Back in the heady days of '76 and '77 the types of bands who emerged from punk could generally be divided into those who were dead serious and those who reckoned this was a window of opportunity to emulate the Glam Rock stars of their teenage years, only four or five years previously. Generation X and their lead singer Billy Idol most definitely fell into the latter camp.
Always considered something of a laugh and musical lightweights by Punk's self-appointed tastemakers, Generation X stirred up some serious hostility following the release of their debut album in 1978. The cockiness and Pop star strutting of Idol, who'd been part of the Bromley contingent who were the Sex Pistols' first band of elitist followers, in particular seemed to rile audiences, to the extent that on one UK tour they took to wearing motorbike helmets to protect themselves from missiles hurled onstage.
When they split in 1981 after some decent Pop-Punk minor hits, among them King Rocker, Valley of the Dolls and Dancing with Myself, idol decamped to the USA by himself to find an entire continent waiting to fall at his feet. For American audiences who'd never got Punk's more edgier aspects here was something they could easily understand. In co-opting guitarist Steve Stevens into his band he brought a Metal edge which translated to the heartlands while Idol's image as a spiky-haired blond Rock God with an Elvis-like sneer was absolutely perfect for video and he instantly achieved heavy rotation on the fledgeling MTV.
While back in London those self-same arbiters of cool were tying themselves in knots writing pretentious articles about the Next Big Thing their one-time whipping boy was slaying arenas with the likes of White Wedding, Rebel Yell, Eyes Without a Face, Hot in the City, To Be a Lover and a cover of Mony Mony and selling millions of albums into the bargain. Granted, he was also allowing his teenage fantasies of stardom to get way out of hand, with massive stardom in the Sates hardly the best environment for someone who'd developed a taste for heroin and cocaine during his latter days in Britain.
Luckily for him, Idol came through the drug addictions and a couple of near-death experiences, including a motorbike smash which left him in pretty bad shape. Although he probably won't be regarded as one of the greatest talents to emerge from the Punk era he certainly looks like he's in on the joke, and that's always to be admired.
- Billy Idol plays Vicar Street next Friday.