William Michael Albert Broad. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue now does it? Once upon a time there was an English rocker in a band called Generation X. They had this great cover of “Gimme Some Truth” by John Lennon, but they also had this single called “Dancing With Myself” co-written by some guy named, ironically enough, Billy Idol, and Tony James. The band lasted maybe five years and change, but it had some interesting characters in it. There were roughly two incarnations of Generation X, but their personnel are linked to such Punk and Alternative royalty as The Clash, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Sisters of Mercy, The Alarm and Sigue Sigue Sputnik. I’m not much of an SSS guy, but the rest of these bands were and are in my hot zone. I’ve seen them all live. Not Billy Idol. Can you believe it? A concert goer from hell like me and I’ve got no Billy Idol on my resume? I can’t even believe it myself. It just never seemed to work out. I remember he came through here a couple of years back, I think he played The House of Blues, which is less than three years old, did I even lift a finger to attend? No. It probably conflicted with the season finale of True Blood or something. I’m kidding, but it could have been a World Series game I was interested in. The point is I just didn’t make the effort and now? Who knows? I have to tell you, the last Billy Idol record I bought was 1990′s Charmed Life. That was TWENTY years ago for crying out loud. I don’t know if Nirvana had just broken or what, but I lost interest in Billy. He was losing his edge I felt. I remember not even buying 1986′s Whiplash Smile. I actually skipped a record. Must have been hard times…those of you who know me know I am crazy anal. I buy from the beginning to a certain point of an artist’s career and if I stop I stop. If I don’t, I go back and buy the records in between. Fool.
So, with Generation X splintering due to some members wanting to stay Punk and others wanting to Rock, William Michael Albert Broad morphed into Billy Idol; Punk cum Rock Star. I had just begun working at WBCN, The Rock of Boston, as a Listener Line flunky when Billy Idol’s ”White Wedding (Part 1)” became a hit single for Billy in the summer of 1982. By the way, I hate when bands label songs Part I and never have a Part II. I’m not saying White Wedding (Parts I & II) didn’t appear on 1985′s Vital Idol in remix form, I’m just sayin’. Another pet peeve of mine is the old No. 1, or worse, Nos 1 & 2 versus number one or 1 or numbers 1 & 2. Told you I was anal. I spell out the word “number” and I’m inclined to write ”Part 1″ as “Part I” most of the time. I don’t like lazy abbreviations. Never have. Ever notice how a song like “(Do Not) Stand in The Shadows” automatically goes into slot one in some jukeboxes? That bugs me too. By the way, is there a FREE Jukebox Software not named iTunes worth it’s salt on this planet? Do tell. If I could write code I’d kick iTunes ass all over the block. When my song is done playing I want the software to STOP. If I want to stack up a few songs to play in succession and I click on them while the current one is playing I DO NOT WANT THAT SONG CUT OFF. And I don’t want to have to create a playlist to listen to twenty or thirty tracks in a row, some of which I haven’t chosen yet. You folks can howl until the cows come home at me, but give me the bug ridden MusicMatch Jukebox (R.I.P…thanks Yahoo!…not!) any day. I should have known it was the kiss of death the day I signed up for a lifetime contract for $39 dollars about six years ago…sucker…
Sorry, got way off track there. Billy Idol personified the excess of the 80′s. The fingerless gloves, the leather, the chains, the bleached hair, the bulge, the androgyny, the attitude, the sneer, the image…if you weren’t into A Flock of Seagulls (I still love “If I Had a Photograph of You (Wishing)” and “Space Age Love Song” so shoot me) or worse, Culture Club, you probably had a little Billy Idol in you. I know I did. “White Wedding” (I’m losing the Part I) was a smash hit and rightfully so. It was a great song. Overplayed? Yes, but a great song. The hit that followed that one out the door was “Hot in The City.” In the summer of 1982 there was no cooler song. It was probably the equivalent of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s 1966 hit “Summer in The City” to us here in steamy Boston that summer. I couldn’t get enough of that song. It even had the obligatory anguished lyric ”New York!” to haunt the locals in it. I, of course, could care less being from New Jersey. Still, Idol had had a hit EP in 1981 called Don’t Stop which included a cover of the Tommy James classic “Mony Mony” (I absolutely love Tommy James, but I always thought this was one of his worst, but Billy propped it up and gave it new life big time back then) and the initial pass of “Dancing With Myself.” Today “Dancing” is a Classic Rock staple on a par with songs like Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” and Modern English’s “I’ll Melt With You.” You may never care if you ever hear these songs again, but they ain’t going anywhere anytime soon. Idol’s song has the added advantage of being a dance floor staple for obvious reasons too. Hey, did you know future Talking Heads keyboardist Jerry Harrison and future Cars drummer David Robinson were in The Modern Lovers? Me neither. Thank God I couldn’t quite remember if Richman was spelled Richmond huh? Nothing like fun facts to keep me entertained I gotta tell ya.
Was Billy Idol done after ’82? A three or four hit wonder? Surely you jest my friends. In 1983 Billy released Rebel Yell. I remember the jock I worked with, Mark Parenteau, was all over this record. I seem to recall him using his “O” track for “Blue Highway” more than once. An “O” was a play anything you want once an hour DJ privilege. WBCN was much more free form than almost any station, excepting New York’s legendary WNEW-FM, prior to the 80′s. Certainly in Boston. Before it was legal to own two stations in one market, WBCN was a model for playing both popular rock music, but having just enough freedom so that your station, day in and day out, didn’t sound like, oh, WZLX if you are familiar with the Boston market. The “O” track was treasured, although I didn’t think Mark treasured it nearly enough for my liking, he’d sometimes try and make a minor hit on a record we were already playing the crap out of hoping Oedipus (Program Director) might add it to the main library or put it in rotation. “Blue Highway” was a pretty good song, but the fact that Mark was playing it spoke volumes about Billy Idol’s new found market muscle. Far and away, for my money, “Eyes Without a Face” was the best song on that record and maybe the best song he ever sang with all due respect to my beloved “Hot in The CIty.” Everybody and their brother could sing along to “Eyes Without a Face” and it went from a ballad to a balls out rocker in a tidy five minutes. That is a great, great song in my humble opinion. I had to take Billy Idol a lot more seriously after that I have to admit. Then “Flesh For Fantasy” hit the airwaves. Another great song. Rebel Yell sold millions of records. “Crank Call” rocked too. So did “(Do Not) Stand in The Shadows.” Billy Idol was on top of the world. Chicks dug him. Guys wanted to be him. Well, almost all guys. We all got his sense of humor and faux Punk attitude. And that sneer…we were in on the joke and damn it, he had some great tunes too.
Whiplash Smile kind of tanked a bit in 1986. No killer single. “To Be a Lover” wasn’t bad, but it just didn’t grab you. Four years later, Billy surfaced with his last great record if you ask me. And “great” might be stretching it, but it has a passable version of The Doors classic “L.A. Woman.” The lead single was “Cradle of Love” if memory serves and “The Loveless” was a decent track as well. The best song on the record though, hands down for me, was “Prodigal Blues.” You had to know I’d be looking into a song with “Blues” attached to it right? The Billy Idol persona fired off a few last bullets with 1993′s Cyberpunk and 2005′s Devil’s Playground, but the thrill was gone. His time had come and gone. I’ve always liked his voice though. I have yet to listen to his 2006 Christmas album, but I’m sure it’s as good as any. I want to be embarrassed for him, but I can’t. I love Christmas music. I’m a sap. I have an entire 8 GB Sony iPod like device devoted to Christmas music. I couldn’t possibly listen to it all this month even if I started at midnight Wednesday morning. Still, I treasure it. I was listening to Oedipus’ Christmas show last year on New Year’s Eve…he used to do it every year on what used to be WBCN and WFNX gave him a platform last year even though there were serious sound issues the entire night. If I remember correctly he’s Jewish, but loves the idea of Christmas music as much as the rest of us. OK, Billy, gotta run. It seems like November 30, 1955 was along time ago, but that is the day that Mr Broad was born in Stanmore, Middlesex UK. He’s still touring with Steve Stevens and still has a massive fan base, but his MTV days are squarely behind him. That doesn’t mean you can’t have any more fun. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see you perform someday soon. Happy Birthday William from The Giant Panther.
Buy or Download The Very Best of Billy Idol: Idolize Yourself from Amazon here.