Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b William Broad, 30 Nov. '55, Stanmore, Middlesex) UK new wave singer. Began as guitarist in group Chelsea; left with bassist Tony James to become Generation X, recruiting Bob 'Derwood' Andrews on guitar and John Towe on drums (later replaced by ex-Subway Sect Mark Laff). Idol dropped the guitar to concentrate on vocals; they played a preview night at London's Roxy club Dec. '76 but were never hard-line punks, preferring to change with the fashions, rather too often. Generation X '78 prod. by Martin Rushent was disappointing, the more so as they had held out for a good record deal longer than some; but 'Your Generation' (feeble rewrite of Pete Townshend's sentiments) made UK top 40, and 'King Rocker' from Valley Of The Dolls '79 (prod. by Ian Hunter) made no. 11 despite sounding strangely rockabilly. James and Idol sacked Andrews and Laff, changed name to Gen X, chose European-based Brit Keith Forsey to prod. last LP Kiss Me Deadly '81, made with ex-Clash drummer Terry Chimes, guest guitars John McGeoch (Magazine), Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), James Stephenson (Chelsea, eventually added full-time). But its reception was still poor, so Idol (who had lived in USA as a child) relocated to NYC, where 'Dancing With Myself' was a dancefloor hit; he incl. recut track on mini LP with cover of 'Mony Mony', own 'Hot In The City', recruiting USA's Steve Stevens (guitar), Phil Feit (bass), Steve Missal (drums) to back him; this album made the top 25 UK and charted USA (called Don't Stop). He rode MTV to success, his bleached locks and Presleyesque sneer delighting teenies. The Idol/Stevens tunes and Forsey prod. made lively pop in Billy Idol '82; Rebel Yell '83 was seasoned by a trace of pantomime menace; three single hits '83--4 ('Eyes Without A Face' no. 4) were backed up by good videos; on release of remixed hits on Vital Idol, 'White Wedding' (top 40) went top ten in UK, with 'Rebel Yell' following suit; Whiplash Smile '86 incl. hit 'To Be A Lover' (Booker T cover): a decade on from punk he was flourishing, these last three albums all top ten USA. Charmed Life '90 almost made the top ten USA; he broke leg and wrist in a motorcycle accident early '90; appeared in film The Doors '91; album Cyberpunk '93 slipped to no. 48 USA. Tony James went on from Gen X mid-'80s to form Sigue Sigue Sputnik, a textbook example of pure hype which flopped.