Take Five: Early Gems from Billy Idol

Along with his friend Siouxsie Sioux, William Broad was part of the so-called Bromley Contingent, a group of punks who were central to the music and fashion movement in late ‘70s London. Followers of Sex Pistols, several members of the Contingent would go on to launch their own musical careers. Sioux formed the Banshees; Broad – who by then was known as Billy Idol – co-founded Generation X with guitarist Tony James.

A major player in the punk and new wave scenes, Billy Idol was also one of the first “video stars” of the MTV era. After a string of successful releases, Idol took a hiatus for much of the ‘90s. On his return he roared back with a varied succession of albums (including a Christmas-themed record, Happy Holidays, in 2006). His most recent release, 2021’s The Roadside, earned positive reviews as well. Here’s a look back at five underrated tracks from the earlier days of Idol’s nearly 50 years in music.

“Ready Steady Go” from Generation X (1978)
In many ways, the 1970s punk movement in the UK was a reaction to political and economic turmoil of Thatcher-era Britain; it was also an attempt to get rock back to its roots and away from what many saw as the bloated, arena-rock character of ‘70s mainstream music. This song is a paean to rock’s 1963-’66 heyday, when television show Ready Steady Go! broadcast the latest pop sounds every Friday night to a generation of UK youth. Born in 1955, Broad (later Billy Idol) would have been just the right age to enjoy RSG!

“Gimme Some Truth” – Generation X single (1978)
As the b-side to the Valley of the Dolls LP’s “King Rocker,” this cut (A non-album track in the UK) made plain that while Generation X and Billy Idol were part of the punk/new wave vanguard, they hadn’t ignored their musical roots. “Gimme Some Truth” is a John Lennon song, first released on his 1971 LP Imagine; a much earlier, embryonic version of the tune from January 1969 Beatles sessions was featured in Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary film.

“Shakin’ All Over” – Generation X single (1978)
For the b-side of their second single off Valley of the Dolls, Generation X reached back even farther into rock history. “Shakin’ All Over” was originally cut by British rockers Johnny Kidd and the Pirates in 1960. Canadian group Chad Allan and the Expressions covered it in 1964 shortly before changing their name to The Guess Who. Other covering the classic included non-punks Mae West, The Who and Van Morrison.

“Mony Mony” from Billy Idol’s Don’t Stop EP (1981)
Tommy James and the Shondells rarely get the respect they deserve: that group produced some of the best pop-rock to come out of the United States in the ‘60s. “Mony Mony” was a transatlantic hit, soaring to the #1 spot on the UK singles chart as well in 1968. Young teen William Broad would surely have heard and loved the tune, and included a spirited reading of it on his debut release, the Don’t Stop EP. Two of the EP’s three other tracks are remixed/re-edited versions of earlier Generation X recordings, and they’re superb as well.

“Motor Bikin’” from Rebel Yell (1999 expanded edition)
In 1975, Chris Spedding appeared on the popular UK television program Top of the Pops to play his latest release, “Motor Bikin’.” The guitarist’s song soon became a bona fide classic, spawning cover versions by everyone from Golden Earring to Dee Dee Ramone to rock’s bad boys The Meatmen. Billy Idol cut a rousing version, too, and while that 1983 recording initially went unreleased, it was featured as a bonus track on a 1999 expanded reissue of Idol’s smash Rebel Yell. (Fun fact: Spedding has a connection to punk: he produced the Sex Pistols’ first demo session.)