Irrelevant Aside: X-Ray Spex

My fondness for the New York Dolls, the proto-punk, proto-glam band from the 1970’s, is something I may have mentioned previously.

Two of the original Dolls are still with us, Syl Sylvain, rhythm guitar, and David Johansen, vocals. Both are still making music in various ways, David gigging around Manhattan and Syl going off on a solo singing/storytelling tour. Both are doing DJ-like things as well, David on the radio and Syl on Facebook.

Every Friday Syl posts up his Rampage of Songs, stuff he liked as a kid, stuff by people he knows/knew, his own latest recordings…well, so far as I can tell it’s whatever strikes his fancy. And that’s cool. The man has eclectic tastes, and, being in the music business for over forty years, he’s got a lot of perspective.

Last Friday he cranked out an oldie from X-Ray Spex.

(I tried to post the video here but it didn’t take. Sorry. Go to YouTube and search for X-Ray Spex and It’s Bondage, Up Yours.)

X-Ray Spex! I’d almost forgotten them. That lovely young lady…stage name Poly Styrene…cancer got her back in 2011, so there won’t be any more from them.

But what a clever thing they did, and what a distinctive sound they created doing it, and it was pure 100% punk.

You see, the standard rock ‘n’ roll four-piece combo is lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, and drums. The lead guitarist should lend a melodic note to counterpoint the singer, while the rhythm guitarist…well, if your feet are moving, he or she is getting the job done.

But, while lead guitarists are a dime a dozen, they may not have the right attitude or they might be too hard to find, or they might not be interested in punk rock, or…I mean, let’s be fair. Mark Ramone may have given punk guitarists a bad name. Or Steve Cook. You know.

So the Spex went out and got a sax player instead.


First of all, you can’t play the sax any way other than melodically. No one has ever power chorded a sax, except maybe Rasaan Roland Kirk.

Second , the sax is a great rock ‘n’ roll instrument. It’s urban, brassy, loud, literally in your face…not just ON your face like a trumpet, but in your face.

Third, there’s a long history of great rock ‘n’ roll sax players…but not a long list of them in punk bands. I’m thinking…I’m thinking…You know, there are saxes on The Dolls’ Too Much, Too Soon, but the producer, Shadow Morton put them there. The Ramones worked with some horns on End of the Century, but that was the producer (Phil Spector), too. The Stooges had a horn player for a while, but he had to share room with their guitarist.

It’s a great sound and one someone else should experiment with some day. As for me, I heard “It’s Bondage, Up Yours,” and said, “Ohhh, yeahhhhh…” I was on Amazon five minutes later.

Enjoy, I hope.

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