Until recently it seemed that the 1980's punk rocker poster boy had all but disappeared. Some of us were quite thankful for this, others lamented the loss of a volatile yet unique talent. Idol has been through a lot these past few years including a drug overdose, a serious motorcycle accident, fatherhood and accusations of sexual assault. But Idol is no ordinary mortal, and has not only overcome some of the most difficult trails of life, but has come back to tell his fans, new and old, about them.
Billy Idol was born William Albert Michael Broad on November 30, 1955 in Stanmore, England. Idol was a wild one from childhood, a trait he claims to have inherited from his father and grandfather. According to the biography on his official web site, Idol was exceptionally intelligent, but unchallenged and bored, causing him to underachieve in school. One of his teachers commented on a report card that young Billy was "idle" in class. This was, with a slight twist of course, the source of his stage name.
The biting irony of the moniker is almost too much for one brain to bear.
After quitting the University of Sussex in his first year, he decided to pursue a music career. In 1975 he formed The Bromley Contingent with a group of friends, including Susan Dallion who would later become Siouxsie of Siouxsie and the Banshees fame.
Soon, however, Billy formed his own band: Chelsea which included Mick Jones (later of The Clash) and Brian James (later of the The Damned ). Idol, however, did not take a lead role until the formation of Generation X, with several of the member from Chelsea. The band lasted a total of three albums. Its demise, due to problems with management and friction between band members, gave Idol the impetus to move to New York City and pursue a solo career.
I wanted to record Mony Mony because it was
the first record I ever made love to.
Billy Idol burst onto the charts with his first solo release, Mony Mony. Despite its popularity on club charts, the song got little radio play because the single had been sent out with his picture. People just weren't ready yet for Idol's spiky hair, leather clad, chain adorned, bad boy image. A few years later, this is the image that became his trademark and was copied by groupies worldwide.
Idol met guitarist Steve Stevens and the pair immediately bonded. July 1982 saw the release of Hot In The City, which peaked on billboard charts at #23. The $65, 000 video of White Wedding was a hit on MTV, and established Idol as one of the first icons of the MTV generation. By the end of the year, Billy was touring sold out concerts and the album went to a second printing. Idol was well on his way to fame.
This is the power of rock disco.
It was the release of Rebel Yell in 1984, however, that solidified Idol's position as pop rock legend in the making. The album, which included the classics Eyes Without A Face and Flesh for Fantasy , stayed on top 20 charts for most of the year. It also went platinum within 6 weeks of release and earned Idol a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance alongside of Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, John Mellencamp and Elton John.
The rest if the eighties were all good for pop's bad boy. His 1987 album, Vital Idol, went gold and the re release of Mony Mony went straight to #1 on charts in the US and the UK. He earned one more Grammy nomination. He hired Ed Parker, formerly personal body guard to Elvis Presley, to fill the same role. People stopped making fun of his hair and clothes and around the world, young and old alike attempted the now famous, Idol snarl.
The 90's started out well for the aging rocker and Charmed Life, his 1990 release did well on the charts. It included the top 5 hit Cradle of Love. Its release, however, was delayed because of the first of many Idol disasters; a nearly fatal motorcycle accident that left him with multiple fractures almost cost him his leg. Idol proved to be resilient, starting a short tour at the end of the year anyway to promote the album and acting in a minor role in Oliver Stone's movie, The Doors.
And then it all went to hell.
Like many 80's star, Idol was not able to make the transition to the new decade a smooth one. His 1993 release, CyberPunk, which anticipated the trend of on-line computer activity and was his tribute to pop music's growing fascination with virtual reality and futuristic animation techniques, bombed. Its one hit song, Shock to the System, didn’t have the same impact as his other releases and was quickly forgotten. The rest of the 1990's sunk Idol into infamy.
In 1992 Billy Idol was accused of attacking one of his fans and was given a 2 year probation. In 1993, Idol's name was found in the little black book of Heidi Fleiss and it was rumored that the bad boy rocker enjoyed having inanimate objects inserted into his nether regions by pretty young girls. In 1994, Idol suffered a drug overdose and he was not heard of until his cameo appearance in the 1998 movie, The Wedding Singer.
2001 promised to be a big year for Billy Idol. He started out by releasing a long awaited greatest hits compilation and going on a tour of the US. At the beginning of the year, two programs dedicated to the life and times of Idol were produced: an episode of Behind the Music and a performance on VH1 Storytellers. In the latter, Idol talks about his life of sex, drugs and rock and roll as well as the influences behind some of his most well known songs.
Currently, Idol seems to be as idle in producing new material as he was at school in his youth. How long will we have to wait with baited breath for the next album? Surely, Idol must realize that new material is a vital component to a successful comeback and it is only so long that we can wait with anticipation before it becomes boring. It seems that, for now at least, Idol has once again faded into the past. Whether he can ever return to his former glory only time will tell.
Billy Idol 1982
Rebel Yell 1983
Whiplash Smile 1986
Vital Idol 1997
Charmed Life 1990
Greatest Hits 1999
VH1 Storytellers 2002