Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Song of the Day: 'Rebel Yell' by Billy Idol


We all know that Billy Idol was one of the biggest stars of the MTV era, who had a string of hits in the 1980s. (Without cheating, I'd say "Dancing With Myself," "White Wedding" and "Eyes Without a Face" were his biggest.) But it took watching an hourlong special (“Rock Legends”/AXS TV) on the sneering heartthrob to fully understand his hits and misses -- and it was quite an eye-opener.

Billy's first two singles were "Dancing With Myself" (a song that had appeared on the third album by Billy's band Generation X) and "Mony Mony" from his 1981 EP, "Don't Stop." "Dancing" failed to chart and "Mony" only bubbled under at 107. (More about these two to come.)

The first single off his 1982 eponymous debut album -- and my favorite song of his -- was "Hot in the City," which peaked at 23. Its follow-up was "White Wedding," which reached No. 36. (I'd have thought it was the other way around -- "White Wedding" has to be one of the biggest videos of all time.)

"Dancing With Myself" was then re-released in 1983 -- with its video placed in heavy rotation on red-hot MTV -- and as far as I remember it was the biggest song of the year. In reality, it still didn't crack the Hot 100, peaking at 102 -- fives places better than the first time around -- although it did hit 27 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart.

The first single off his next album, 1984's "Rebel Yell," was the title track -- a big hit, as I recall -- only it stalled at No. 46 on the Billboard Hot 100. Next came "Eyes Without a Face," which apparently was his first actual huge hit (No. 4) followed by "Flesh for Fantasy" (No. 29). "Catch My Fall" -- the album's fourth single and probably his second best song -- stalled at No. 50.

The first single off 1986's "Whiplash Smile" was "To Be a Lover" reached No. 6 -- only I didn't even recognize the title. (Listening to it for a few seconds barely jarred my memory.) 

And then bizarrely, his live version of "Mony Mony" included on his greatest hits collection skyrocketed to No. 1, and the first single ("Cradle of Love") off his first album of the new decade ("Charmed Life") hit No. 2.

In the ensuring years he's released an ahead-of-its-time "tech" album (1993's "CyberPunk"), and a well-reviewed "comeback" album (2005's "Devil's Playground"). 

But it was 2014's "Kings and Queens of the Underground" that allowed him to launch a successful 40-city world tour and finally look back at his success. Read about the NYC stop HERE.

P.S. He covered Simple Minds' "(Don't You) Forget About Me" on his second best-of!

Full disclosure: Billy had a whopping 16 Top 40 singles -- including eight Top 10 -- on the Billboard U.S. Rock chart, something I largely ignore(d).

1 comment:

James Greenlee said...

It's weird to go back and look up chart hits for artists, and find they weren't NEARLY as "big" as we remember. Pat Benatar (a personal favorite of mine) had fewer actual "hits" than I remembered. She did all right, but the chart positions were sooo much lower for some songs than I ever would have thought.

You Better Run hit 42
Promises in the Dark 38
Heartbreaker 23
We Live for Love 27
Even Fire and Ice and Treat Me Right only went to 17 and 18.