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Billy Idol

Biography

Billy Idol
Chapman Baehler

When his punk band, Generation X, broke up in 1981, oft-sneering singer Billy Idol moved to New York City and made the transformation from scrawny punk-rocker to slightly less scrawny new-waver. Released in 1981, his first solo-career EP, Don't Stop (Number 74, 1983), contained two hits, though it would take some time for either of them to pay off: His cover of Tommy James and The Shondells' "Mony Mony" (Number One) would finally chart in the form of a liver version in 1987, while a remake of Generation X's ode to onanism, "Dancing With Myself," wouldn't take off until 1983, when MTV placed its Mad Max-style video in heavy rotation.

Idol's full-length debut, Billy Idol (Number 45, 1982), must have come as a shock to those who had watched his early career in Britain: The lead-off track, "Hot In The City" (Number 23) sounded like Bruce Springsteen with a synthesizer (Idol's guitarist and co-writer, Steve Stevens, also played keyboards). And while the follow-up single, "White Wedding" (Number Four Mainstream Rock, 1983) was slightly more menacing, Idol had established himself as a Top 40 contender.

Rebel Yell (Number Six, 1984) was even more successful, selling two million copies and being re-issued in 1999 with a disc of demos. Its two biggest singles encapsulated both aspects of Idol's sound: "Rebel Yell" Number 46) was a borderline-goth dance number, while "Eyes Without A Face" (Number Four, 1984) was a moody ballad that could have been recorded by the Cure — at least until Stevens' metal-squall guitar solo. Two more singles followed, both released in 1984: "Flesh For Fantasy" (Number 29) and "Catch My Fall" (Number 50).

Whiplash Smile (Number Six, 1986) — arguably the best-titled album of Idol's career — was less successful than Rebel, selling only a million copies in the United States. But a remix collection, Vital Idol (Number Ten, 1987), was an unexpected hit, thanks to the "Mony Mony" cover. Around this time, Stevens and Idol parted ways, and the singer—who by now had reportedly picked up an expensive hard-drug habit—moved to Los Angeles. A greatest-hits album, Idol Songs: 11 of the Best, was released in 1988.

In 1990, while working on his fourth album, Idol crashed his motorcycle; as a result, he was partially immobile while filming the video for "Cradle of Love" (Number Two, 1990), the first single from Charmed Life (Number 11, 1990). Despite "Cradle" and a cover of the Doors' "L.A. Woman" (Number 52, 1990), the album was more downbeat than Idol's usual fare, and garnered mixed reviews. An ill-advised follow-up, Cyberpunk (Number 48, 1993) fared even worse, in no small part because of Idol's decision to record the album on his home computer.

Idol remained musically inactive throughout much of the rest of the 1990s, though he did appear as himself in the 1998 Adam Sandler comedy The Wedding Singer.

In 2001, a revamped Greatest Hits (Number 74, 2001) found Idol covering Simple Minds' "(Don't You) Forget About Me." He and Stevens reunited for an MTV 20th-anniversary special that same year, and later recorded a mostly acoustic session for VH-1, which was documented on VH1 Storytellers.

Devil's Playground (Number 146, 2005) was Idol's first album of all-new material since Cyberpunk, and again found him collaborating with Stevens. The record was a commercial failure, but it allowed Idol to tour extensively, including a number of gigs on the Warped Tour. He issued a Christmas album, Happy Holidays, the following year.

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