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Music / Billy Idol

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Hey, where's the sneer?!
On the floors of Tokyo
Or down in London town to go, go
With a record selection and a mirror's reflection
I'm dancing with myself
When there's no one else in sight
In the crowded lonely night
Well, I wait so long for my love vibration
And I'm dancing with myself.
— "Dancing With Myself"

Billy Idol (born William Michael Albert Broad, November 30, 1955) is a rock musician most commonly associated with his heyday in The '80s, where he was a huge star on MTV. He is most famous for the songs "White Wedding", "Rebel Yell", and "Dancing With Myself", which are radio staples to this day.

Born in Stanmore, Middlesex, England (with a few years living in New York as a kid), Idol went to Sussex University for an English degree. He dropped out after a year, and instead focused on punk rock. He joined the band Chelsea as a guitar player, but he and Tony James left the band to form Generation X. This band differed from some punk rock bands, being more openly influenced by 1960s rock and pop, setting a precedent for Billy's career. Signing with Chrysalis Records, Billy transitioned from guitar to lead singer, an easy sell thanks to his good looks and charm. The band lasted for three albums, but after getting dropped from Chrysalis, they collapsed at the dawn of the 80s in a mess of drugs.

Billy took the opportunity to go solo, and teamed up with guitarist and new songwriting buddy (and Heterosexual Life Partner) Steve Stevens. As Billy likes to tell the story: he'd been given pictures of Rick Springfield(!) by his manager, and told that maybe he'd become a star if he cleaned himself up a bit. Billy was not enthused by this feedback, yet after being the founder of a relatively popular punk rock band, he wondered who or what he was now, as an individual. His question was answered one night in a New York club, when most people were sitting on sofas and chairs until the DJ put on Generation X's "Dancing With Myself," at which point the crowd came unglued and filled the dance floor. Suddenly realizing he was the only one left at the bar because of his own song, he had a "Eureka!" Moment, and realized he could just be himself. And the rest is history.

Back on Chrysalis Records once more, Idol remixed "Dancing With Myself" and released it under his own name, which became his breakthrough single. He put out an EP, Don't Stop, and quickly followed it with a Self-Titled Album, both of which saw big success. The self-titled contained what would be another iconic song, "White Wedding," and it went gold in the US. Follow-up album Rebel Yell went double platinum, and the title track from that album became yet another huge radio staple. As he correctly gambled on, Billy's trademark punk/pop style (not to mention his photogenic looks shining through his old school punk rock fashion sense) proved a smash success, and he spent the 80s an MTV darling.

Somewhere between the release of 1986's Whiplash Smile, and remix album Vital Idol (also big hits), Steve Stevens started to find further success outside of touring and recording with Billy, who had become increasingly reliant on drugs behind the scenes. They split up at the end of the 80s, and Billy attempted to bounce back with 1990's Charmed Life, preceded by radio favorite "Cradle Of Love." Around the release of the album, Billy suffered another setback with a motorcycle accident, leading him to shoot a music video and do promotional appearances sitting down, and using a cane for some time. Charmed Life sold well enough, but Billy decided that with the dawn of The '90s, it was time for a change.

Billy spent much of his recuperation time reading up on the Cyberpunk genre, and fixated on it to the point that he decided to construct a New Sound Album based around that. He bought a Macintosh computer, and got himself an email address to begin chatting online with fans. This was in 1992-1993, so all this was incredibly novel for the time. Billy, now sporting a mean set of dreadlocks, recorded the new album with ProTools and Studiovision, adopting a newfound interest in putting social commentary in his lyrics after seeing the L.A. riots. He even had floppy disks made that included a screensaver to be packaged with his new album. Some of you may be wondering why you never hear much about Billy doing all these innovations in multimedia and promotion, and the answer is that, well, the resulting album was Cyberpunk. The album, which surprised audiences by being rife with electronic dance elements (including a now-infamous cover of The Velvet Underground's "Heroin"), met critical scorn, and it stalled out on the charts. To say the least, it's his most controversial album.

After surviving a drug overdose, Billy cleaned himself up, but didn't release another album during the decade due to label disputes, though he and Steve Stevens reunited to put out the single "Speed" from the soundtrack to the movie of the same name. Billy got back in the public eye once again with a memorable cameo in The Wedding Singer ("Don't you talk to Billy Idol that way!!!") Finally, in 2005, Billy made his comeback with Devil's Playground, which was an undeniable return to form, musically. A Christmas album soon followed (produced as an old vocal pop album) simply titled Happy Holidays.

To coincide with his 2014 album Kings & Queens Of The Underground, Billy put out an autobiography, titled, of course, Dancing With Myself. Billy continues to tour to this day, still with longtime collaborator Steve Stevens, and he popped up again in late 2018 with a remix album, Vital Idol: Revitalized, designed to add a more contemporary touch to his sound.

Studio Discography:

  • Don't Stop (1981) (EP)
  • Billy Idol (1982)
  • Rebel Yell (1983)
  • Whiplash Smile (1986)
  • Vital Idol (1987) (remix album)
  • Charmed Life (1990)
  • Cyberpunk (1993)
  • VH1 Storytellers (2002) (live album)
  • Devil's Playground (2005)
  • Happy Holidays (2006)
  • Kings & Queens Of The Underground (2014)
  • Vital Idol: Revitalized (2018) (remix album)
  • The Roadside (2021) (EP)

In the midnight tropes, she cried more:

  • As Himself: His role in The Wedding Singer.
  • Ascended Meme: It became very popular, during "Mony Mony", to shout "Hey motherfucker get laid get fucked" between lines. So popular, in fact, that when it came time for an official remix album, Idol himself included it as part of the "Mony Mony" remix.
  • Body Horror: The video for "Shock To The System" features a guy getting beaten up and his camera smashed (in an obvious allegory for the LA riots) and then stop-motion merging with his camera to form a weird cyborg-looking thing (courtesy of Stan Winston). It's kinda messed up.
  • Break-Up Song: "Eyes Without a Face", which also takes some cues from the eponymous film. Idol said part of the inspiration was how sleeping around while on tour makes one's relationship degrade and the person feel empty.
  • British Rockstar: And how!
  • Concept Album: The infamous Cyberpunk. Its themes include the future of humanity and how they relate to technology, and the LA riots.
  • Cool Old Guy: Fills arenas even as he reaches his 70s.
  • Cover Version: "Mony Mony" by Tommy James & The Shondells, "To Be A Lover" by William Bell, "L.A. Woman" by The Doors, "Heroin" by The Velvet Underground, and "Dancing With Myself" by Billy's former band Generation X.
  • The Dead Can Dance: The video for "Dancing With Myself."
  • Delinquent Hair: His famous bleached-blond spikes.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The original cover of his self-titled debut, on which Billy, as opposed to his signature punk rock look, is instead wearing a very gaudy shirt.
  • Faceless Eye: Invoked by the title and chorus of "Eyes Without A Face", named for the French film Eyes Without a Face. In the song the eyes are a metaphor for the coldness and distance of modern relationships, seeing each other from afar, trying to recreate the memory of a love that has fallen to Dead Sparks.
  • Fanservice: Billy's never been shy about taking his shirt off, in videos and on stage.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: Defied! A motorcycle accident left him off his feet for a long time, but he spent that time reading up on the Cyberpunk subgenre, buying an Apple computer, and working on new music based off that. He would later reflect on the accident with his 2021 single, "Bitter Taste".
  • Genre Mashup: A minor example, but still worthy of note. Billy's music was a bit of a mishmash of Glam Rock, New Wave and Punk Rock, with occasional elements of Blues and Synth-Pop.
  • Gratuitous French: In "Eyes without a Face", Billy sings the Title Drop before the female background singer responds with the same phrase in French, as a Shout-Out to eponymous French horror/thriller — Billy was on a classic horror kick at the time.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Vital Idol (which is a Greatest Hits Remixed album), Idol Songs, Greatest Hits and The Very Best Of Billy Idol: Idolize Yourself.
  • Guttural Growler: Billy's speaking voice has become this nowadays.
  • He's Back!: Devil's Playground, his comeback album in 2005, made damn sure you knew right out of the gate that he was playing rock and roll again (after all, his last album was 1993's poorly-received Cyberpunk).
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Steve Stevens. Idol managed to drive him away with his drug-fueled antics for a while, but once he had sobered up, Stevens was back on board almost immediately.
  • Hidden Depths: Wrote his own autobiography without a ghostwriter, which is pretty impressive considering the sheer amounts of drugs he was on at various points in his life. You also wouldn't expect him to be the first performer to have an email address, advertise with the internet, or record an album entirely with an Apple computer. Who says he has to be a case of Technologically Blind Elders?
  • Intercourse with You: "Rebel Yell" and "Soul Standing By". Billy actually made a point to invoke this with "Flesh For Fantasy" (very much this trope), as he felt Punk Rock was never really sexy enough.
  • It Won't Turn Off: The video for "Cradle Of Love", where the man who lets the girl next door play her song and goes crazy in his apartment tries to turn off the music, even by pulling the plug on the stereo.
  • Large Ham: It's Billy Idol! The sneer, the shameless mugging, that growling baritone vocal; the man is a born showman.
  • Money Song: "Mony Mony" (which is a cover...)
  • New Sound Album: Cyberpunk was recorded with an Apple computer and was his first (and last) attempt at a Concept Album.
  • Older Than They Look: He's in his sixties now, but still looks 40-something. Not bad for a guy in the business this long.
    • Think of it this way: He could, in 1998, play himself in 1985. After a near-fatal motorcycle crash, a GHB overdose in '94, and generally having lived the rock star clichés to the full in the '80s, he could still play his thirteen year younger self, and it doesn't even register as Dawson Casting.
  • Performance Video: "Rebel Yell" is a straightforward example of this, but sadly doesn't include the toy laser gun Steve Stevens uses on the guitar solo.
  • Pop Punk: More inclined towards New Wave, but still. Something of an Unbuilt Trope, as Billy's music was a poppy, almost contemporary take on punk rock long before the style crystalized in the mid-1990s.
  • Punk Rock: Started out as a more traditional example of this in his Generation X years, and kept the image. When he went solo, he mixed punk with New Wave and Synth-Pop. Billy wasn't shy about adding contemporary touches, but he gave much of his music some kind of punky energy anyway, through the arrangements and his trademark roaring baritone.
  • The Quincy Punk: His signature aesthetic!
  • The Rock Star: He relished being this trope, in performance and in his punk-inspired fashion sense. He was an early example of what being a rock star meant in the MTV era.
  • Rock Star Song: "Kings & Queens of the Underground" — heavily inspired by his memoirs, which he was writing at the time.
  • Scary Musician, Harmless Music: Billy looks like he should be in an underground punk band. Instead, he was a teen idol, a top 40 mainstay on MTV during The '80s.
  • Self-Titled Album: His debut full-length in 1982.
  • Shock and Awe: Billy defeats the zombies in "Dancing With Myself" by grabbing each pole of a transformer and blasting them off a building.
  • Shotgun Wedding: "White Wedding." (and people still play in weddings, based on the title alone)
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: Just what the hell are those backup singers saying during "Mony Mony"? It is "HEY MOTHERFUCKER GET LAID GET FUCKED". The song is a live performance, after all.
  • Song of Song Titles: The song "Kings & Queens of the Underground", in which he looks back on his career, has him name-dropping several of his most famous songs.
  • Stage Names: Real name William Michael Albert Broad. He apparently chose it because his teachers described him as "idle."
  • Subdued Section: Inverted in "Eyes without a Face".
  • Verbal Tic: "OWW!"
  • Zombie Apocalypse: The "Dancing With Myself" video faces one of these with dancing!