This was a total cheat. I'd completely forgotten about X-Ray Spex on this list until it was already done. So I bumped Barry Manilow's "Mandy" because I didn't have a lot to say about it that wasn't part of a long apology. This would be more fun. I have one additional song I totally spaced on to squeeze in somewhere.
Pete and I were introduced to X-Ray Spex by our friend Mike, who'd put "I'm a Cliché" on a mixtape he made for Pete and it went over like a lead balloon. We were confused. "What is this?" we wondered "and why would anyone like it?" The vocals were like nothing we'd ever heard before, but like not in a good way. They were really powerful and not bad per se, but just very unpleasant. She didn't sound like a Riot Grrrl and she didn't sound like Debbie Harry. There was no template for this.
"I'm a Cliché" I guess was not the best place to start. I think, I *think* we next gave X-Ray Spex a chance during our college radio show, Underground Babylon (named for the Catholic Discipline song on the Decline of Western Civilization soundtrack, a creative decision I stand behind). There are a number of songs on this list I discovered as a result of having poured through the thousands of CDs and LPs in KTUH's collection. For the most part the show was made up of our own collection, but to mix things up, we'd often throw something on sight unseen. And then on occasion, we'd *borrow* a CD we never thought anyone would miss before we were able to put it back. We were the only ones at the station playing what we did, so it was low-risk.
Anyway, I've no idea what prompted us to give it another chance, but we borrowed Germfree Adolescents for a week and began to open ourselves up to X-Ray Spex and "I Can't Do Anything" lead the way. Another thing about X-Ray Spex that made them a little less accessible was the obtuse presence of the saxophone on most tracks. On "I Can't Do Anything," the sax is the hook, so it's much easier to like. I had thought the lyrics in "I'm a Cliché" were kind of dumb, but as I was heavy into Riot Grrrl at the time, the playful/pissy take on patriarchy as a barrier to creative credibility in "I Can't Do Anything" made a lot of sense to me. Poly Styrene's VERY UNIQUE vocal style fit in perfectly with both the melody and that childlike gender role critique. It all came together perfectly.
After getting our feet wet with "I Can't Do Anything," we warmed to the rest of the album, INCLUDING the much maligned "I'm a Cliché" and the album is now a favorite. It's a BIG SHAME that there is no decent video for "I Can't Do Anything" (that I could immediately find) on YouTube. Other performance videos I've seen are awesome and highly recommend checking them out.
Poor Poly Styrene passed away in 2011 of breast cancer which is obviously really really sad. It's worth mentioning that she wasn't just a woman who lead a British early punk band but a woman of color, which makes her even more of a bad-ass trail-blazin' revolutionary. In reading this morning I found out that there's a documentary about her life in development. The production is crowdsource funded and seems to be moving a little slowly so I did something I've never done and became a monthly contributor.