Welcome to first review in the Billy Idol Series. I am going to do album reviews for all albums by the 80’s icon, Billy Idol. We will start with his stint in the band Generation X from 1978 all the way up to his 2018 release ‘Vital Idol: Revitalized’ (assuming that is the latest release by the time I get to it).
I was going to wait until I got the debut album on vinyl to start the series, but I am not the most patient person and since I have the next 7 or so on vinyl already, I will go ahead and start now. So, without further adieu, here is the first of many reviews…
Back in 1976 at the tender age of 21, guitarist William Broad joined the band Chelsea after answering an ad for musicians. Also answering that add were bass player Tony James and drummer John Towe. They would join up with singer John O’Hara to form the band. The band would tour and do mostly covers, but William and Tony became fast friends and felt they could do better so they grabbed John Towe and all left the band.
They would be the founding members of the band that would become known as Generation X. Now, where did the name come from. It wasn’t based on the fact that people born in this time were known as Gen Xers. The name actually came from a book William’s mom was reading called Generation X which was book on popular youth culture from 1965 by British journalists Jane Deverson and Charles Hamblett.
This new band needed a guitarists so they hired 17 year old guitarist Bob “Derwood” Andrews from a band called Paradox. That wasn’t the only change. They needed a guitarist because William decided to drop the guitar and become the lead singer.
If that wasn’t enough, William Broad needed a punk sounding name so he changed it. He wanted to call himself Billy Idle as that was what an old teacher always called him “idle”, but he decided against that spelling because of Monty Python alum Eric Idle. He decided on the spelling of “Idol” and then Billy Idol was born.
The band toured extensively around England and even shows in Paris. During 1977, the band asked drummer John Towe to leave as they didn’t feel his style fit what Billy and Tony were trying to achieve. He was replaced by Mark Laff and the line-up for the first studio album was set. Now, I know I glossed over and skipped a whole lot of stuff, but these are album reviews with some history thrown in for context, not a detailed biography. So deal with it.
The band signed with Chrysalis Records in 1977 and they went into the studio with producer Phil Wainman, but he wasn’t overly impressed with the band or their sound. They finally ended up with producer Martin Rushnet and engineer Alan Wistanley who Derwood credits their sound more so than Rushnet. And the self-titled album was complete. Okay, let’s get to the music.
Generation X was a punk band that mixed both pop and rock into their sound. They had the fast punk sound, but they lacked the anger and aggressiveness of the Sex Pistols and the political charge of bands like The Clash. They stuck with more of a pop-punk sound and stuck with issues of being young and wild.
The band received a lot of complaints from the punk scene saying they weren’t really punk. They thought they were using the punk mantra as a way to break in to the pop world and there might be some truth to that feeling. The band had true punk roots and opened for a lot of punk bands including the Ramones, but that didn’t matter. Generation X’s songs had melodies and Billy’s good looks didn’t help the argument either. Oh yeah, an the fact they appeared on Top of the Pops was also a detractor for some.
“From the Heart” opens the album with high energy and an uptempo beat. A punk love song coming at you at a 100 mph. At just over 2 minutes, the song’s energy felt punk to me.
Then without hesitation “One Hundred Punks” comes blazing with that same piss and vigor. The song is celebration of the young punk fans and their loyalty to the scene. It is one of the more memorable songs on the album. Billy’s vocals weren’t always the best in these early years, but that was also part of the charm.
“Listen” is more of the same and a lot of the songs are similar in style and playing. Although some standout more than others. Although catchy and all, this is not one that stands out for me which is probably why it was left off the track listing for the U.S. release.
The band redeems themselves with the next song “Ready Steady Go” which was the first single from the album. The song had some great melodies and that Billy Idol style we would soon come to know with his solo work was in full effect. A great little guitar solo and drums hammering home their punk roots. The song was a huge shout-out to the 60’s rock scene and even the title is a call out to an old British TV show from that time period.
“Kleenex” is a really interesting song lyrically. It seems to be about masturbation and I guess using the kleenex to clean it all up! That isn’t punk…that is disgusting…but true, I guess. It has the same punk stylings of the other songs just quite different lyrics.
The last song on Side One, “Promises, Promises” is more of a 70’s glam rock song than punk. At over 5 minutes it is not your typical length. The song was inspired by Mott the Hoople both musically and lyrically. I liked Derwood’s guitar work on this one as well. It is a nice change of pace from the rest of the album. The album had some really great moments on it and this was one of them.
“Day by Day” kicks off Side Two with more of the same as the first half. A little repetitive at times for me, but still packed full of attitude. The one thing going for this song is Derwood’s guitar work which seems to be something I focus on more and more.
“The Invisible Man” is another song left off the U.S. version and not sure why. It is familiar to a number of the songs which probably why it was left off.
Up next is one of the gems of the album, “Kiss Me Deadly”. This song could be considered a ballad as it does start out really slow and progresses throughout to come back to the more upbeat tempo. It is so different than the rest of the song and was more of a well-crafted song and not the typical chord progressions that were in their short 2 minute songs.
“Too Personal” was the last song that was not included on the U.S. version and again I can see why. One of the weaker songs on the album. It felt flat and seem to generic and basic.
The last song on the album was “Youth, Youth, Youth” and is a great song. The best part about it is the guitar work. There is a long instrumental piece towards at about 3 minutes in and the guitar seems to be all over the place which is absolutely fantastic. He is throwing everything in and the kitchen sink with the solo. It is the most guitar heavy song on the album and at over 6 minutes is the longest. The song, like most of their songs, is about the kids of their generation and their issues. One of my favorites from the album.
Track Listing (UK Version):
- From the Heart – Keeper
- One Hundred Punks – Keeper
- Listen – Delete
- Ready Steady Go – Keeper
- Kleenex – Keeper
- Promises Promises – Keeper
- Day by Day – Delete
- The Invisible Man – Delete
- Kiss Me Deadly – Keeper
- Too Personal – Delete
- Youth Youth Youth – Keeper
The track listing score is 7 out of 11 tracks which is a score of 64%. And as far as the album score as whole is easily a 3.5 out of 5 Stars for me. I really dug this album. I love to see the beginnings of Billy Idol and knowing where he ends up is great. I agree that they aren’t as punk as a lot of bands at the time, but I think this album holds up really well and there are some great tracks. This is one that will get a lot more listens. If you get a chance, pick up the 2002 Remastered version and get the 5 extra tracks which includes the 3 songs the U.S. version had that the UK did not plus a couple more. It is worth it.
I hope you enjoyed the first installment in the Billy Idol series. Up next is the Generation X album “Valley of the Dolls”.