This week, Queen Elizabeth II turns 90, having managed to not die or quit for a whole 63 years on the throne, and counting. HRH’s relationship with the music world has been a wobbly one over the years, with a host of tracks immortalising her in song to varying degrees of positivity. From The Sex Pistols to The Smiths, here are the 10 best tracks penned in honour of the country’s most tenacious ruler.
10 The Exploited, ‘Royalty’
Unsurprisingly, oi! punk stalwarts The Exploited’s charming ditty ‘Royalty’ goes in hard on the monarchy-bashing with little room for manoeuvre. A balanced argument, it’s fair to say, is not their forte. And while lines like “Show me a picture of the Queen now/ Dirty little bitch, fucking little cow” aren’t exactly nuanced in their sentiments, at least you can’t criticise the Edinburgh band for not speaking their minds…
9 The Housemartins, ‘Flag Day’
A despairing ode to the ruling hand at the top of society’s food chain, ‘Flag Day’ realises that all manner of “jumble sales” and “Blue Peter appeals” mean nothing when the people at the top control the purse strings: “Try shaking a box in front of the Queen/ ‘Cause her purse is fat and bursting at the seams/ It’s a waste of time if you know what they mean”. Paul Heaton 1: Elizabeth 0.
8 Leon Rosselson, ‘On Her Silver Jubilee’
Singer/ songwriter and children’s story book writer Leon Rosselson might not have charged the mainstream with his satirical folk ditty ‘On Her Silver Jubilee’, but its amusingly wry lyrics deserve a revisit. Going from the promise of a new dawn upon her coronation in 1953 to the worn-down reality of her Silver Jubilee in 1977, it’s a pin-sharp take down of the polarising royal institution. “And she never used to bother with the Inland Revenue/ Though she’s royally rewarded for the things she doesn’t do,” sings Rosselson. Touche.
7 Primal Scream, ‘Insect Royalty’
On to a more conceptual one now, with a track from Primal Scream’s critical peak ‘XTRMNTR’. Laced over ominous, dubby beats, Bobby Gillespie’s repetitions that “insect royalty live inside of me” could be seen as a nod to the helplessness of being born into a country still governed by bloodline rather than merit. Either that, or there’s a queen bee stuck somewhere that someone really should help him with.
6 Billy Bragg, ‘Rule Nor Reason’
Not one to shy away from making and social and political statement, ‘Rule Nor Reason’ finds Billy Bragg on surprisingly sympathetic form, seeing the ruler as a tragic figure more than a hateful one. “The queen on her throne plays Shirley Bassey records when she’s all on her own/ And she looks out the window and cries,” he sings over mournful accordions. Poor lonely Liz.
5 The Beatles, ‘Her Majesty’
An acoustic-plucked, Macca-sung ditty that features at the end of ‘Abbey Road’, ‘Her Majesty’ is one of the few songs in popular culture to make reference to the Queen in a neutral-to-positive way. Here, her majesty is a “pretty nice girl” though she “doesn’t have a lot to say”. Not a stunning referral, but you’ve got to take what you can get, eh?
4 The Stone Roses, ‘Elizabeth My Dear’
A short and sweet, one-minute interlude on The Stone Roses’ eponymous debut LP, ‘Elizabeth My Dear’ delivers a cutting nursery rhyme refrain to the tune of Olde English standard ‘Scarborough Fair’: “Tear me apart and boil my bones/ I’ll not rest till she’s lost her throne/ My aim is true/ My message is clear/ It’s curtains for you Elizabeth my dear”.
3 Manic Street Preachers, ‘Repeat (Stars And Stripes)’
Don’t let the ‘Stars and Stripes’ of the title fool you: ‘Repeat’ is the Manics taking aim at the monarchy and its hand-me-down power and letting rip in one thrashing assault. “I’ve seen this happen before/ This is a message from occupied England,” it begins before exploding in a call to arms: “Repeat after me, ‘Fuck queen and country'”.
2 The Smiths, ‘The Queen Is Dead’
‘The Queen Is Dead’ essentially does what it says on the tin. A poetic murder fantasy depicting the death of the royals, Morrissey’s customary barbed lyrics and uncompromising point of view reached a peak on this 1986 track. “Her very Lowness with her head in a sling,” opines Moz. “I’m truly sorry but it sounds like a wonderful thing.”
1 Sex Pistols, ‘God Save The Queen’
What else? The most famous musical anti-monarchy rebellion of them all, ‘God Save The Queen’ not only stuck two fingers up to the national anthem, but released its spitting, sneering evil twin on the day of the Silver Jubilee. Held off the Number One spot by what many still believe to be an inside fix, it capitalised on a nation’s discontent and turned it into a three-minute ball of antagonistic, snotty scorn. God save the Queen, indeed.