Rebel Yell (the record)


Billy Idol had already provoked the question “Who is that creep?” from my father as he peeked over his Wall Street Journal one evening during a Radio 1990 broadcast of the promotional video for the song “White Wedding,” but at that point not too many people knew enough about the guy to really say.

“White Wedding” was a minor MTV hit from Billy’s self-titled first album with a low-budget video that had been shot in some Home Counties churchyard. For his next album, Rebel Yell, William threw all his chips into the pot and hightailed it out to Hollywood, where there were endless rows of Yank birds to shag, endless lines of coke to hoover up, and endlessly energetic videos to make. His pursuit of video immortality was so dogged, he was even willing to blind himself for the sake of recording some memorable imagery, ironically for a song called “Eyes Without a Face.” For three days after this particular shoot Billy was literally a “face without its eyes” as the 30 straight hours of posing and sneering in front of smoke machines had fused his contact lenses to his corneas!

With four video hits and two additional tracks notching tons of AOR airplay, Rebel Yell was a monster record that perched Billy pretty much near the top of the pile during 1983-1984 and the dude sure looked like he was enjoying it. Of course the “secret sauce” to all this popularity had those very same initials. His name was Steve Stevens and he wrote just about every note of music on an album that stayed in the charts for 70 weeks.  But Billy, ever the egotist, immediately started easing his partner out of the picture. Stevens would only receive songwriting credits on roughly half of Whiplash Smile and then he was gone. And so was Billy’s career. Within ten years he’d be releasing something called Cyberpunk, a whacko reinvention about as convincing as that time George Herbert Walker Bush “dropped in” at J.C. Penney’s to buy socks.

Today, the “rock of youth” mentioned in “Catch My Fall” is a pillow of pebbles, pebbles that are getting smaller with each passing day. Before we know it, it’ll be a pile of dust. For all of us. So make sure you head out onto that Blue Highway as much as you can while you still can…Billy sez so!!

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