Idol, Billy (originally, Broad, William Michael Albert)

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Idol, Billy (originally, Broad, William Michael Albert)

Idol, Billy (originally, Broad, William Michael Albert), one of the performers who made punk safe for a pop audience; b. Stanmore, Middlesex, England, Nov. 30, 1955. Although born in England, from the ages of three to seven William Broad lived in the N.Y.C. area, after which his father returned the family to England. Bored in school, one of his teachers accused him of being “Aidle,” a word that would come back to haunt him. By 1975, he became part of the growing wave of British punk as a member of the group Bromley Contingent. One of the other members of the group was a woman named Susan Dallion, who like Broad would earn notoriety under another name, Siouxsie Sioux with her band The Banshees. Broad then played with Mick Jones and Brian James in a group called Chelsea. Jones went on to The Clash, James to The Damned, and Broad, now known as Billy Idol, took bassist Tony James and drummer John Towe and formed the group Generation X, named after a novel of 1960s youth culture. Riding the crest of the punk wave, Generation X put out three albums, the final one as GenX. That album had the worldwide hit “Dancing with Myself.” As so frequently happens, just as the band had a hit, it developed problems with management and broke up. James went on to form Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

Idol left England and went back to N.Y. There he hooked up with former Kiss manager Bill Aucoin, producer Keith Forsey, and guitarist Steve Stevens. He kicked off his solo career with an EP that featured a remix of “Dancing with Myself” and a cover of the Tommy James and the Shondells hit “Mony Mony.” Both became popular dance hits and set the stage for his eponymous solo debut album in 1982. Featuring the #23 hit “Hot in the City” and the #36 “White Wedding,” with a snazzy video that became a staple on MTV, Idol started to establish himself as more than a British punk. He was becoming a pop artist to reckon with. Idol’s popularity increased a year later with the release of Rebel Yell. While the title track became popular at both album rock and modern rock stations, it was the moody ballad “Eyes without a Face” that zoomed to #4, taking the album to #6 and double platinum. The #29 hit “Flesh for Fantasy” added to the pop power of the former punk. He launched his next album, 1986’s Whiplash Smile with a cover of William Bell’s “I Forgot to be Your Lover” whichrecorded as “To Be a Lover.” He took that song to #6 propelling the album to platinum and #6. Two minor hits, the #37 “Don’t Need a Gun” and the #20 “Sweet Sixteen” followed. However, after the album, Stevens split to form his own band, The Atomic Playboys.

While regrouping, Idol released a greatest hits/remix album, Vital Idol.The album went to #10 and sold platinum, largely due to the chart topping remix of“Mony Mony.” Anxious to go into the studio, Idol began recording Charmed Life, but ironically fell victim to a motorcycle accident that nearly cost him a leg. His injury prevented him from taking a major role in Oliver Stone’s movie The Doors. Charmed Life was finally released in 1990. Fueled by the #2 single “Cradle of Love,” which was featured in the film The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, the album hit #11 and went platinum. Idol attempted to jump into electronic music with 1993’s Cyberpunk.While the album made use of the CD’s innate computer friendly nature with graphics and video, it nonetheless did not sell well. Since this first professional disappointment, Idol sightings became fewer and further between. He toured with the Who when they staged their all-star version of Quadrophenia, and contributed a song to the soundtrack to the film Speed. He made a cameo appearance as himself in the 1997 movie TheWedding Singer and voiced the villain in the animated movie Heavy Metal FAKK 2. He signed a new recording contract late in 1999, and future recordings are likely to follow.


Don’t Stop (1981); Billy Idol (1982); Rebel Yell (1983); Whiplash Smile (1986); Vital Idol (1987); Charmed Life (1990); Cyberpunk (1993).

—Hank Bordowitz