X-Ray Spex lead singer Poly Styrene succumbed to cancer in April 2011, just a few weeks before I started Reselect. So it’s really kind of a shame that I haven’t gotten around to paying them respect here until now. After all, their fantastic 1978 debut album, Germfree Adolescents, is one of the classic albums of the punk era, considered by many to be among the best. It’s also the only one released by the original band before they broke up in 1979. It’s tight, melodic, raucous, and anchored by Poly Styrene’s blaring, acrobatic vocals and Lora Logic’s surprisingly effective staccato saxophone (although she’d been dropped from the band before the album was released). For the most concrete musical proof of the album’s greatness, look no further than the CD version’s bonus track, “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” True, it wasn’t on the original album, but it was their first single, leading directly to the recording of the album, and it features a sound representative of the songs on Germfree Adolescents.
“Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” was released as a single in 1977, and is one of the seminal songs of the British punk explosion. Poly Styrene begins the song with the spoken phrase, “Some people think little girls should be seen, and not heard. But I think….oh bondage, up yours!” as the band launches full-throttle ahead. She makes it quite clear from the start that the bondage she sings of isn’t of the sexual variety, but rather the bondage of gender stereotypes and consumerism in general.
I consume you all
I don’t think at all
Reading the lyrics alone doesn’t nearly do the song justice; it’s the full, visceral force of the song’s assault that has the greatest impact. Styrene’s singing on the song is easily the equal of any of the great performances of her punk peers of the day, her anger fleshing out the full intent of the lyrics. The fact that she enunciates most of the lyrics quite clearly is almost secondary — she could very well have sang nonsense syllables and we still would have known what she was singing about. Close enough, anyway, for it to still be one of the all-time greats.