30 Years Ago: Billy Idol’s ‘Rebel Yell’ Released
Years before Nirvana or Green Day supposedly broke punk rock to the mainstream, a peroxide-spiked British singer by the self-given name of Billy Idol (which might be heard as the decidedly punkish “Idle,” get it?) arguably accomplished the same feat with his sophomore album, ‘Rebel Yell.’
Of course diehard punks can (and usually will) question Idol’s qualifications on multiple levels – musical, cosmetic, philosophical, and so forth. But to countless mainstream music buyers, not hip or nerdy enough to know their Ramones from their Blondie, their Sex Pistols from their Talking Heads, their Clash from their Television (and, given such mismatched aesthetics, who could really blame them?), Billy Idol’s trademark sneer, defiant talk, and convincingly British accent were punk rock enough. All he was missing was a mohawk!
Of course, years earlier, the man born William Broad had participated in England’s original punk revolution, first as a member of the so-called Bromely Contingent of Sex Pistols fans, before quick passages through a formative Siouxsie and the Banshees, Chelsea and, more permanently, the pioneering Generation X.
But, with British punk’s original flame doused almost as quickly as it flared up by decade’s end, Idol made his way to New York City, secured the backing of Kiss manager Bill Aucoin, and launched his solo career with the help of MTV’s revolutionary proposition and striking music videos for hits like ‘White Wedding’ and ‘Dancing with Myself.’
And so, by 1983, Idol was ready for the big time, and his sophomore album for Chrysalis Records, ‘Rebel Yell,’ was to be his vehicle to global stardom.
The pseudo-metallic title track stormed out of the gate at full-throttle, evenly sweetened and soured by lush synths and Steve Stevens’ violent guitar heroics, respectively – then duplicated efficiently by similarly coiffed “pop-punk” nuggets like ‘Blue Highway,’ ‘Crank Call’ and ‘Do Not Stand in the Shadows.’
However, rather than sticking with a single, simple formula, Idol revealed his willingness to experiment with different musical styles and the latest advances in recording technology with the new wave sound pastiche of ‘Daytime Drama,’ the unsettling noir-minimalism of ‘The Dead Next Door,’ and the quite uniquely, sensual robo-funk of ‘Flesh for Fantasy.’
Rounding things out, the saxophone-powered ‘Catch My Fall’ had hit single written all over it, and with the distinctly unconventional, rather artsy ballad, ‘Eyes Without a Face,’ Idol achieved precisely that: a No. 4 smash in the U.S. and worldwide hit that was driven home by a highly stylized music video (filled with fists-a-pumping, hands-a-clapping and butts-a-slapping!) that was bound to become another MTV staple.
In sum, it’s safe to say that virtually everything about Idol’s ambitious vision worked to perfection on ‘Rebel Yell.’ Understandably, he had trouble matching its greatness later in his career, but this album left no doubt that Billy Idol was a creative force to be reckoned with.