Although many believe it was created because of the Jubilee, the band denies it, Paul Cook saying that, "It wasn't written specifically for the Queen's Jubilee. We weren't aware of it at the time. It wasn't a contrived effort to go out and shock everyone". Johnny Rotten has explained the lyrics as follows: "You don't write a song like 'God Save The Queen' because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you're fed up of seeing them mistreated." His intentions were apparently to evoke sympathy for the English working class, and a general resentment for the monarchy.
On 7 June 1977 the Jubilee holiday itself, the band attempted to play the song from a boat named The Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames, outside the Palace of Westminster. After a scuffle involving attendee Jah Wobble and a cameraman, eleven people, including several members of the band's entourage, were arrested when the boat docked.
The song peaked at number 2 (behind Rod Stewart's I Don't Want to Talk About It) on the official UK Singles Chart used by the BBC, though there have been persistent rumours—never confirmed or denied—that it was actually the biggest-selling single in the UK at the time, and was kept off number 1 because it was felt that it might cause offence. It did hit number 1 on the unofficial NME singles chart. It was banned by the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority which regulated Independent Local Radio, effectively denying it any media exposure. It was also not stocked by some shops. Since the official singles chart at the time was compiled using sales returns from a number of outlets amongst a wider participating roster, it is in theory possible that the single's number 2 position was not the result of disregarding sales figures as such, but of the selection for that week's chart source data of a number of stores which were not selling the record.
The phrase "no future", the song's closing refrain, became emblematic of the punk rock movement. The lyric provided the title of Jon Savage's award-winning 1991 history of the Sex Pistols and punk rock, England's Dreaming.
Before the group signed to Virgin, a small number of copies of "God Save the Queen" had been pressed on the A&M label. These are now among the most valuable records ever pressed in the UK, with a resale value as of 2006 of between £500 to £13,000 a copy, depending on condition of the disc. The B-side of the A&M single was "No Feeling" (without an s), an early rough mix or performance of "No Feelings." (A later version was released on the Pistols' debut album.)
"God Save the Queen" was featured on the band's only album, Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols, and several compilation albums.
Rolling Stone ranked "God Save the Queen" number 173 on their list of the The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, one of the group's two songs on the list along with "Anarchy in the U.K.". Sounds magazine made it their Single of the Year in 1977. In 1989 it was eighteenth in the list of NME writers all time top 150 singles. Q Magazine in 2002 ranked it first on their list as "The 50 Most Exciting Tunes Ever..." and third in their list of "100 Songs That Changed The World" in 2003. In 2007 NME launched a campaign to get the song to number 1 in the British charts and encouraged readers to purchase or download the single on 8 October. However it only made #42. In 2010, the New Statesman listed it as one of the "Top 20 Political Songs".
In 2010, the song was amongst the top 10 most controversial songs of all time, in a poll conducted by PRS for Music.