8 Diverse Deep Cuts from Billy Idol

With his spiky blond hair, menacing snarl, and outrageous stage presence, Billy Idol was one of the coolest rock performers over the 1980s. He brought a punk attitude to the mainstream and was able to combine the powerhouse guitar playing of Steve Stevens with his own inimitable croon and rebel yell. They had one of the most original sounds and created some indelible music, and their fruitful partnership continues to this day.

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To the casual mainstream listener, Idol may be that revved-up punk singing anthems like “Rebel Yell,” “Mony Mony,” and “Cradle of Love,” while occasionally getting sensitive with ballads like “Eyes Without a Face” and “Sweet Sixteen.” But if you dive deeper into his catalog, you find his music is even more diverse than one might suspect. Following is a list of Billy Idol deep cuts that showcase how varied his catalog is. There are even more that could be listed here, but these eight are a great place to start.

“Love Calling,” from Billy Idol (1982)

Back in the early ‘80s, buoyant Burundi beats were all the craze with British new wavers. This Central African musical influence surfaced in tracks by Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, and Echo and the Bunnymen, and allowed their drummers to have a lot of fun on their tom toms. The backing vocals from Stephanie Spruill add to the tribal sound of the song that admittedly has some cheeky lyrics. While “White Wedding” and “Hot in the City” are the hits off of this album, “Love Calling” is one of the more unusual and catchy tracks in the Billy Idol oeuvre. It even gets a short reprise in the one minute “Congo Man” that closes out the album. Co-written with producer Keith Forsey, the song showed how Idol had his ear out for other sounds.

“The Dead Next Door,” from Rebel Yell (1984)

Contrary to what some outsiders might think, Idol albums are not full of brash rockers all the way through. In fact, he has lent his crooning style to a lot of gentler numbers, including this closing track from his double-Platinum sophomore album Rebel Yell. It’s entirely different than a lot of songs in his catalog, being predominantly driven by keyboards and Stevens’ dreamy guitar sounds. Other than programmed percussive sounds, there is no bass or live drumming present. And the haunting lyrics have an apocalyptic vibe to them: Watched the sky / For a reason why / I was so sure. Further: One error, silent terror reign / And we’re the dead next door.

“Don’t Need a Gun,” from Whiplash Smile (1986)

Despite the fact that “Don’t Need A Gun” ended up being the second single off of Idol’s Platinum-certified Whiplash Smile album, and a video was filmed featuring Idol and Stevens performing at a liquor store crime scene in Hollywood, it still feels underrated. It’s got atmosphere as the synthy, new wave-ish verses give way to more rocking choruses. The song just broke the Top 40 singles chart at No. 37 but has not racked as many streams as many other vital Idol tracks. It’s definitely one of those deep cuts that’s worth revisiting, and in it he name-checks old school rock influences like Elvis Presley, Johnnie Ray, and Gene Vincent.

“The Loveless,” from Charmed Life (1990)

Idol’s fourth album showcases more of his ‘50s and ‘60s musical influences (he covers the Doors’ “L.A. Woman”), and this opening track has some echoes of Elvis in his performance. It’s a brooding, sexy, and smoldering track that moves along at a good clip as Idol sings about feeling drawn to an outsider like himself. I know you’re hungry for me / Love me outside of society yeah / I know you’re hungry for me / Believe me baby / Out of rhyme and subtlety. The dominant organ presence is a nice ‘60s musical touch that went against the grain of the time.

“Concrete Kingdom,” from Cyberpunk (1993)

Idol’s ill-fated Cyberpunk  concept album was an interesting musical experiment with some electronic dance influences that got a little more love overseas than it did in the U.S. None of the three singles from the album charted in the States and it got some critical panning, making the whole affair feel like a collection of deep cuts. While tracks like “Wasteland” and “Shock to the System” had plenty of guitar power from collaborator Mark Younger-Smith, “Concrete Kingdom” is a synth-heavy, syncopated dance track, albeit with a short, snarling six-string break. For many fans it may feel out of place in Idol’s oeuvre, but it’s an interesting listen.

When all of the good have been taken
Where all of the lost have gone
Ravaged, then raped, annihilation, amen
All life, is it lost? Have they won?
Ain’t no love in a concrete kingdom
Ain’t much light
Ain’t no life in a concrete kingdom
I hear the cries tonight

“Don’t You (Forget About Me),” from Greatest Hits (2001)

No one will question Simple Minds owns this song, which became popular off the soundtrack to the acclaimed John Hughes teen dramedy The Breakfast Club. But prior to the Scottish group recording it, they had initially declined the song from producer and co-songwriter Keith Forsey. He reportedly then went to Bryan Ferry, Billy Idol, and The Fixx singer Cy Curnin before Simple Minds reconsidered. They were wise to as it became their biggest hit—their lone U.S. No. 1 and an immortal ‘80s classic. Idol’s version is definitely pumped up, more raucous at times, and features some boisterous harmonica. While not as nuanced as Simple Minds’ version, it’s still a lot of fun to listen to.

“Cherie,” from The Devil’s Playground (2005)

Ever wondered what an upbeat, semi-acoustic track with a Neil Diamond vibe from Billy Idol might sound like? Here you go. While the tone sound joyous in professing love for someone, there’s nagging regret over losing them too. Like the alchemist who couldn’t resist the devil’s kiss / Base metal into gold / And the psychiatrist who’s battling deep within his own soul / I was like them down the hole. Idol has said this song is actually an ode to his ex-girlfriend Perri Lister, the mother of their son Willem Wolf. (For the lyrics, Perri became Cherie.) One of the best aspects of the track is the tastefully restrained soloing from Stevens that shows how elegant he can be on the frets.

“Bitter Pill,” from Kings and Queens of the Underground (2014)

Idol’s most recent studio album is his most mature to date. While Trevor Horn certainly lends some slick production values to Kings and Queens of the Underground, the lyrics find Idol ruminating on everything from getting older to friends he’s lost along the way to coping with his addictive personality. In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning at the time, he mentioned his solution to controlling addiction was not to go cold turkey and deny himself anything. He simply told himself he could do anything he wanted at any time, a tactic which kept him in check. This song, which has a country-ish twang in its verses, is all about trying to stay sober and focused for someone that he loves. Purposefully and ironically, the tumultuous closing track “Whiskey and Pills” shows that in a battle with one’s demons, they sometimes still win.

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