Queen Elizabeth II was the longest-serving monarch in British history, holding the throne from 1953 until his death on September 8, 2022.
During her reign, the Queen was a source of inspiration and even frustration for many British-born artists. As a result, it is not uncommon to hear it mentioned in song.
Although the meaning of the lyrics was not always clear, Britons often bristled when their queen’s name was mentioned in music as crude as rock ‘n’ roll. Tempers have died down over the past 40 or so years, but there was a time when any mention of her majesty in a pop song was tied to court controversy.
Here are some of our favorites below:
The Beatles “Her Majesty”
The Beatles actually references Queen Elizabeth II in four songs: “Her Majesty”, “Penny Lane”, “For You Blue”, and “Mean Mr. Mustard”. Yet, for some reason, those 23 seconds Lennon McCartney-the written ditty (one of the first “hidden” album tracks of all time) caused quite a stir with lyrics about romance with Britain’s highest-ranking monarch.
Her Majesty is a pretty girl/But she doesn’t have much to say
Her Majesty is a pretty nice girl/But she changes from day to day
McCartney always considered the song more comedic than critical, although he once acknowledged that it was “slightly disrespectful”. Either way, the Queen didn’t seem to blame him, and McCartney and other Beatles have often been honored with the crown over the years.
Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen”
Of course, the most controversial song of all time about Queen Elizabeth II comes from one of the most controversial British bands of all time, the sex guns.
The band can attribute much of their praise to their fierce anti-monarchy stance of the late ’70s. The Pistols’ vulgar working-class anthem “God Save the Queen” soared (almost) to the top of the charts ( #2) in 1977, despite radio stations refusing to air it.
The band promoted the release of the single by crashing the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, performing the song live from a boat on the Thames.
Like the biopic miniseries Gun portrayed, leader John Lydon originally titled the song “No Future”, but agreed to change it to the more provocative moniker at the urging of his bandmates.
For the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this past spring, Lydon explained in an opt-ed that he never had “animosity against any one of the royal family” but rather the “institution” of royalty. He added that he is ultimately proud of Her Majesty’s long reign, acknowledging that “she has put up with a lot” over 70 years on the throne.
The Smiths “The Queen is Dead”
If he had arrived a decade earlier, The Smiths‘ the classic ‘The Queen Is Dead’ could have become Morrissey and Johnny Marr in real trouble. Fortunately, the The Sex Pistols had already crossed the bridge.
The lyrics seem to portray some sort of murder fantasy about the deaths of royals, but their true meaning might be more satirical, in regards to the media’s hyper-fascination with the monarchy.
There is little evidence to suggest QueenThe 1974 track “Killer Queen” was honestly about Queen Elizabeth II, so this one might get more of an honorable mention.
Freddie Mercury described the lyrics as depicting a high-class call girl – a subtle dig into the upper class, but he never suggested it had anything to do with Her Majesty.
However, it’s not crazy to think that he deliberately wanted to shield his band from controversy. As well as being a style-defining track for the band, “Killer Queen” was Queen’s first bonafide hit in the UK and US.
But if you’re an English band called Queen and you write a song with “Queen” in the title, it’s hard to believe the real Queen didn’t provide some inspiration.
The Stone Roses “Elizabeth My Dear”
Another quick on the Queen was far more critical of Her Majesty with its terse, nursery rhyme-like chorus. stone roses singer Ian Brown had no love lost for the monarch when he sings the lines
Tear me apart and boil my bones/ I won’t rest until she loses her throne/
My purpose is true / My message is clear /
It’s curtains for you Elizabeth my dear”
During a 2012 concert, Brown spoke of “60 years of tyranny” before performing “Elizabeth My Dear.”