The Sex Pistols sneered she wasn’t human. But for a lot of artists, the queen was extra cipher than enemy


In October 1958, Duke Ellington performed a live performance in Leeds, an retro industrial metropolis within the north of England. Elizabeth II, simply six years into her reign, was to be in attendance; her father, George VI, had been an enormous Ellington fan, and so she was a visitor of honor. She chatted freely with the Duke — images present her wanting fairly relaxed.

“She asked me, ‘When was your first time in England?’” recalled Ellington in 1961. “‘Oh,’ I said, ‘oh, my first time in England was in 1933, way before you were born.’ She gave me a real American look; very cool, man, which I thought was too much.

“She was great,” Ellington added. “She told me about all the records of mine her father had.” They received on so effectively that, on returning to the States, Ellington wrote the six-part “Queen’s Suite” and recorded it along with his band. It was distinctive, even by his requirements. He then pressed one copy of the recording, the one one on the earth, and mailed it to Buckingham Palace.

Ellington, being American, was capable of take care of assembly the queen on a traditional, human degree that anybody British would have discovered virtually not possible. Unlike the “Queen’s Suite,” British in style music’s response to her coronation in 1953 was largely obsequious and uninteresting — two variations of the dreary “In A Golden Coach” sat within the New Musical Express’ Top 10, one by band chief and BBC radio presenter Billy Cotton, the opposite by pre-rock heartthrob Dickie Valentine. It took Trinidad-born pianist Winifred Atwell to enliven the celebrations with the rather more ebullient “Coronation Rag.”

The Top 10 didn’t even exist when Elizabeth, who died Thursday at 96, succeeded her father in February 1952. Back then, there was no report chart in any respect — the primary hit parade wouldn’t be printed till that November, and it shortly turned a peculiarly British obsession, like trainspotting, or following the lives of the royal household in microscopic element. Not solely was she our monarch earlier than the singles chart existed, she went on to survive its usefulness. That the queen’s reign predated such a nationwide establishment is mind-boggling, and helps to elucidate the present sense of hollowness within the nation — virtually nobody can bear in mind a time when the queen wasn’t the queen.

Where pop music intersects with the queen is an odd place. Other than that rash of early tributes, I can solely consider Neil Innes’ cod-reggae “Silver Jubilee” in 1977: “Queenie baby I’m not fooling, only you can do your ruling, in your own sweet way.” It isn’t arduous to seek out anti-royalist materials, like anarcho-punk band Crass’ sarcastic, saccharine ode to Charles and Diana’s 1981 nuptials, “Our Wedding” (“Never look at anyone, I must be all you see / Listen to those wedding bells, say goodbye to other girls”). But when the queen herself has featured in lyrics, she has normally been used as little greater than a tool, a figurehead for royalty, with an virtually spectral presence.

The Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” — initially titled “No Future” till the group realized the attainable advantages of releasing the only simply forward of the queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations — would possibly evaluate the monarchy to a fascist regime, however the girl herself barely figured within the lyric. It was in regards to the fantasy world Britain had entered for just a few months in 1977, the place financial collapse, the rise of the far proper and large industrial unrest had been someway healed by Union Jack bunting and the balm of a avenue get together.

Whenever the queen turned an actual, residing particular person in a tune, nobody may think about a lot past discussing the climate along with her, or what number of sugars you may want in your tea. There was John Cale’s “Graham Greene” (“You’re making small talk now with the queen”), whereas Billy Bragg’s “Rule Nor Reason” imagined her as bored and lonely — “She looks out the window and cries.” The Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, on discovering that extra folks had been visited by her of their desires than anybody else, wrote the melancholic “Dreaming of the Queen” in 1993. Once once more, she was “visiting for tea,” and once more she was primarily unhappy and obscure: “The queen said, ‘I’m aghast, love never seems to last.’”

The Beatles’ “Her Majesty,” although it has lengthy been utilized by Lennon loyalists as proof of Paul McCartney’s smooth, MOR tendencies, was hardly a ringing endorsement of Elizabeth II’s persona: “Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say.” The queen received again at McCartney at her birthday celebrations years later. Composer Angelo Badalamenti, a frequent collaborator of director David Lynch, as soon as recalled assembly McCartney at Abbey Road and listening to how the Beatle had been requested to play a half-hour set of his biggest hits at Buckingham Palace. Just as he was telling the queen what an honor this was going to be, she stated, “Mr. McCartney, I’m sorry but I can’t stay.” He seemed crestfallen. “Don’t you see?” she defined. “It’s five minutes to 8. I must go upstairs and watch ‘Twin Peaks.’” (I’d prefer to suppose she was watching Season Two.) Again, it’s arduous to think about anybody British considering this was a narrative they need to repeat in public, however Badalamenti had no such reservations.

Queen Elizabeth II and Paul McCartney on the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.

(Tim Graham Photo Library by way of Getty)

Though it’s arduous to consider songs that personally defend or assault the queen, the ‘80s — packed to the gills with anti-Thatcher material — was also a peak period for anti-royalist statements. The wryest came from the Smiths, with Morrissey using the title track on “The Queen Is Dead” as a metaphor for the decline of Britain (true to his word, he left soon after and set up homes in Rome and California). At one point in the lyric he breaks into Buckingham Palace “with a sponge and a rusty spanner / She said ‘I know you and you cannot sing’ / I stated ‘that’s nothing you must hear me play pianner.’” In 1989, Wales’ Manic Street Preachers sang “Repeat after me, f— Queen and country! Repeat after me, royal Khmer Rouge!” which was an authentic angle, however at the least made a change to describing the monarchy as a fascist regime.

British indie-pop band McCarthy, followers of the hard-left Revolutionary Communist Party, had been one of many few teams to put in writing about our subsequent monarch. We would possibly know much more about Charles III than we find out about Elizabeth II — his views on structure, what he thinks in regards to the surroundings, and we’ve even seen the transcript to a intercourse tape of kinds — however he has barely impressed any songs. He has no thriller. On 1987’s “Charles Windsor,” McCarthy’s Malcolm Eden sang about “the rabble … the kind you hoped were dead, they’ve come to chop off your head,” as “businessmen, hacks from the Sun, military men, so many rich men weep in despair.” It’s blunt and apparent, the long run monarch along with his neck on the guillotine block, however then once more it’s arduous to think about many individuals have desires about Charles coming over for tea.

The royal household remains to be seen as divisive, essentially the most blatant instance of the unacceptable institution — grime star Skepta claimed he rejected an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) on 2017’s “Hypocrisy.” But the queen herself was virtually at all times thought to be a comparatively benign determine, a clean web page that musicians may mission onto. It’s not a coincidence that Queen, one of the oddly secretive and unknowable bands in British rock historical past, gave themselves their self-aggrandizing identify.

Going to a pub on the night after the queen’s demise was introduced, I heard opera singer Katherine Jenkins’ model of “God Save the Queen” (the royal anthem, not the Pistols’ tune). It was adopted by Queen — “Another One Bites the Dust” — after which the Sex Pistols. Supermarkets and radio stations are enjoying music one diploma softer than they normally would — the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” Drake and Rihanna’s “Take Care,” the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” In spite of public proclamations on the contrary, individuals are much less in mourning than unsettled and anxious about what occurs subsequent; we now have two model new, unelected figures working the nation. This will not be Diana revisited. The likes of Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and Elton John have expressed private unhappiness {that a} mounted level of their lives — the nation’s Granny — is now not there. Of her extra well-known detractors, John Lydon has gone out of his strategy to say he’s by no means had something in opposition to her personally; Morrissey’s politics, in the meantime, are actually someplace to the precise of rabid royalists.

Some issues by no means change, although — whereas all soccer and boxing fixtures had been postponed on Saturday as a mark of respect, sports activities for the extra privileged courses like rugby union, horse racing and grouse capturing all went forward; the decrease orders presumably couldn’t be trusted to mourn at sporting occasions in a civilized method. We ought to keep residence and know our place. Personally, I’ve largely spent the final couple of days at residence, understanding my place, worrying about whether or not that priceless Duke Ellington report goes to finish up in a thrift retailer.

Bob Stanley, a founding member of the British music group Saint Etienne, is the writer of “Let’s Do It: The Birth of Pop.”


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