The single was released on May 27, 1977, and was taken by much of the general public as an assault on Queen Elizabeth II and the monarchy. The title is taken directly from God Save the Queen, the British national anthem. At the time it was highly controversial, firstly for its equation of the Queen with a "fascist regime", and secondly for the apparent claim that England had "no future".
The Sex Pistols originally wanted to call the song "No Future", but their manager Malcolm McLaren, aware that the Queen's Silver Jubilee was approaching, convinced them to change its name to "God Save the Queen" and delay its release to coincide with the Jubilee. Although many believe it was created because of the Jubilee, the band denies it, Paul Cook saying that, "It wasn't written specifically for the Queen's Jubilee. We weren't aware of it at the time. It wasn't a contrived effort to go out and shock everyone." Johnny Rotten has explained the lyrics as follows: "You don't write a song like 'God Save The Queen' because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you're sick of seeing them mistreated." His intentions were apparently to evoke sympathy for the British working class, and a general resentment for the monarchy.
On June 7, 1977 - the Jubilee holiday itself - the band attempted to play the song from a boat on the river Thames, outside The Palace of Westminster. After a scuffle involving attendee Jah Wobble and a cameraman, the band and some of its entourage were arrested.
The song peaked at number 2 on the official UK Singles Chart used by the BBC, though there have been persistent rumours - never confirmed or denied - that it was actually the biggest-selling single in the UK at the time, and was kept off number 1 because it was felt that it might cause offence. It did hit number 1 on the unofficial NME singles chart. It was banned by the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority which regulated Independent Local Radio, effectively denying it any media exposure. It was also not stocked by some shops.
The phrase "no future", the song's closing refrain, became emblematic of the punk movement, although its use in the song was ambiguous, the lyrics claiming that "there is no future in England's dreaming".
Before the group signed to Virgin, a small number of copies of "God Save the Queen" had been pressed on the A&M label. These are now among the most valuable records ever pressed in the UK, with a resale rate as of 2006 of around £13,0 a copy.
The song also features on the album Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols, and several compilation albums.
The song was covered by Anthrax on their Armed And Dangerous EP in 1985, and by Motörhead on their We Are Motörhead album in 20.
Rolling Stone ranked "God Save the Queen" #173 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, one of the group's two songs on the list along with "Anarchy in the U.K."