David Bowie is the master of this particular skill, but failed British 1960’s teen Shane Fenton’s rebirth as mysterious glam-rocker Alvin Stardust is perhaps a better reference point for the transformation of Billy Idol.
Born William Broad in London, England, he renamed himself Billy Idol while a member of The Bromley Contingent, cult followers of the Sex Pistols, played for a while with the punk band Chelsea, and the went on to be the frontman of Generation X.
When he found it difficult to hit the big time in Britain, Billy relocated to NYC in 1981 and teamed up with KISS manager Bill Aucoin and guitarist and songwriter Steve Stevens.
As a solo act Billy contrived a new image that was part metal, part punk, and totally MTV friendly.
Conveying a rebellious personality with some slick bondage chick videos which played heavily on his over the top variation of the Elvis-James Dean sneer, Billy Idol was an ideal heavy rotation favorite, getting his first US Top 30 Hit with “Hot in the city”.
Billy’s blisteringly powerful but hardly innovative follow-up was ‘White Weeding’.
cleverly juxtaposing rebellious sentiments with traditional values, this was the one hit that eventually exported Billy Idol’s success back to the UK, giving him his first British Top 10 when reissued in 1985, after the release of the wildly successful Rebel Yell album.
A Little Bit of Billy in the 21st Century for your listening/viewing pleasure.
Apparently his old record label don’t have a clue and don’t want people sharing his older songs! Maybe someday they’ll learn!