|Billy Idol describes himself as perpetually stuck between two worlds: one of order and art and the other of outright depravity. And while he’s spent the last 30-plus years figuring it all out, the world’s gotten some truly great music out of the process.
A snarky start
The man who would become Billy Idol was born William Broad on Nov. 30, 1955, in Middlesex, England. For several years as a youngster, Broad and his family lived in the U.S., and by the time he returned to England at age 7, he had a slightly American twinge to his accent. Though ostracized and even called “the Yank,” it was that teasing that ushered Broad into the world of punk rock.
In 1976, he joined the band Chelsea, with whom he had some local success. Then, in 1980, Idol formed Generation X with bassist Tony James. Together, they released one of Idol’s biggest hits, 1980’s “Dancing with Myself.” The band released Kiss Me Deadly in 1981 in the hopes of building on that success, but issues with management led to Generation X’s split that same year.
Dancing to the top
Idol wasn’t quite done with Generation X, though, and he included two remixes on his 1981 EP Don’t Stop. From there, he formed a new backing band and quickly released 1982’s Billy Idol LP. He followed that up with 1983’s Rebel Yell, which saw Idol break into the mainstream with sales in excess of 2 million. Part of that success was due to huge singles like the title track, “Catch My Fall,” “Flesh for Fantasy,” and “Eyes Without A Face.”
Though his follow up, 1986’s Whiplash Smile, was less successful, a live cover of “Mony Mony” from a 1987 remix collection did give Idol one of his biggest singles to date. His next album, 1990’s Charmed Life, failed to meet sales goals. Then, with 1993’s Cyberpunk, which he penned entirely on his Mac computer, Idol unsuccessfully tried to change his image. The resulting back-to-back blows caused Idol to move out of the spotlight, and he spent the rest of the 90s pursuing other projects. That included a famous cameo in Adam Sandler’s 1998 film “The Wedding Singer.”
The big comeback
In 2005, Idol roared back with his first album in 12 years, Devil’s Playground, which eventually reached No. 46 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. The following year, Idol released a Christmas album called Happy Holidays. Around this time, Idol also returned to touring, playing a number of shows as part of the 2005 Vans Warped Tour and making festival appearances at Voodoo Music Experience and Rock am Ring.
Idol’s older catalog also gained some attention when songs like “Rebel Yell” and “White Wedding” appeared in the “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” video game series. After several more years spent touring, Idol had an especially big year in 2014. Not only did he unveil his autobiography, “Dancing with Myself,” but he also released his eighth studio album, Kings & Queens of the Underground that October. Since then, Idol has remained busy with tour dates across the U.S. and Europe.
And though he’s gotten a bit older, Idol’s trademark sneer, spiky blonde hair and rebel attitude still captivate audiences everywhere.