Tag Archives: BillyBragg

38. Sexuality – Billy Bragg

I’ve come to believe that empathy is the currency of popular music. It’s what we offer the listener in return for their time — Billy Bragg

Here at Three Hundred Songs, we’re a big fan of Billy Bragg. Sexuality is one of Billy’s biggest—by which I mean his very few—hits, having reached the lower half of the Top 40 back in 1991.

It’s a joyous, upbeat song with some great lyrics, but it always struck me as somewhat dissociative in its identity. Bear with me. This is a song about sexuality, right?

I’ve had relations with girls from many nations
I’ve made passes at women of all classes
And just because you’re gay, I won’t turn you away

That checks out. Let’s see what the chorus has to say:

Strong and warm and wild and free
Your laws do not apply to me

Definitely about sexuality, then. Something of a legal curveball at the end there, but let’s crack on:

A nuclear submarine sinks off the coast of Sweden

Wait, what?

I had an uncle who once played
For Red Star Belgrade

Events take a turn for the abstract, Billy treating us to all best the rhyming couplets he can find in his songwriting stockpile of words:

I look like Robert De Niro
I drive a Mitsubishi Zero

I had to look it up, but that’s not even a car. You’re just having a laugh now, aren’t you Bill?

Affectionate ribbing—and non-sequiturs about football teams and aeroplanes apart—the song really is about sexuality after all. In the final couple of verses, we return to subject matter such as sexual dysfunction, safe sex, and sexual equality:

I feel a total jerk
Before your naked body of work

Safe sex doesn’t mean no sex
It just means use your imagination

We can be what we want to be

The line “We can be what we want to be” sums the song up well: fundamentally inclusive and egalitarian. Indeed, many years later, Billy would reword the first verse to be trans-inclusive:

Just because you’re they
I won’t turn you away
If you stick around
I’m sure that we can find the right pronoun

With crushing inevitability, the perpetually outraged trans-exclusionary “feminists” didn’t like that much. But they make a point of not really liking anything, so who cares.

It’s also a shame that small, reactionary pockets of the homosexual community similarly took offence, accusing Billy of “erasing” gay people by, I guess, not mentioning each and every one of them by name.

Predictably, the general-purpose right-wing gammon contingent also had a meltdown and an expletive-laden cry-wank in the corner of Swindon Wetherspoon’s, gibbering meaningless syllables like “woke”, “mob” and “small boats”, probably.

It’s a sad indictment of humanity in the twenty-first century that a song purely about humanity, inclusivity and fun can bring out the worst, most bigoted side in certain people. The Milkman of Human Kindness is going to need a bigger float.

Artist: Billy Bragg
Album: Don’t Try This at Home
Writer: Billy Bragg, Johnny Marr
Producer: Grant Showbiz, Johnny Marr
Released: Go! Discs, 1991