Billy Idol: Billy Idol (1982)

May 24, 2013

Billy Idol - Billy Idol artwork

Roll: 3-5-6
Album: Billy Idol, s/t (2002 remaster)

“Did you hear about Billy Idol? He had to go to the hospital to get his stomach pumped and it was full of cum.”

That was the rumour going around my grade five classroom as Rebel Yell (1983) was screeching up the charts. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d hear this rumour, and I’m sure you’ve heard it too in some form. Rick Astley, Michael Jackson, George MichaelVanilla Ice, both members of Milli Vanilli, and all five of the New Kids On The Block apparently had the same procedure. Often the rumour would be embellished with other extraneous items recovered from the stars’ guts such as condoms full of cocaine, human feces or thumb tacks.

Most recently I overheard tweenaged girls on the subway inform each other on the contents of Justin Beiber‘s stomach discovered after he was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. Yes, the cum of no less than six men. I guess DNA tests of stomach contents is standard practice after a pumping.

Oddly, I never heard a version of the tale about a more obvious target like Boy George who, with his substance abuse issues, it might actually have been true. In the early ’80s rumours of homosexuality among popstars ran rampant yet people seemed determined to believe Boy George was completely straight.

The public’s cognitive dissonance on the subject grew curiouser still as David Bowie was lauded as a courageous trailblazer for proclaiming his bisexuality, Elton John was completely straight and shame on you for saying otherwise, while Michael Hutchence was supposed to be a big, dirty, grr-ross homo (complete with 100% cum stomach contents). Human nature is a complex and confusing thing.

At least that’s how it was in Miss Sheppard’s class at French Creek Elementary School where this iteration of the perennial rumour concerned Billy Idol. I’m pretty sure he got chosen purely because a girl in my class, Sarah Orr, was in love with him and our fellow classmates were trying to mortify her. She had a particularly catty friend named Maria (who lived at the end of my road and I was head over heals for), who I vaguely remember twisting the knife. I have an image in my head of Sarah being upset, but I could be projecting my own reaction. I was suddenly deathly concerned I’d be called a “fag” by association if anyone caught me listening to Billy Idol.

For some reason the fact I was wanking off my friends in closets and tree forts, and what would happen if that got out, didn’t concern me. I guess I was confident I could rely on their own shamed silence to keep us all safe.

But this is why, despite loving “White Wedding“, “Dancing With Myself” and “Rebel Yell” I refused to listen to Billy Idol. It wouldn’t be until about grade eight, when I was getting into Generation X, that I’d pick up Whiplash Smile (1986) and delve into his back-catalogue.

Other than the aforementioned “White Wedding” and  “Dancing With Myself” singles, I didn’t think much of his self-titled debut and probably only played it to dub those songs onto a mix-tape. Although the filler isn’t as entirely devoid of charm as I thought it was back then (nostalgia is a powerful intoxicant), songs like “Nobody’s Business“, “Dead On Arrival“, “Hole In The Wall“, and “Shooting Stars” are the very definition of throwaways. Even the driving lead off (!) track “Come On, Come On” is an impressively hookless sinker.

To be fair, this is par for the course with new wave/pop records of 1982. Duran Duran, The FixxPsychedelic Furs, INXS, and Simple Minds all released landmark albums that year, none of which which are start-to-finish masterstrokes. The best of them are about 50/50 killer-to-filler, with the filler tracks being pleasant enough to not skip (or, back-in-tha-day, FFWD) through.

The remastering on this 2002 version of the album helps a lot. It might have been specific to my cassette copy, but I remembered the mix being muddy in the extreme. Here it is very crisp, there’s heaps of definition between the instruments and the bass and drums snap along nicely. This helps the world-music tinged “Love Calling” (the song I most hated as a teen) make its case effectively. I can hear the bubblegum genius of the Springsteenish tracks “Hot In The City” and the “It’s So Cruel” which was lost on me at the time. Though, my appreciation for them might be from some sort of ironic pop-deconstructionism standpoint now. In fact, they somewhat foreshadow The Boss’ approach to his own material on Born In The USA (1984). Art imitating art imitating art? In 1982, these songs probably were just kitschy schmaltz compared to recent releases by Idol’s contemporaries (John Lydon‘s PiL, The Clash, The Damned, etc).

Still, if anything, the remastering highlights even-further how much “White Wedding” stands out. It’s where the Billy Idol/Steve Stevens/Keith Forsey (producer) team really came into their own. The song would have been much more at home on the subsequent Rebel Yell. If it had been part of that nearly perfect album, cartoonish as Idol’s persona had become by that point, Rebel Yell might have gone down in my books as the best album of the 1980’s. Well, best new wave album from the golden-age-of-MTV anyway.

billyidolfrontWhat’s unfortunate about this reissue, unlike the extras-packed Rebel Yell remaster, is that the tracklisting is the limited to the ten songs off the US edition. The original UK release didn’t contain GenX‘s “Dancing With Myself”, but ended with a minute-long a capella-plus-bongos jam of the “Love Calling” groove called “Bongo Man“. Though by no means an essential moment in rock history, and somewhat incongruously lo-fi compared to the rest of Forsey’s slick production, it’s still worthy of inclusion.

More frustrating though, is the missed opportunity to include material from his 1981 EP, Don’t Stop. Perhaps GenX’s fantastic youth anthem “The Untouchables” could have remained sidelined, but Idol’s original cover of “Mony Mony” and his slightly odd punker “Baby Talk” are missed. The 12-minute Martha Quinn interview was also worth a listen, as far as those things go, with a few memorable bon mots from Idol in full-on clownish punk rocker stereotype mode.

As you’ve probably deduced by now, the bottom line on this album is it’s pretty much for Generation X/Billy idol completists only. It’s definitely not punk rock and even hardcore new wave fans might find it, despite sounding great, a bit goofy and thin on quality material. If you’re after “White Wedding” or “Dancing With Myself”, there’s plenty of budget-priced Billy Idol compilations available.


One comment

  1. […] retrospect, my reaction seems kind of curious since—as I mentioned in my recent Billy Idol review—I was terrified of other kids thinking I was gay because I listened to the wrong musicians. This […]

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