My dear hero Poly Styrene would have turned 56 this month, can I tell you all about it?
The first time I heard X-Ray Spex was when I saw the film DOA, a mostly boring, except for the music scenes, documentary about punk bands. X-Ray Spex were playing the song “Oh Bondage, Up Yours.” This monumental moment that changed me forever was akin to my seeing the film Cabaret in 2nd grade. My mind was blown.
This not skinny, mixed-race girl with braces starts the song by saying in her cockney accent, “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard but I think Oh Bondage Up Yours 1-2-3-4!! And then a saxophone kicks in. What the fuck is happening. What the fuck happened was that I saw and heard for the first time Poly Styrene, the singer of X=Ray Spex, and the world would never be the same again. How could it? (See video below).
X-Ray Spex release only one album, but that was enough: Germ Free Adolescents released in 1978 is one of my all time favorite recordings.
Long before digital files, there were some recordings that were hard to get, hard to hear. Great music that you wanted to listen to but might not be able to. Germ Free Adolescents was one such album. I ached for it.
The rare record record hung in a plastic sleeve on the wall of Bleeker Bob’s record store with a price tag that read $100. It might as well have been $1,000,000. I was in 9th grade and at the time $100 was what many tenement dwellers in New York paid for a month's rent. It was a lot of money for me, not something to save up to, something that was out of reach.
There was this guy who hung around the NY hardcore scene called Mike Cha Cha Cha. He was loud and funny and had some dark stories under his belt. He and I talked about going into Bleeker Bob’s and asking to see the album and them running out the door with it. He was capable of doing that. I wasn’t. I don’t know if he ever did it.
One night I wound up at a party in some desolate space. It was freezing winter and there was no heat. I remember Yana and Sharissa and a bunch of cool girls in their overcoats and boots huddles around a tape player that blasted the album. Every song was brilliant, nonstop. They were dancing and singing all night, proving that this was THE best record in the world.
Years later I got a reissue of the recording that included the iconic “Oh Bondage” track, which had been released as a single and was not on the original LP. I bought two copies just to be safe. At the time a friend also bought me an original copy so I had a trio rare gems. Of course now you can get it on cd and itunes and everything else, which is great so go buy it. Every track is brilliant in its writing and execution. I could go on and rave about each track, the words, the way her voice cracks or soars, but you get the idea.
X-Ray Spex were Poly Styrene (vox), Jak Airport (guitar), Paul Dean (bass), Rudi Thomson (saxophone) and B.P. Hurding (drums).
Poly Styrene AKA Marianne Elliot Said passed away two years ago from breast cancer. Her other recordings, all as a solo artist, include albums Translucent and Generation Indigo, as well as several singles.