeased them, and that was reason enough to fall in behind the republican flag.
Incidentally, 1977 was the only time that somewhere I was living actually held a royal street party. But it was just for the younger kids, us older teenagers weren’t invited. Of course, we wouldn’t have gone even if we had been… but it’d have been nice to have had the opportunity of making a point by refusing. Bah ! Foiled again.
And here we are all these years later, in a different century even !, and Mrs Windsor is still clinging to her throne like a very determined barnacle. And something my teenage self could never have expected – I’ve recorded a version of “GSTQ”
FRANKENSTEIN SOUND LAB – God Save The Queen
Free MP3 download here- http://alonetone.com/fsoundlab/tracks/god-save-the-queen-sex-pistols-cover.mp3
It was originally recorded for a jubilee-themed competition on mp3unsigned.com. and you might not be suprised to hear that it got 0 votes. Although to be fair, a third of the enterants also got 0 votes, and the winner only got 3, so I’m not losing any sleep over it.
And no – in this case I dont think pressure from the palace was involved…