I really don’t know where to start about this artist. Throughout college, for some reason, this man’s music and I became entwined. Back then, some people said I looked like some triangulation of Tom Petty, Sting and Billy Idol, which I never knew how to take. Did that mean I was a good-looking Tom Petty or an ugly Sting? When in reality, I was a much shorter dead ringer for Larry Bird with the same jump shot (That’s semi-sarcasm! I had a coach actually help me develop my whole release to be exactly like Bird’s, but that’s another story.).
Anyway, when Billy Idol was first being heard in the Midwest, I was able to mimic his moves, his lip curl and his mannerisms to such effect that I could entertain my friends at parties by “doing Billy Idol.” Honestly, I did love his music. And, what’s not to love? His music was steeped in his punk background but with added elements of metal and dance, making it perfect music for the time for a bunch of energetic college kids. Seriously, the dude’s music would absolutely kill at parties when I either DJ’ed or used my party tapes. I am not sure where to put my finger on the source of all of this craziness, but whatever it was, it spoke directly to our groins since it made everyone dance.
So, back to the whole imitation thing. Anyone else remember those fantastic Air Jam contests that seemed to be sweeping the nation back then. I am certain that every college campus had at least one per year in the Eighties. At Ball State, since there is very little to do in Muncie, Indiana, for the under-aged college students, the Student Association, or whatever they called themselves, would sponsor two contest per school year. One was held during Homecoming Week, while the other was held sometime in the dead of winter. The Homecoming contest was always packed and full of energy. A group of us attended the contest which was held in the smaller campus theater then known by the creatively-named University Hall. It’s probably now known as Taco Bell Auditorium or Letterman Hall, who knows (remember David Letterman is our most famous alum!)? Well, some lame group won the competition doing some lame Journey song. This caused some of the most brilliant minds of our time to decide that I needed to do my Billy Idol at the next competition. I figured they would all forget since they were under the influence of joyful juice.
But, forget they did not! No, immediately when the advertisements began popping around campus and in the, sticking with BSU’s fricking creative streak, campus newspaper, The Daily News, which despite its unappealing name is a damn good student paper, my dormitory room began accumulating these announcements. So, I got my “backing band,” who was my roommate on drums, a guy we all called “Wild Ass” on guitar and a mild-mannered friend who became a wild rocker when chemically altered. So, I got us entered into the competition. Long story short, I guess I went nuts during the performance, going all over the stage like a coked-up Billy Idol, only I was clean. I went running through the audience, dancing with people all over. It was so overly energetic, the writer for the “Snooze” even mentioned my performance. The problem was “Dancing with Myself” did not resonate with the audience as we had to follow a great group of guys who performed The Time’s “The Walk,” with terrific choreography and individual dancing. They took everything to a whole other level. It was not enough just to do a concert performance. No, now the Air Band contests had to be MTV-like productions.
So, we finished fourth. Obviously, the dudes who did The Time won, with the campus sex symbol guy who did Adam Ant getting second (he was so good-looking but a really cool guy) and some group of frat guys doing Night Ranger with better props than us but really not better than us. Now, yes, I was a frat guy too, but my ragtag group was better! Anyway, that’s when the campus caught wind of my Billy Idol impression and kind of got me recognized on campus. Too bad I was an introverted dingus because I probably could have parlayed that temporary notoriety into some dates, but once again I digress.
Right after that performance, I did tell my friends that if I ever went to see Billy Idol live, the girl who went with me would probably end up being my wife. Not sure why I said that, but I did. It just so happens that a year or two later, I did go see Billy Idol in Indianapolis. It was a great August 1984 since I got to see The Cars, The Stray Cats and Billy Idol in separate concerts. And, the girl who accompanied me to each? She’s my wife now. Talk about some weird foreshadowing! I’m just glad I didn’t see Billy Idol with some of the other college women I dated. I prefer being a prophet.
So, that’s my Billy Idol story. I never have met the man, but I want to thank him for some great music. I have to admit that I am a bit conflicted as to whether he deserves a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. To me, Billy Idol personifies the Eighties. If you don’t believe me, just watch Adam Sandler’s Wedding Singer. But, does he warrant that huge honor? If he were to be inducted, I wouldn’t argue, but I will not go all in on him either. Still, and perhaps most importantly, the man and his music has a special place in my heart and record collection.
With that said, let’s do my Top 15 favorite Billy Idol songs!
15. “Catch My Fall” (Rebel Yell, 1983)
14. “Love Calling” (Billy Idol, 1982)
13. “Blue Highway” (Rebel Yell, 1983)
12. “L.A. Woman” (Cradle of Love, 1990)
11. “Hot in the City” (Billy Idol, 1982)
10. “Don’t Need a Gun” (Whiplash Smile, 1986). A nice little mid-Eighties new wave flashback.
9. “Sweet Sixteen” (Whiplash Smile, 1986). This is Idol’s “cowboy song.” I am not sure why some legitimate country artist hasn’t remade this one yet.
8. “Cradle of Love” (Cradle of Love, 1990). This is Idol’s way to enter the Wayne’s World hair metal sweepstakes.
7. “Mony Mony” (Vital Idol, 1987). Even though Idol covered this song six years earlier on his Don’t Stop EP, this song became his only American number one song. The Eighties were a great time for a mini-Tommy James & the Shondells revival as Billy Idol, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and teen superstar Tiffany all had big cover hits.
6. “To Be a Lover” (Whiplash Smile, 1986). What a great rockabilly song done on a synth! I still think this is a pretty cool song.
5. “White Wedding” (Billy Idol, 1982). This song has become something of a calling card for Billy Idol. While I love it, I still believe there are better songs. Just bein’ honest.
4. “Flesh for Fantasy” (Rebel Yell, 1983). Is this a dance song? A funk song? A stripper’s theme song? Is it even a “song”? To quote Jack Nicholson’s Joker, “I don’t know if it’s art, but I like it!” Plus, I love the phat bass in it!
3. “Rebel Yell” (Rebel Yell, 1983). “Rebel Yell” is Idol’s other iconic number. Between “White Wedding” and this one, Billy Idol will remain immortal.
2. “Eyes Without a Face” (Rebel Yell, 1983). This might be a surprise, but, honestly, who knew Idol could create such a sexy song? Then again, the sexiness of the music counters the unsettling lyrics. Still, the song will maintain a permanent position on my all-time “Make Out Music” mixtape. No playlists please!
1. “Dancing with Myself” (Billy Idol, 1982). After my introduction, was there any doubt? Seriously, this song, perhaps, invented the whole pop punk genre a good twenty years in advance. Plus, the lyrics are a fantastic yet subtle metaphor for, uh, well, if you don’t know by know then just Google it yourself. This song should have been Billy’s biggest hit!