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Back in the Day

Worth revisiting: BODY COUNT's first album

Posted on November 17, 2008

At first listen, it's hard to justify why Body Count's self-titled debut is so enjoyable. There are plenty of better punk, hard rock and metal albums. The lyrics, provided by the usually astute Ice-T, are crass at best and moronic at worst.

From "Voodoo:"

She had an old doll.
She had a long shiny needle.
She held the doll in the air–it looked kinda like me!
She took the needle–stuck it in its eye!

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

My eye!
Bitch!

Imagine that level of subtlety and discretion applied to "Evil Dick," "KKK Bitch," or "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight."

Body Count are often unjustly classified as a rap-rock precedent, only because they have a vocalist who moonlights as a rapper. In truth, Ice-T's talk-singing here is more like Mike Muir's than Zack de la Rocha's, an expansion of punk-metal and not a prototype for rap-rock. The most hip-hop thing about this album is its annoying tendency to put skits between a lot of the songs, mostly revolving around established facts (more black men in prison than in college, the media brushes over gang violence, etc.) or sounding like they were made up on the spot (South Central L.A. isn't like The Cosby Show, etc.) Even the best lyrics (check out "Bowels of the Devil") sound like they were ripped from a high school bathroom stall.

Logically, this album should suck. And it some ways it does. But I can't stop listening to it.

The deceptively simple music, written by guitarist/producer Ernie C., has no regard for chops or song structure but somehow blasts from the speakers no matter how low you turn it down. Most of the songs sound like they've never been rehearsed, giving the album a spontaneous, live-in-the-studio feel that few of Body Count's peers ever captured.

Like the Sex Pistols, Body Count created simple music that was somehow impossible for anyone to emulate. The almost stupidly ham-fisted choruses of “There Goes the Neighborhood” and “Bowels of the Devil” will have you singing along on the first listen. Even the anti-drug power ballad "The Winner Loses" (sample lyric: "Next thing I knew my friend's life was lost–NOOO!!!!!!") is pretty catchy, and it features a surprisingly Slash-like solo from Ernie C. The latter song is also a standout on an album that really sticks to its formula–a few power chords rehashed again and again over Ice-T singing about Body Count, cops, Body Count, racists, Body Count, motherfuckers, Body Count, street life, Body Count, cops, Body Count, racists…repeat.

Of course, Body Count is mainly remembered for "Cop Killer," a punk-metal scorcher that was vocally scorned by Charlton Heston, Dan Quayle and other upstanding citizens until the song was removed from all new pressings of the album. Nearly lost among the censorship crusades was the fact that "Cop Killer" is an awesome piece of music, a crazy, scary, potent and infectious punk-metal anthem packed with machine gun drumming, an unforgettable chorus and the best hook on the entire album.

Like a good horror flick, every single thing about Body Count is over-the-top. It may not be high art, but if you ever want a cartoonish thrill ride, jam-packed with sex, drugs and violence, this is as good as it gets. Whether banging "Tipper Gore's two twelve-year-old nieces" in "KKK Bitch," burning and dismembering his racist mom in "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight" or going out Beelzebub's anus is "Bowels of the Devil," Ice-T walks the line between campy and creepy like a musical Tobe Hooper, while his band kicks out some grimy thrash metal jams in the vein of Motörhead. It's a cheap thrill, but it's consistent.

Since their first album, Body Count have toured sporadically and released a few records, none of which have the potency of their debut. Today, Body Count are more likely to be brought up in First Amendment debates than metal history discussions. That's a fact that you should help remedy by picking up their first album.

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