Name originally William Broad; born November 30, 1955, in Stanmore, England; son of a salesman; girlfriend Perri Lister; children: Willem Wolf Broad. Addresses: Home-- 645 Madison Ave., #35-A, New York, NY 10022; Office -- Chrysalis Records, 9255 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
Aproduct of the late '70s British punk movement, Billy Idol has become one of the most popular and successful vocalists in contemporary rock. His group, Generation X, was extremely popular in the UK while his subsequent solo career has developed a worldwide following. Along with his guitarist, Steve Stevens, he has been creating hard-driving albums, electrifying live shows, and unique videos.
Idol was born William Broad in Stanmore, England, and spent four years with his family in Long Island, New York, before returning to his homeland. At the age of ten his grandfather bought him a guitar at London's Woolworth store and he soon began learning chords from an instruction book. As a teenager he listened to American artists like Iggy and the Stooges, Lou Reed, the New York Dolls, and the Doors. Soon he was writing his own tunes in a similar vein. After dropping out of college Idol began hanging out at Malcolm McClaren's Sex clothes shop on King's Road (a popular hangout for local punkers who were known as the Bromley Contingent: Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols amongst others).
Idol put an ad in Melody Maker stating simply "I want to form a group." Bassist Tony James answered it and in August of 1976 they formed Chelsea with vocalist Gene October. The group only lasted two months, however, but Idol and James started another band, Generation X, the following year. In August 1977 they released their self-titled debut LP of which Dave Marsh wrote in The Rolling Stone Record Guide, "Billy Idol was a bit too slick to be effective."
Even though they never were big in the States, Generation X became extremely popular in England. They recorded seven hit singles including "Ready Steady Go," "Your Generation" (in answer to the Who's "My Generation") and "Wild Youth" while becoming the first punk band to appear on the British Top of the Pops television show. Even then Idol could see that the punk attitude would soon burn itself out. He told Paul Gambaccini in Rolling Stone, "We have to open ourselves up as human beings. We can't just yell out our frustrations... What we left out was how we feel about things, rather than how we think about things. That's what we're trying to do now; put more soul, more emotion, into our music."
Because of management hassles, Idol would not be able to fulfill his plan with Generation X as the band eventually folded after their third LP. In March of 1981 he moved to Greenwich Village, New York. "I came looking for new people to play with," he said in Rolling Stone. "I'd been hanging out in London for ages; it was a closed scene." He released a mini LP, Don't Stop, and the cut "Dancing with Myself" was soon heard in the city's nightclubs while the LP stayed on the charts for fifty weeks. He ran into Steve Stevens on and off for about nine months when the guitarist finally left his group, Fine Malibus, and the two began writing tunes together.
In May of 1982 Billy Idol was released and, on the strength of "Hot in the City" (#23), "White Wedding" (#36), and "Come On, Come On," stayed on the charts for over a year and a half. They toured the country with Phil Feit on bass and Steve Missal on drums before bringing in a new rhythm section for Idol's second LP, Rebel Yell. The album made the Top 10 as keyboardist Judy Dozier, bassist Steve Webster, and drummer Tommy Price provided support on three more hits: "Rebel Yell," "Eyes without a Face" (#4) and "Flesh for Fantasy" (#29). Idol's Presley-like sneer and gut-wrenching vocals were a perfect match for Steven's uniquely fresh guitar playing. With an arsenal of equipment he's able to create sounds rather than licks, as on the title track with its machine-gun spitting notes. Also acting as Idol's musical director, Stevens told Guitar World, "He's such a rock and roll fan, if he brings me something with three chords it's got so much spirit that it makes it really exciting to work with him." The two cowrote eight of Rebel Yell' s tunes.
It would be three more years for the next LP from Idol, Whiplash Smile. The single, "To Be a Lover" received heavy airplay on both MTV and FM radio and topped out at #6 on the charts. They embarked on a massive arena tour which featured a spread eagle female backdrop with the drum kit as the center of attention. The group now consisted of Susie Davis on keyboards and Kenny Aaronson on bass as well as Price continuing as drummer. Despite a reputation for being rude, nasty, and stuck-up, Idol is perhaps just putting on a front. "I don't want to mess with Billy's image," Aaronson told Guitar Player, "but he is easily the nicest 'star' I've ever worked with."
In 1987 Chrysalis issued a greatest hits package, Vital Idol, that produced two more hits for the singer: "Mony Mony" (which made it all the way to #1 in the US) and "Sweet 16" (#17 in the UK).
by Calen D. Stone
Billy Idol's Career
Vocalist, songwriter; formed Chelsea in 1976; started Generation X soon after and released three albums including seven hit singles; moved to New York in 1981, released mini LP; hooked up with guitarist Steve Stevens and released debut LP in 1982; has since recorded three more and a greatest hits package.
- Solo LPs
- Don't Stop (mini LP), Chrysalis.
- Billy Idol Chrysalis, 1982.
- Rebel Yell Chrysalis, 1983.
- Whiplash Smile Chrysalis, 1986. Vital Idol Chrysalis, 1987.
- With Generation X
- Generation X Chrysalis, 1977.
- Valley of the Dolls Chrysalis, 1979.
- Kiss Me Deadly Chrysalis, 1981.
- Christgau, Robert, Christgau's Record Guide, Ticknor & Fields, 1981.
- Nite, Norm N., with Charles Crespo, Rock On, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Volume 3, Harper, 1985.
- The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Mike Clifford, consultant, Salamander, 1988.
- Rock Movers & Shakers, edited by Barry Lazell with Dafydd Rees and Luke Crampton, Banson, 1989.
- The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, edited by Jim Miller, Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1976.
- The Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh with John Swenson, Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1979.
- Guitar Player , November 1984; May 1986.
- Guitar World , May 1986; July 1987.
- Rolling Stone , July 13, 1978; March 29, 1984; January 31, 1985.