Smash Your Head On The Punk Rock: The Sex Pistols - Bodies

An anti-abortion song from the progenitors of punk.

If you're just exploring punk for the first time through this column you might think the whole scene is anti-authority and left wing. Not always! There are plenty of right wing punk bands, includingwhite supremacist groups like Skrewdriver or Brutal Attack. Right wing, race-hate factions were so prevalant that the Dead Kennedys wrote a song called Nazi Punks Fuck Off.

The value systems of early punk bands are a little more complicated than just 'left wing/right wing.' The bands that came out of the early punk scene and the nascent hardcore scene were often more interested in shock and intimidation than making a statement. Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees wore a swastika, not because she identified with the Nazi agenda but because it really pissed people off. Meanwhile, the punks were very much reacting to the hippie era, and so they instinctively rebelled against anything seen as too leftie. Later bands like The Meatmen would carry the shock banner forward, writing songs like Crippled Children SuckTooling For Anus and Camel Jockeys Suck not necessarily because they believed what they were saying but because it was funny to say it. 

Still, Bodies by The Sex Pistols feels like something of an anomaly. The National Review named it one of the 50 top conservative rock songs of all time*. Robert Christgau, one of the greatest rock critics who ever lived, said it was "effectively anti-abortion, anti-woman, and anti-sex." And the lyrics, largely, speak for themselves:

She was a no one who killed her baby
She sent her letters from the country
She was an animal
She was a bloody disgrace

Body, I'm not an animal
Body, I'm not an animal

Dragged on a table in a factory
Illegitimate place to be
In a packet in a lavatory
Die little baby, screaming

Body, screamin', fucking bloody mess
Not an animal, it's an abortion

Body, I'm not an animal
Mummy, I'm not an abortion

Throbbing squirm
Gurgling bloody mess

I'm not a discharge
I'm not a loss in protein
I'm not a throbbing squirm

Fuck this and fuck that
Fuck it all and fuck the fucking brat
She don't wanna baby that looks like that
I don't wanna baby that looks like that

Now, other songs on The Sex Pistols' only studio record, Never Mind The Bollocks, use irony and black humor to make points, but that doesn't really seem to be the case when it comes to Bodies. The song itself is based on a real life experience Johnny Rotten had with a crazy fan, who showed up at his house wearing nothing but a see-through plastic sheet and holding a bag with an aborted fetus; she was the girl from Birmingham, and she had been institutionalized. She apparently had numerous abortions.

Later Rotten (now going by his real name John Lydon) would say it wasn't an anti-abortion song, but rather a song about the psychic pain of abortion - more in line with Ben Folds Five's Brick. That's tough to swallow once you look at the lyrics and listen to the song - the way he spits 'She don't wanna baby that looks like that' is so drenched in disgust that it's hard to read the song as anything but critique. 

As a song it's one of the band's best, just a furious blast of punk rock that outstrips anything else of the album. The relentless buzzsaw blast of the guitars still sear, and Rotten's snarling, profane lyrics still feel edgy and furious today. This is one of the songs that really illustrates the power of punk rock - coming up on 40 years later this song sounds more raw and real than 90% of what passes for modern rock. 


* their list, to be fair, is bizarre, and includes any song that references the Cold War without being blatantly pro-communist. Somehow BOC's Godzilla also made the list.