Billy Idol: Generation X (1976-1981)

Generation X: Also known as Gen X
Origin: Chelsea, London, United Kingdom
Genres: Punk rock, pop punk, new wave
Years active: 1976–1981
Label: Chrysalis
Original members: Billy Idol
Tony James, John Towe, 
Bob Andrews, Mark Laff

Generation X was part of the first wave of U.K. punk rockers. They were one of the first punk bands to appear on the British TV music program Top of the Pops. Their song, "Wild Youth," was ranked number 20  in Mojo's list of the best punk rock singles ever.


Billy Idol's music career began 1976 as guitarist for the punk rock band Chelsea. The original line-up was vocalist Gene October, guitarist William Broad (later known as Billy Idol), bassist Tony James, and drummer John Towe. October convinced Broad (aka Idol) to adopt a 1950s rocker style and attitude. 

L-R: John Towe (drums), Billy Idol (guitar), 
Gene October (vocals), Tony James (bass)

After only a few weeks, including three support gigs playing cover versions of other bands' songs, Idol, James, and Towe left to form Generation X. Gene October recruited a new line-up and recorded Chelsea's debut single, "Right to Work."  The band's most famous song ranks 62  in the Mojo list of the best punk rock singles ever.

Generation X

As Broad tells it when he was a student, one of his teachers wrote on his paper, "Billy is very idle!" To avoid confusion with the Monty Python cast member Eric Idle and for other obvious reasons, Broad adopted the name "Billy Idol." He abandoned the guitar and became the lead singer of the new band. Seventeen-year-old lead guitarist Bob "Derwood" Andrews was recruited from the band Paradox. 

Soon after formation, the group stopped playing covers in its live performances around London and began writing its own material. Idol wrote the music around James' lyrics. Their first gig was at the Central School of Art and Design on December 10,  1976. Their second appearance was four days later at The Roxy's newly opened venue. Generation X was the first band to play at the venue. The 18-year-old Mark Laff replaced John Towe on drums, and the band signed onto Chrysalis Records.

Your Generation (1977)

In September 1977, Generation X was among the first punk outfits to appear on the B.B.C.'s mainstream pop music program, Top of the Pops. The song they performed, "Your Generation," was transparently inspired by the Who's "My Generation." 

Generatin X featuring Billy Idol ecru photo with red letters albam cover

This furthered the charge against the band by the burgeoning underground music scene, namely that they were sellouts and not real 'punk rockers.' Their songs were simply upgraded mid-'60s British pop. Idol told the Daily Telegraph on July 24, 2008: 

"We were saying the opposite to the Clash and the Pistols. They were singing 'No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones,' but we were honest about what we liked. The truth was, we were all building our music on the Beatles and the Stones. I didn't want to be in an 'agitprop' band."

Wild Youth (1977)

Cover art for Generation X single Wild Youth with four band members individual photos colorized and robotized

Two months later, in mid-November 1977,  Generation X released "Wild Youth." The single's cover art featured four individual colorized Warhol-like portraits of the band members. It failed to chart in the U.K., which might explain how it ranked number 20 on Mojo's list of the best punk rock singles of all time.

King Rocker (1979)

In January 1979, the band released King Rocker, their commercial career high point, going to number 11 on the United Kingdom's singles chart. In the same 2008 interview with the Daily Telegraph previously quoted, Idol explained: "We wrote 'King Rocker' about John Lennon and Paul McCartney having a fight with Elvis about who was the king of rock and roll."

Dancing With Myself (1980-81)

Besides singles and E.P.s, Generation X recorded two full-length albums with their original line-up; the self-titled Generation X and Valley of the Dolls in 1978. After the other band members left in 1979, Tony James and Billy Idol put together a new version of the band. "Dancing with Myself," written by Idol and James, was first released as a single and a 12" in 1980 and, a few weeks after the single release was included on the band's last album, 1981's Kiss Me Deadly


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