Top 10 Songs by Billy Idol

“They’re very much a part of me, those souls,” Billy Idol said of his songs, past and present, in a 2021 interview with American Songwriter.

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Along with his longtime guitarist and co-writer Steve Stevens, their lyrical and musical symbiosis started from his 1981 self-titled debut and ricocheted off Rebel Yell through the collection of songs they fused together for more than 40 years.

“It’s still part of what me and Steve have always been doing together,” added Idol. “The fact that we’re still playing together, we can visit those old souls and make them stick today.”

Jumping into the core of the mid-’70s punk scene in London, the teenage Idol first began writing with his band Generation X (Gen X) and bassist Tony James. They penned everything from “Your Generation,” “Ready Steady Go,” the more ballad-y “Untouchables” and “Dancing with Myself,” a song Idol revisited after Gen X disbanded and released as his debut single.

Throughout his nearly five-decade career, Idol has fueled everything from his early cover of Tommy James & the Shondells’ 1968 No. 1 “Mony Mony,” and his own hits “Eyes Without a Face” and “White Wedding,” among others throughout the ’80s. Reemerging in the 1990s, Idol left behind Charmed Life and mega-hit “Cradle of Love,” along with his take on The Doors‘ classic “L.A. Woman.”

By 1993, Idol was experimenting with his own blend of electronic and futuristic punk on his fifth album Cyberpunk and released three more albums through Kings & Queens of the Underground in 2014. After a brief hiatus, Idol returned in 2021 with the first of two EPs, the more reflective The Roadside and The Cage, which followed in 2022.

“You should be able to look back on your life,” shared Idol with American Songwriter. “I do feel that I’ve been alive a long time, and it does give you a sense of experience. You can approach things looking back from a distance, and think about your life, and quantify it in some ways.”

Post-Gen X, here’s a look at 10 of Idol’s best solo songs from 1981 through 2022.

1. “Dancing with Myself” (1981)
Written by Billy Idol and Tony James

Opening Generation X’s third album and final album before breaking up, Kiss Me Deadly, “Dancing with Myself” was the perfect meld of punk and pop. A later dance club staple in the early 1980s, the song was originally inspired by a trip to Japan in 1979 where Gen X were on tour at the time. Idol and bassist Tony James where intrigued by the sight of Japanese clubgoers dancing with their reflections in a mirror at the venue instead of with other people.

Following the breakup of Gen X in 1981, Idol revamped the song and released it as his solo debut on his EP Don’t Stop. Though it only peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart, “Dancing With Myself” remains an essential Idol classic.

On the floors of Tokyo
Or down in London town to go, go
With a record selection and a mirror’s reflection
I’m dancing with myself

When there’s no one else in sight
In the crowded lonely night
Well, I wait so long for my love vibration
And I’m dancing with myself

2. “White Wedding” (1982)
Written by Billy Idol

Produced by Keith Forsey — who also co-wrote “Flashdance… What a Feeling” with composer Giorgio Moroder and singer Irene Cara — Billy Idol was the punk rocker’s first release as a solo artist. “White Wedding” was his second charting hit following his 1981 single “Dancing with Myself.”

In the song, Idol is singing about a girlfriend who wants to marry someone else. Though Idol sings hey little sister, what have you done in the song, it isn’t entirely about his actual sister Jane Broad. When he was initially writing the song, his sister was pregnant and about to get married, which loosely inspires some of the near out-of-wedlock lyrics, but it wasn’t all about her. The use of “sister” in “White Wedding” was an English slang for girlfriend, similar to “bae.”

Hey little sister, what have you done
Hey little sister, who’s the only one
Hey little sister, who’s your superman
Hey little sister, who’s the one you want
Hey little sister, shotgun

On the charts, “White Wedding” reached No. 10 on the Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 and No. 36 on the Hot 100.

Read our full story Behind the Meaning of “White Wedding,” HERE.

3. “Rebel Yell” (1983)
Written by Billy Idol and Steve Stevens

Kentucky bourbon and the Rolling Stones inspired the title of Idol’s 1983 anthemic hit “Rebel Yell,” the title track from his second album. While at an event at Ronnie Wood‘s place in New York City, Idol witnessed the Stones’ guitarist along with singer Mick Jagger taking swigs right from an old Rebel Yell bottle of whiskey. At that moment, Idol had the title for a song, and just wrote the lyrics around it.

Rebel Yell was technically the confederate battle cry during the American Civil War and the original bottle of the whiskey, founded in 1936, featured an illustration of a soldier on horseback going into battle. Idol switched up the meaning of the song to center around a woman asking for more more more during a night of passion.

In the midnight hour she cried more, more, more, more
With a rebel yell she cried more, more, more
In the midnight hour, babe, more, more, more
With a rebel yell more, more, more
More, more, more

4. “Eyes Without a Face” (1983)
Written by Billy Idol and Steve Stevens

Unlike the rest of the album, “Eyes Without a Face” was Idol’s Rebel Yell ballad and reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Drawn to titles of horror movies, Idol pulled “Eyes Without A Face” from French director Georges Franju’s 1960 film Les Yeux Sans Visage.

I’m all out of hope
One more bad break
Could bring a fall
When I’m far from home
Don’t call me on the phone
To tell me you’re alone
It’s easy to deceive
It’s easy to tease
But hard to get release

5. “Sweet Sixteen” (1986)
Written by Billy Idol

In 1923, Latvia-born Edward Leedskalnin was jilted by his fiancée Agnes Scuffs, who he called “sweet sixteen” since she was 10 years his minor at the time. Broken-hearted, Leedskalnin immigrated to the U.S. and eventually settled in Florida where spent the remaining years of his life carving huge limestone boulders, decorated with coral. He continued building the Coral Castle for his love who got away until his death in 1951 at 64. Besides being a stonemason, Leedskalnin also developed theories of magnetism. In 1984, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Idol based his ballad “Sweet Sixteen,” off his third album Whiplash Smile, on this undying story of love.

See, a memory can burn you
A memory gets colder as people can
They just get older
Said sweet sixteen
Oh, I see it’s clear
My baby, that you are
All through here

6. “Cradle of Love” (1990)
Written by Billy Idol and David Werner

Coming off his apex in the 1980s, Idol was still impenetrable by the start of the ’90s. Idol’s fourth album, Charmed Life went platinum, and its lead single, “Cradle of Love,” reached the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

In the 1990 video for “Cradle of Love,” Idol is only featured from the waist up since he was still in crutches following his near-death motorcycle accident earlier that year.

It burned like a ball on fire
When the rebel took a little child bride
To tease yeah, so go easy, yea

‘Cause love cuts a million ways
Shakes the devil when he misbehaves
I ain’t nobody’s fool
Come on, shake it up
Whatever I do, rock

7. “Speed” (1994)
Written by Billy Idol and Steve Stevens

Written by Idol and Stevens for the soundtrack to the 1994 film of the same name, starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, “Speed” moves as fast as a speeding bus. The main song released for the film, “Speed” was arranged using a similar guitar riff and drum beat to Idol’s 1983 hit “Rebel Yell.”

Running from the nightmare
In the middle of the road
Hell’s no place for sleeping
In a world beyond control
Caught in the headlights
Coming after you
When I woke up this morning
I had to do what I gotta do
Blast me to heaven for loving you

8. “Scream” (2005)
Written by Billy Idol and Brian Tichy

In his typical, sex-charged fashion, “Scream” is another high-powered rocker that was released as the lead single from Idol’s sixth album Devil’s Playground. The album also featured a laidback take on the mid-century folk song “Plastic Jesus,” originally recorded by The Goldcoast Singers as a spoof in 1962.

You can fill my cup, you can fill my bowl
This train is ready to roll, your eyes of fire
Have stole my soul
Still comin’ back for more

9. “Bitter Taste” (2021)
Written by Billy Idol, Sam Hollander, Tommy English, Joseph Robert Janiak

Idol’s 2021 EP The Roadside was inspired by several big life changes, including the loss of his mother and welcoming his new grandchild in 2020. Reflecting on passing lives and new beginnings, Idol also revisited an event that changed his life, a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly cost him one of his legs and his life. Unable to write about the accident for decades, Idol finally faced it on the stripped back “Bitter Taste.” Exposing old wounds and regrets, Idol sings There’s a million ways to die / Should’ve left me way back … By the roadside.

“I’ve never really written a song reflecting back on the motorcycle accident, because I couldn’t wait for it to be 20 years later, and now it’s 31 years,” shared Idol. “I don’t know about everybody else but for me personally, you have to let things marinate, and you never know how long that gestation period is going to last. The motorcycle accident is something I had 30 years to marinate and think about that.”

Idol underwent seven hours of surgery to repair a fractured forearm and his leg, which was fractured between the knee and ankle.

“It was great to be able to write that song because it helped put it to bed,” added Idol. “I was lucky that they could fix my leg. There was no permanent damage or anything, and in the end, it actually turned out all right, but it was touch and go at certain times. It still stays with me, and I don’t ride high. That was the idea of the motorcycle, it was a buzz unto itself, invincibility, but don’t do it. It’s not worth it.”

I’m gonna ride this bike to the edge of town
Roll to the bridge with my eyes shut
And spit at the stars
And scream in the dark
There’s nothing I can do to change it now
But if I cut myself open, baby
You can read all my scars
Read all my scars

10. “Running from the Ghost” (2022)
Written by Billy Idol, Steve Stevens, Tommy English, Joseph Robert Janiak

The heavier “Running from the Ghost,” off Idol’s 2022 EP The Cage, starts softly on piano before powering up around more sobering lyrics.

“We were pretty fired up by the fact that we hadn’t played for a couple of years, and suddenly we were bursting on stage, and it kind of woke us up to what the next EP could be,” said Idol of the EP. “It could be a little more rock and roll, a little more fuck you! Well, a tiny bit of fuck you, anyhow. The bottom line is we had a lot of fun doing it.”

I’m running from the ghost
The ghost inside of me
Heavy on my mind

Still fight him in my sleep
I see him all the time
The Jekyll to my Hyde
Down each and every road
No matter where I go
I’ll be running from the ghost

(Photo Credit: Steven Sebring / Courtesy of Sacks & Co.)

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