Rebel Yell by Billy Idol

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Rebel Yell by Billy IdolRebel Yell is the second studio album by Billy Idol, released during the height of his popularity in late 1983. Four charting hits were spawned from this album, which reached #6 on the U.S. Billboard album charts and has been certified 2x platinum. Idol also gained great popularity beyond the United States and his native Britain, including countries like Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and New Zealand. Sonically, Rebel Yell fully completed Idol’s evolution from the punk rock of the seventies to a pop synthesis sound which helped define the sound of the eighties – big guitars, thunderous drums and streamlined synths beneath edgy lyrics and vocals.

While Idol grabbed the marquee, guitarist and keyboardist Steve Stevens was a full partner in creating and composing the music, as he had been on the 1982 debut Billy Idol. That album found surprising mainstream success, due in part to the new MTV and a new wave “British Invasion” of 1982. To fully capitalize on this success, in early 1983 Chrysalis Records re-released “Dancing with Myself” (originally from a 1981 EP) and produced a top-notch music video, which got heavy play on MTV for six months and built anticipation for this next album. Idol got the name of the album (and its lead-off song) after drinking with the Rolling Stones who had a bottle of liquor called “Rebel Yell.”

Producer Keith Forsey also returned to keep the core team in tact from the debut album. As the long-time drummer for Donna Summer, Forsey injected a decidedly pop and dance-oriented approach which surprising blended well with Idol’s strong and snarling vocals. Along with producing every Billy Idol album of the era, Forsey would go on to be a major player in the 1980s pop music scene, producing a string of successful movie soundtracks (Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, The Breakfast Club, Top Gun) as well as composing a few Top Ten hits.
 


Rebel Yell by Billy Idol
Released: November 10, 1983 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Keith Forsey
Recorded: Electric Lady Studios, New York City, 1982-1983
Side One Side Two
Rebel Yell
Daytime Drama
Eyes Without a Face
Blue Highway
Flesh For Fantasy
Catch My Fall
Crank Call
(Do Not) Stand in the Shadows
The Dead Next Door
Primary Musicians
Billy Idol – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Steve Stevens – Guitars, Bass, Synths
Judi Dozier – Keyboards
Thommy Price – Drums

 
The album starts strong with the unique arpeggio and big beat of the title track “Rebel Yell”. During the recording sessions this song was the first to use a live drummer, as a bulk of the tracks used electronically programmed percussion. Stevens and Forsey heard drummer Thommy Price playing with the band Scandal in a neighboring studio and invited him to play on the album. The arpeggio riff was developed by Stevens in the studio on both guitars and synths. Although “Rebel Yell” is the most famous track on the album, it failed to chart upon its original single release and only climbed to #46 when re-released in 1985.

While the opening title track is definitely the true theme song for the album, it is also a bit deceiving as it is decidedly more powerful than the more laid-back material of the rest of the album. “Daytime Drama” has a rather weak, metallic rhythm which, unfortunately, fails to complement the fine guitars by Stevens, which are the only real highlights of this song.
 

 
“Eyes Without a Face” is the finest pure song on the album and one of Idol’s most successful on the charts. This was one of the first written for the album and is notable for the French female chorus vocals of Perri Lister, Idol’s longtime girlfriend. Lister sings ‘Les yeux sans visage’ (French for ‘eyes without a face’), and the title of the 1960 horror movie which inspired the song’s title. Here the electronic percussion works perfectly in sync with the steady bass and various synth and guitar riffs, all under Idol’s melodic crooning on one of his most unique tracks. “Blue Highway” completes the album’s fine first side as an upbeat, new wave track with great vocals and melody, much like the material on the debut album.

Unfortunately, Rebel Yell is a bit uneven as the original second side of the album is not as strong. “Flesh for Fantasy” contains a rapid funk-infused guitar above electronic drums, making it a rather cheesy pop song with a provocative title. “Catch My Fall” is a better track, built on a steady bass line and including some saxophone by guest Mars Williams and a definitive lead section which is a guitar highlight for Stevens. Both of these songs were released as singles.

“Crank Call” has an-almost hard rock/hair-band feel, complete with good riffs, an anthemic hook, and a good sonic mix of guitar and keyboard textures. “(Do Not) Stand in the Shadows” is nothing much more than a formulaic, upbeat pop song, while the closer “The Dead Next Door” is texture rich with synths ala Brian DePalma, but the style eerie style falls short with little more substance than Idol’s vocal melodies.

In 1985, Idol released a quasi-compilation of extended, dance-oriented tracks from his first two album called Vital Idol, spawning more charting hits. The team of Idol, Stevens, and Forsey returned for Whiplash Smile in 1986, which sold well but marked the beginning of a slow decline from pop super-stardom for Billy Idol.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

Billy Idol

Billy IdolThe debut album by Billy Idol is amazingly diverse and mainstream-leaning for an artist supposedly fresh off the punk scene. In fact, Idol today admits that his late seventies outfit, Generation X, differed starkly from other acts on the scene like The Clash or The Sex Pistols; “They were singing ‘No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones’, but we were honest about what we liked.” Generation X was inspired by mid-Sixties British pop and were one of the first “punk” acts appear on the BBC. When the band broke up in 1981, Idol transitioned nicely to his own sound. This self-titled debut album was produced by Keith Forsey through 1981 and early 1982 and is confluent with Generation X’s final 1981 LP as well as Idol’s initial EP Don’t Stop that same year.

American guitarist Steve Stephens would become as much a part of the solo act as Idol himself, forging a slick rock sound to canvas the Elvis-like vocals of Idol. Stephens’ slashing guitar chords became as identifiable as Idol’s melodic choruses and sneering postures. This album eventually became Idol’s breakthrough in America, a place Generation X had struggled to find any audience. It took over a year beyond June 1982 until some of Idol’s videos began  breaking through to the MTV audience.

With Forsey’s production, the album was given a “modern” sound for the time which employed piano, synthesizers, saxophone, and background singers. This sweetened the sound enough for the mainstream audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. The LP peaked at number 45 on the Billboard 200 and was certified Gold by RIAA in 1983.

 


Billy Idol by Billy Idol
Released: June 16, 1982 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Keith Forsey
Recorded: London, 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
Come On, Come On
White Wedding (Part 1)
Hot In the City
Dead On Arrival
Nobody’s Business
Love Calling
Hole In the Wall
Shooting Stars
It’s So Cruel
Congo Man
Dancing With Myself
Band Musicians
Billy Idol – Vocals | Steve Stephens – Guitars
Phil Feit – Bass | Steve Missal – Drums

 

The album starts with “Come On Come On”, a very pop-rock dominated song with driving bass and choppy guitars. This sets the pace for several songs with a definite 1980s sound. These include the guitar-centric, straight up rocker “Dead On Arrival” and the almost-hair band “Nobody’s Business”

“White Wedding” contains a much darker sound. One of his most recognizable songs, Idol claimed in later years that this song actually had nothing to do with his “little sister”, but he just found the concept interesting. The song was a hit upon its original release and charted even higher several years later in the UK, following rotation of its famous video. The song is titled “White Wedding (Part 1)” on the album due to the release of a synthesizer based dance version on 7″ vinyl called “White Wedding (Part 2)”.

“Hot In the City” was the initial single from the album. The song has a moderate, melodic tempo and some sweet pop hooks. It gained more popularity as the decade progressed and was an even bigger hit when released as a single from the compilation Vital Idol in 1987.
 

 
The second side of the album starts with “Love Calling”, driven by the drumming of Steve Missal, along with some odd chanting between verse lines. It gives off a trance-like vibe except during the breaks when Idol screams “if you want to rub-a-dub, rub-a-dub”. “Hole In the Wall” and “Shooting Stars” each contain cool guitar textures by Stevens and a very animated bass by Phil Feit in the fashion that U2 would eventually make very popular. “It’s So Cruel” starts calm with liberal use of synthesizers, almost a ballad, until it eventually builds with stronger tones.

Modern versions of the album conclude with “Dancing With Myself”, a song originally recorded for the final Generation X album in 1981, then co-opted by Idol for his Don’t Stop EP, when he remixed it and gave the song an overall brighter, poppier finish. When Idol started to break through with MTV videos in 1983, one was made for “Dancing With Myself” and the song was added to the Billy Idol LP, replacing a short percussion filler called “Congo Man”.

Idol was born William Michael Albert Broad and got his stage name in grade school from a teacher who nicknamed him “Billy Idle” in a degradng fashion. Billy took this name as a badge of honor and, with some minor re-spelling, used it to launch himself to international stardom.

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R.A.
 


1982 Images