"Them, they came out with a sound and attitude and a whole energy. It was just not relating to anything around it. Superb." - Johnny Rotten
Strange to see a Johnny Rotten quote in which he is actually praising rather than snarling, but those were his words in the documentary The Punk Years, and the band he was praising was one of the most attention-commanding, discordant, unique bands to come out of the 1977 UK Punk Rock scene.
Marion Elliot and Susan Whitby would form the original nucleus of the band, with Jack Stafford, Paul Dean and BP Hurding rounding out the cast. The girls would change their names, with Whitby assuming the moniker "Lora Logic" and Elliot transforming into "Poly Styrene" (Jack Stafford would also take a new name, "Jak Airport"), and the band was called X-Ray Spex.
In a scene full of dour, grungy, dark-and-dirty styles of dress, X-Ray Spex stood out with their bright neon clothes. With band after band following the basic guitar-bass-drums setup with perhaps occasional keyboards thrown in, Lora Logic's wailing, blurting saxophone gave the Spex quite a unique sound. In a male-dominated genre, X-ray Spex bucked convention by showcasing the then-15-year-old Poly Styrene, wailing her vocals, as Trouser Press once described, "with all the delicacy of a cat in heat," and hardly looking the part of a lead singer with her awkward stage presence and gleaming braces. And when their 1977 debut single "Oh Bondage! Up Yours" hit the record shop shelves, it literally sounded like nothing else before or since.
Lora Logic left after that first single and was replaced with Rudi Thompson, who squawked the sax with only slightly more skill. Their sound intact, several more singles followed: "The Day the World Turned Dayglo," "Identity," and "Germ Free Adolescents" would all turn up on their legendary 1978 album Germ Free Adolescents, counted by many critics as one the best of the lot of early UK punk LPs. A final non-album single, "Highly Inflammable," followed later in the year; virtually everything they released was available on brightly colored vinyl.
Poly Styrene had begun acting more and more strangely, shaving her head and telling magazine writers that their next album would be released on vinyl the same color as the next UFO she saw. By the end of 1978 she was in full nervous breakdown, and the band splintered. After a year or two off, Styrene found peace by joining a Hare Krishna sect, and released a much more mellow solo album, Translucence, in 1980. Six years later, she had left the Hare Krishnas and released Gods and Goddesses, which included the anti-cult single "Trick of the Witch."
Poly disappeared again, re-emerging in 1995 with a reformed version of X-ray Spex and releasing a new album, Conscious Consumer. The album is actually quite good, although nothing like the original Spex.
This week's NW4NW takes us back to 1978 for a clip of the original band (well, post-Lora Logic, but the band who recorded the album anyway) performing "The Day the World Turned Dayglo" on Top of the Pops. The video is not of the greatest quality, but you'll easily be able to see how utterly uncomfortable Poly was on camera. Apparently she never quite got the hang of lip-syncing. Still the song is a classic, and footage of X-Ray Spex isn't always easy to come by. Enjoy!