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“The queen has done the trick! – HM in pop, from Slowthai to Smiths to Blur | pop and rock

“The queen has done the trick! – HM in pop, from Slowthai to Smiths to Blur | pop and rock

Jhe most famous song about Queen Elizabeth II is called God Save the Queen, and is therefore the second most famous. The Sex Pistols’ decision to record and release their anti-monarchist screed in time for the Silver Jubilee was the most brilliant provocation in a career consisting of almost nothing but brilliant provocations. The band had been playing the song for a few months under its original title, No Future, but manager Malcolm McLaren said the line sounded “like an advertisement for a bank”. Better, he thought, to hijack the national anthem, reverse it and hitch a ride for the jubilee. What a blow.

Another thing that the success of the Sex Pistols shares with the national anthem is that it is not about Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor but a symbol of the British state. For John Lydon, the Queen is not only synonymous with “fascist regime”, she is “not a human being” at all. The song quickly moves away from the ruler to the resentfully ruled, “flowers in the trash can”. Britain was so tense in 1977 – politically, socially, economically – that for many young people the Patriotic Jubilee festivities were a bitter farce of nostalgia and denial, like a bunting at a bomb site. As Jon Savage writes in Dream of England: “This is the ultimate statement of pop’s eternal present, just as the masses were celebrating the past.”

Folk singer Leon Rosselson is more verbose On the occasion of its silver jubilee expands on Savage’s point:

‘Cause though the pound may tumble, though panic fills the air
Though the government may crumble and the cupboards are nearly empty
Although the stairs begin to shake and the rats begin to stare
She envelops in a mystical unity her subjects everywhere
And we know we’re safe while the nanny’s here

Re-released yet again in time for the platinum jubilee (as for the respective 2002 and 2007 celebrations), God Save the Queen becomes guilty of the same nostalgia it criticizes – a sly echo of a once glorious explosion. Such a hit in 1977 that rumors persist to this day of a dirty tricks campaign to keep him off the charts, the Pistols’ tirade became a magnet for anyone who hated Jubilee and a target for those who didn’t. not. The tabloids have gone crazy. Lydon claimed he was stabbed by a gang of thugs who shouted, “We love our queen, you bastard!” However, 38 years later, the singer says: “I never said no either. I don’t like the institution. This abstract quality is present in almost all songs about the queen. She’s a red-white-blue blur that rarely swims into focus.

Jagged blows… the Manic Street Preachers outside Buckingham Palace in 1991.
Jagged blows… the Manic Street Preachers outside Buckingham Palace in 1991. Photography: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

The Queen ascended the throne in 1952, the same year Britain’s Top 40 was launched, but she was never a big pop fan. In a list of her 10 favorite songs released to print in 2021, the only number released during his reign was Sing by Gary Barlow and the Commonwealth Band featuring the Military Wives, chosen, perhaps, for reasons not entirely related to musical quality . She loves musicals from the Golden Age of Broadway and is, according to Lady Elizabeth Anson, “a fantastic dancer. She has a good pace.”

The first song about the Queen was Young Tiger’s extremely literal 1953 calypso. I was there (at the coronation). She looked “truly divine”, apparently. But before the Sex Pistols, the monarch’s presence in pop was largely limited to whimsical cameos. The Kinks’ David Watts bitterly mediocre narrator grumbles that he’s never met the Queen. The Beatles’ Penny Lane firefighter keeps his portrait in his pocket, but so does anyone carrying cash – as Paul Weller sings in Jam’s Down in the Tube Station at Midnight: “I fumble for change, and pull out the Queen.”

Songs about meeting the real person were playfully ridiculous, like Paul McCartney’s silly love song Her Majesty (“pretty nice girl but she doesn’t have much to say”) or the comedic fantasy of U-Roy smoker. Chalice at the Palace: “I descend from the palace / I will lick my chalice / I will double it with your majesty.” In BB King’s Better Not Look Down, a party-weary queen asks the venerable blues guitarist for advice: “Oh BB, sometimes it’s so hard to put things together / Could you tell me what you think I should do?”

In terms of protest, the all-out assault of the Sex Pistols remains the alpha and omega of anti-monarchist rants. Only repeat by the Manic Street Preachers approaches its ferocity, with its jagged hits to “dumb flag scum” and “Royal Khmer Rouge”; The royalty of the exploited is too crude to be taken seriously. The Stone Roses’ Elizabeth My Dear lyrics may be downright regicide, but they’re framed in a bit of a folk ballad. In Smith’s Nowhere Fast, Morrissey fantasizes about doing nothing more treacherous than dropping his pants in front of Her Majesty. Catatonia’s Storm the Palace is a punky Republican manifesto with a comedic sensibility: “Turn it into a bar / Make ’em work at the Spar.”

Slowthai at Glastonbury in 2019.
“Nothing great about Britain”… Slowthai at Glastonbury in 2019. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

The Queen is a throwback to the 19th century in Billy Bragg’s Take Down the Union Jack. She’s a miserly parasite in Housemartins’ flag day and a sneering quasi-dictator in Crass’s Big A Little A. In the age of grime, she resurfaced as a sardonic embodiment of privilege and inequality in Dizzee Rascal’s 2 Far (“I Live on the Streets and She Lives Cleanly”) and Slowthai’s Nothing Great About Britain, but when Slowthai aimed for a military grade expletive at home in 2019, there was barely a whisper of controversy. For one thing, people like Prince Andrew have done such painstaking work to discredit the monarchy from within that attacks from the outside now look more like paintballs than hand grenades. The heretical power of the Sex Pistols is unique. On the other hand, Slowthai’s insult isn’t really directed at him as an individual. No protest song is.

The songwriters recognize the fundamental paradox of the Queen: both the most famous woman in the world and yet totally unknowable. She seems to have sublimated herself to the demands of the institution. Rosselson sang “a glass cage around her and an absence in her eyes”. The absence of any deep understanding of the real person has created space for imagination and dreams.

The greatest of phantasmagoria is The Queen Is Dead, which is both Johnny Marr’s favorite Morrissey lyrical and the Smiths’ four-cornered masterpiece, with each member firing on all cylinders. This incredibly strange and, in its own way, majestic song opens with an excerpt from the war ditty Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty sung in the 1962 film The L-Shaped Room, which was already dated in this context. It was not just the monarch who died, “head in a sling”, but the whole country, with its “sad marshes” and its aroma of decay.

See the video for The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead, directed by Derek Jarman

At the same time, there is a subversive bit of homoeroticism that derives, like the title of the song, from the novel Last Exit to Brooklyn, and a wide swath of music-hall humor. As Michael Fagan infamously did in 1982, Morrissey bursts into Buckingham Palace. “I know you and you can’t sing,” the queen said acidly. “It’s nothing,” he replies. “You should hear me play the piano.”

All facets of young Morrissey coexist here, tied together by nothing but dream logic, the unleashed urgency of the band, and a silver thread of feedback. This is England, in all its sadness, its absurdity and its contempt for outsiders; the suffocating veil of privilege and hypocrisy but also wit and romance. Morrissey described the royal family, without exception, as “beautifully, inexplicably and unforgivably boring” but The Queen Is Dead is quite the opposite.

The Smiths’ song cast a shadow as long as that of the Sex Pistols, and it’s a particular irony that the vocalists of both bands turned into nostalgic reactionaries. You can detect traces of Morrissey’s dark fantasy in This Is a Low, Blur’s elegy for Britain in the form of an absurd shipping forecast: “The Queen, she’s gone round the bend / Jumped off Land’s End.” This is also the case in Dirty Pretty Things’ Tired of England, where she “sits on her throne of bingo cards and chicken bones”, and in the Radio America of the Libertines, which finds her crying over old movies during afternoon tea at the palace. She has a shadowy life in the songs as a tragicomic symbol of loss and national decline – more victim than perpetrator.

Steve Ignorant of Crass in 1981.
“Quasi-dictatorship”… Steve Ignorant de Crass in 1981. Photography: Steve Rapport/Getty Images

Dream of the Pet Shop Boys Queen is distinguished by an unusually nuanced and moving portrait. “I had read that one of the most common dreams people share is for the queen to come to their home,” Neil Tennant explained. “Sometimes it’s an anxious dream and sometimes it’s a beautiful dream.” (Badly Drawn Boy dreams that he is married to her in You were right, but that doesn’t stop him from flirting with their neighbor, Madonna.) In this storyline, Tennant weaves in thoughts about the AIDS crisis and the collapse of Princess Diana’s marriage. This queen of the subconscious is a source of both empathy (“The Queen said I’m appalled / Love never seems to last”) and awkward comedy (“For I was naked / The old Queen disapproves”) . The ultimate authority figure is also a matriarch saddened by the death of love. From a couple of avowed Republicans, the tenderness is surprising.

This will most likely be the Queen’s final jubilee, which gives the pageantry a whiff of a bittersweet farewell. You could say the UK in 2022 is just as grumpy, aimless and dirty as it was in 1977, if not more so, but there’s little appetite to go after a sick widow of 96 year. For anyone appalled at the current state of the nation, she is far too easy a target, her power too depleted. The vibe is more at This Is a Low than at God Save the Queen.

And what about Charles? Only the Smiths acknowledge its existence, and not kindly: “Did you ever want / To appear on the cover of the Daily Mail / Wearing your mother’s wedding veil? After seven decades, we know him too well. There is melancholy but no mystery. You suspect few will dream of the king, let alone think him worthy of a fierce broadside or a surreal daydream. How could he stimulate the imagination like the woman who, as far as songwriters are concerned, is everywhere and nowhere?

#queen #trick #pop #Slowthai #Smiths #Blur #pop #rock

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