The Brit List: Five Great British Songs About The Queen

*rubs hands together* Oh this’ll be an easy one. There must be hundreds of songs devoted to Queen Elizabeth II, especially as she has been ruling monarch since 1953, during which time Britain became an international songwriting powerhouse. You just sit there a sec, and I’ll compile a list.

*goes to check massive library of British Song*

Oh.

It seems there are songs about the Queen, but not all of them are complimentary. In fact some are downright aggressive. It is almost as if the act of writing songs comes easier when you’ve got something to rail against, a situation to complain about, than when you’re simply stating that you’re pleased things are the way they are. Hmm.

Oh well, let us at least start with a very favorable song indeed:

“God Save The Queen” – The United Kingdom

The British, being naturally quite a self-effacing bunch, would rather persevere with a national anthem which asks an omnipotent being to look after the reigning monarch (kings and queens must be really clumsy, or something) than quack on about how wonderful it is to be British. We KNOW, OK? No need to show off, it’s vulgar.

And, purely in the interests of balance…

“God Save The Queen” – The Sex Pistols

The yang to the British national anthem’s yin. Here’s a song which was written as a situationist prank, a fart in the face of the pomposity of the 1977 silver jubilee, and the beginning of the modern world’s relentless need to jokily oppose whatever orthodoxy is being celebrated at any given time. The curious thing about “God Save The Queen” is that it continues to work outside of the context of a single royal milestone. Probably because the Queen does too. John Lydon’s lyrical disgust, portrayed as a series of arresting nuggets, each one an incendiary idea – “they made you a moron, potential H-bomb” etc – continues to resound down the ages in exactly the same way that the might and majesty of the Royal Family do. Only they don’t rock as hard.

“Her Majesty” – The Beatles

A safer choice, this one. This is a song which Paul McCartney wrote, and recorded for the long medley of songs on the second side of “Abbey Road.” It was originally intended to sit in between “Mean Mr Mustard” and “Polythene Pam,” which is why it starts with that big loud chord (the last of chord of the previous song). As the album was being mixed, Paul asked for the song to be taken out, as it rather spoiled the flow of this section of the medley. The engineer, not wanting to lose the song, tacked it onto the end of the tape, after a suitably long gap. And during final playback, there it was, unnoticed. Being fans of happy accidents, the Beatles opted to keep it in, uncredited (at first).

“Elizabeth, My Dear” – The Stone Roses

The funny thing about this song is that it is hailed in some quarters (the band’s quarters, mainly) as being a great anti-monarchist tract. “I’ll not rest ’til she’s lost her throne” sings Ian Brown, “my aim is true, my message is clear, it’s curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear.” Which is fine, except that the band come from that Rolling Stones/Velvet Underground school of songwriting which either venerates or brutally dismisses women – “Song For My Sugar Spun Sister” vs “Shoot You Down” essentially – and so this could just as easily be about a former girlfriend as the British Queen. Tacking on the sound effect of a gun being fired (and let’s be honest, it’s a rubbish sound effect and sounds like a cough) doesn’t exactly hammer the song’s real meaning home either.

THIS is how you do it, boys…

“The Queen Is Dead” – The Smiths

Sometimes it’s not enough to eradicate your enemy, you have to humiliate them too. This is Morrissey’s broadside against everything; from the Royal Family to the state to the church to the bloody weather. The laughs come thick and fast, he invades the palace, mocks HRH Prince Charles, wittily defuses a scene with the Queen herself, then lashes out at all comers, before finally concluding with a barbed “life is very long, when you’re lonely,” and collapsing in a heap.

This is getting awfully unpleasant now, isn’t it? Tell you what, let’s end on an up. Here’s a DVD extra, courtesy of the BBC’s Horrible Histories, in which the list of British Kings and Queens from 1066 to the present day is presented as a cockney knees-up (don’t worry, you won’t be expected to remember the chorus):

Oi!

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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