Billy Idol turns 59 today. Born as William Michael Albert Broad in 1955, Idol rose to the pinnacle of rock superstardom in the 1980s, but where has he been since?
Billy Idol chose the name Idol because of something his teachers often called him when he was a young man: “Idle.” Billy thought about using that spelling, but didn’t want to get confused with Monty Python member, Eric Idle. Hence, Billy Idol was born.
Though his birthplace was England, in 1958, when Idol was 2-years-old, his parents moved to the United States, to Long Island, New York. They moved back to England three years later, where Billy Idol finished school. He attended Sussex University in 1975, focusing his studies on English, but left the college after only one year.
Billy Idol joined Siouxsie and the Banshees, (before the band was actually called that) in 1976. He quit soon after and joined a band called Chelsea in 1976 as a guitarist. In 1977, Billy and Chelsea bandmate Tony James quit that band and started Generation X. With the creation of Generation X, Billy would move from the role of guitarist to lead singer. Though he’d never fully give up the guitar, Idol was born to be a frontman.
Generation X was inspired by mid-60s British pop, in sharp contrast to their more militant peers. Billy Idol described their sound to the Daily Telegraph in 2008.
“We were saying the opposite to the Clash and the Pistols. They were singing ‘No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones,’ but we were honest about what we liked. The truth was, we were all building our music on the Beatles and the Stones.”
Generation X and Billy Idol signed to Chrysalis Records and released three records before leaving the label in 1980.
Idol came to New York City in 1981 and became a solo act. Idol partnered up with ex-Kiss manager Bill Aucoin, who teamed Billy with guitarist Steve Stevens, bassist Phil Feit, and drummer Greg Gerson. Billy Idol released his first solo EP, Don’t Stop, on Chrysalis in 1981. It included the seminal track, “Dancin’ with Myself” and a remake of “Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells. Billy Idol’s self-titled album came out a year later, in 1982. Bill Idol also jumped on the newly created MTV with wild abandon.
The creation of the music video format allowed Billy Idol to shine. Matching his punk rock looks with hard edge visuals and his signature catchy-rock sound turned viewers into fans. The videos for “White Wedding” and “Dancin’ with Myself” became staples on MTV, and made Billy Idol a superstar.
Idol’s second LP, Rebel Yell, was a smash, featuring the title track, “Eyes Without a Face”, and “Flesh for Fantasy.”
In 1990, Billy Idol was involved in a serious motorcycle accident that nearly cost him his leg. Billy survived, and went on to released the album, Charmed Life, with its ultra popular single, “Cradle of Love.” The video for the song featured shots of Idol from the waist up since he couldn’t walk.
In recent years, the aging rocker has continued playing venues around the world, and just released his seventh album, Kings & Queens of the Underground in October. Idol is supporting the album via a tour that starts in December.
Happy birthday, Billy Idol!
What’s your favorite Billy Idol song?
[Image via 3Newz]