X-Ray Spex’s Germfree Adolescents Remains a Punk Masterpiece

“Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, I think ‘Oh bondage, up yours!’” Poly Styrene, X-Ray Spex’s enigmatic frontwoman, shouts that line on “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” a 1977 anti-capitalist and anti-sexist anthem that served as a blueprint for the band’s masterful 1978 debut LP, Germfree Adolescents.

Poly Styrene, born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, initially set out to pursue a solo career as a pop/reggae singer before discovering the Sex Pistols, which inspired her to link up with like-minded punks. Rocking braces, army helmets, and sometimes colorful plastic clothing, she cultivated a unique look. After a few early lineup changes, Poly Styrene would be joined by guitarist Jak Airport, bassist Paul Dean, saxophonist Rudi Thomson, and drummer B.P. Hurding, for X-Ray Spex in the studio as they set out to record their full-length debut.

In terms of the band’s sound, Poly drew heavily from ska and reggae, creating a unique blend of guitar-driven music. Her onstage persona was reminiscent of glam rockers like Marc Bolan and David Bowie. And lyrically, like a number of their punk contemporaries, X-Ray Spex were not afraid to tackle societal issues.

On November 10th 1978, X-Ray Spex released Germfree Adolescents, an explosive effort that redefined the notion of punk rock through a sincere, non-conforming, and joyful resilience. The album drew outside the lines of a traditional punk record with the inclusion of the saxophone as a primary instrument, while embracing the genre’s carefree spirit.

Poly Styrene had a lot to say. Her experiences as one of the few black women who occupied the rock space informed many of her critiques with regards to bigotry, misogyny, and rampant consumerism, among other issues. Her lyrics came from a place of wanting to freely relay ideas that reflected her surroundings, while also poking fun at the conventions of punk music through sardonic lyrics. “I am a poseur and I don’t care… My facade is just a fake, shock horror, no escape,” she gleefully sings on “I am a Poseur,” a fan favorite. Adhering to archetypes or giving into nihilism wasn’t for X-Ray Spex.