A Six-pack of Billy Idol

My fear was mediocrity, being just another cog in the glorious system that would eventually grind our spirit down to dust. I refused to be a prisoner in a gilded cage from which there was no escape… I was determined to overcome my limitations, to stare my mediocrity in the face, to step up and dare to fail big, to go for the gold, live on the edge of uncertainty. At least I’d be alive to feel my own pain, as John Lennon had commanded – Billy Idol. 

Wikipedia: “William Michael Albert Broad (born 30 November 1955), known professionally as Billy Idol, is an English singer who holds dual British and American citizenship. Billy’s family moved to Long Island, New York when he was two years old. But five years later – for whatever reason – they went back to England. His classmates called him “the Yank.” (I get called the same thing when I’m down South and they find out I’m from the Boston area. Some people never get tired of fighting the Civil War -ME)

During high school, young Mr.Broad taught himself to play guitar and got involved in singing in local bands. One day on a train platform, Billy met a gal named Susan Ballion, and together they became fans of the Sex Pistols. Susan later took on the stage name Siouxsie Sioux. (How is it that so many Brit rockers wind up meeting at train stations? – ME).

Eventually, Billy became the guitarist for a band known as Chelsea and was in the thick of the punk scene. He and bassist Tony James were writing the songs and didn’t like the singer. So in 1976, they formed Generation X. They were a punk band but were inspired by mid-60s British pop.

Said Idol (stage name based on a schoolteacher’s description of him as “idle*”), “We were saying the opposite to the Clash and the Pistols. They were singing ‘No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones,’ but we were honest about what we liked. The truth was we were all building our music on the Beatles and the Stones”

Generation X lasted for four years and were fairly popular in Britain. If they had any success at all here in the States, I totally missed it. Idol and James stuck it out and rechristened the band, Gen X., In 1981, Gen X released an album called Kiss Me Deadly which pretty much went nowhere.

In that same year, Billy moved back to NYC. As his website bio says, “Like his father before him, Billy Idol decided to re-start his life in America. In 1981, 26-year-old Billy landed in shabby, crabby, cracked, wrecked, and wonderful Manhattan. Idol heartily embraced the subway lows and skyscraper highs promised by the lyrics of Lou Reed and Patti Smith. It was a brave move for a man without a band and only very limited cult success in his new country.”

Determined to make it, he teamed up with guitarist Steve Stevens (his Ronson to Idol’s Bowie) and released an EP called Don’t Stop. Idol still had the punk look and sound but it’s interesting the album is listed as dance-rock. He and Stevens had been gravitating towards that sound for a while.

From that EP came a Tommy James 60s hit called “Mony Mony” which I will happily avoid. But the other song that matters is his retread of “Dancing with Myself” which had been the lead track on that last Gen X album.

The “inspiration for the song occurred during a tour of Japan by Generation X when Idol and James were struck by the sight of the young crowd in a Tokyo discotheque dancing with their own reflections in walled mirrors rather than with one another.” (Today we have people sitting together looking at their phones instead of talking to each other – ME).

So, let’s sink another drink. (Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones on guitar):

To Idol’s great and lasting fortune, MTV had started up around this time and if anybody was made for that medium, it was he. In 1982, he released Billy Idol which was effectively his first solo album.

And remind yourself that it is a nice day for a nice, White (shotgun) Wedding. The bride in the video was Idol’s then-girlfriend Perri Lister who was apparently some sort of Brit celebrity. They later had a kid together:

Since I don’t necessarily do six-packs chronologically, I’ll just jump around here. An Idol tune (he’s a pretty good songwriter) that I’ve always kinda dug is the Twilight-Zone sounding “Eyes Without a Face.” The title came from a movie but of the song Idol says:

“I started to use ‘Eyes Without a Face’ as a possible title/lyric/chorus for a song. I began to write words that, in some disguised form, spoke about my life in New York and a relationship gone wrong, on the edge of disintegrating into madness. Perhaps I was reflecting on my own touring infidelities. In a way, those can leave you feeling soulless, especially if you’re already in a relationship that you value but are degrading by looking elsewhere for additional sexual kicks.”(Yes, that must be awful – ME.) 

After having (shock! horror!) somehow developed drinking and drug problems, Idol moved to LA. And in “February 1990 a horrific motorcycle accident nearly took Billy Idol’s life (and came perilously close to taking his leg, along with costing him a major role in Terminator 2).”

Here’s a nice soulful cover of the Booker T song “To Be A Lover” from Whiplash Smile:

And for good measure, here’s “Rebel Yell.” The rebel yell was something that Confederate soldiers used during the Civil War to intimidate the enemy. But Billy says he had attended an event where Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood were taking swigs from a bottle of “Rebel Yell” bourbon whiskey. He was not familiar with the brand, but he liked the name and decided to write the song.

Idol wrote a book about the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll lifestyle and at the ready-for-Medicare age of 65, appears to have conquered his demons. From his site, it looks like he’s about to do a limited US and then Europe tour. Weirdly, all of the US dates say, THIS IS A BILLY IDOL & STEVE STEVENS ACOUSTIC SHOW.” Really? Who the fuck wants to hear that?

I leave you to ponder the deeper meaning of “Rita Hayworth.”

*He picked Idol so as not to be confused with Eric Idle.

 

 

 

28 thoughts on “A Six-pack of Billy Idol

  1. I knew all tunes on your playlist except for the last one. While I dig a good number of Billy Idol songs, I haven’t explored his albums. Steve Stevens is a great guitarist.

    BTW, have you have watched this incredible acoustic rendition of “White Wedding?” I’m not sure I would necessarily an all-acoustic show, but I sure as heck wouldn’t mind this one.

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    1. Hey, now. That sounds pretty good. I like Billy Idol but not enough to go to one of his shows. But if I did go I’d want to hear them rock out. That said, I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing a cut or two like this. The Stones, U2 and Springsteen all do acoustic sets. The Allmans used to as well. It makes for a nice change.. I wonder why they’re doing acoustic here and (apparently) full band in Europe.

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      1. That does seem odd (that they do acoustic in the U.S. and full band/electric in Europe). And, you’re right, mixing it up would be the best.

        Frankly, Billy Idol wouldn’t be a priority concert choice for me either. Perhaps, if the tickets were really affordable, I’d consider it – I know, this doesn’t exactly like a glowing endorsement! 🙂

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        1. Yeah and it isn’t damning at all, I think, to say I wouldn’t see someone live. I think Idol’s pretty good. But there are a lot of bands – I call them radio bands – that I like but never had much desire to see. The Cars, Petty, Creedence, James Taylor. Radiohead – I think they’re all great but I was very satisfied to hear them on the radio only.

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        2. So fwiw I saw Billy Idol way back in the day when he was first hit it big – I was like a senior in high school or maybe early college. My little brother was really into him so I took him. He played like maybe 40 minutes. In retrospect I guess that’s not surprising given he didn’t have a lot of songs. But having seen a number of other bands including Springsteen it felt like a rip off at time. I do remember Steve Stevens being a kick ass guitarist though

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        3. Geez, most artists would throw in a few covers, maybe repeat a couple of tunes. Springsteen is, of course, an unfair comparison. The guy’s not human. I saw him about 5 years ago and he played for 4 hours and 2 minutes. With no break! At the age of 67! His shows run so long you have to pace yourself to keep your energy up. Even the band wishes he would play shorter shows.

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    2. My Brother-in-law played the hell out of the acoustic version to the point where I got used to it over the orginal. Stevens solo sounds way better.

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  2. Billy had some cracking tunes that were really spot on for their time (I don’t mean that in a negative way either) – I knew he was a Brit vs a Yank but I didn’t realise he was knocking around quite so close, hard to imagine that famous sneer developing in Dorking

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      1. Dorking is just over the border from Kent into Surrey – a pretty leafy market town but right off the belt (M25) so popular with those that commute into the city but don’t wanna live in it so pricey these days. The UK’s not that big really but the South East (Surrey, Sussex, Kent) is home to plenty a big name in the ‘biz’ probably because it’s easy enough to get into the Smoke but is also pretty enough and easy to get some peace and quiet and a big spread of land if you’ve got the dosh.
        I think Keith has a little cottage over in Sussex and my sister’s secondary (high) school friend lived next door to the Pet Shop Boys over in Rye… which is just a few miles out from Macca’s place in Peasmarsh…
        If you ever make it over let me know – we’ll slip some blues on the stereo and I’ll give you a ‘guide to the stars’ homes’

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        1. So that is your Connecticut. That state is the southernmost one in NEW England. It is one of the richest states in the nation and many celebrities live there for the same reason – leafy, tranquil and close enough to NYC. Keef has a place there as well.

          As to visiting, I will take you up on that only if we can ride over to Jeff’s house and sing ‘Silver Lining’ outside at 3am.

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        2. Heh! Coincidentally, the one time I spent any appreciable time in Old Blighty was way back when I did the European backpack tour. I wound up meeting a bunch of Londoners and would go out drinking with them. Often it would be hard cider. That’s where I first heard “Tally Man” and “My Old Man Said Follow the Van,” Later, that same combination got me into a fistfight with one of those blokes (from Weston-super-Mare) and he gave me a fat lip and cracked tooth. I still have the cracked tooth as a “souvenir” of sorts.

          All of which is to say, yes, if you have cider I will sing. However, don’t expect much. You will soon be yearning for a Texit (Tony exit).

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  3. When I did my Billy Idol series a few years back, I really gained a whole new level of respect for him. And I have to say his last few releases have been stellar. He and Steve Stevens are one heck of a team and it would not be the same without them together. And I loved Generation X. That was the first time I had ever dug in to them was the series as well.

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    1. I confess I also knew nothing about Generation X, just learned on reading about him. I had never thought to do a post on Idol but every time I’d hear one of his tunes on the radio I realized how much I still dug them. Good, solid rock songs.

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        1. His new e.p. The Roadside and then his last full length album Kings & Queens of the Underground from 2014 I think. The song “Save Me Now” is one of my all time favorite songs of his from that album. I really like them both.

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    2. Was it you that said you saw him? Here’s your chance again. He’s opening for Journey. Although that said, if i had tickets I’d watch Idol and leave before Journey came on.

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  4. Great write up ME. I always feel like I’m in a rock and roll class being taught by a great teacher when I read your blog. Always learn something new

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