Billy Idol: Dancing With Myself (1981)

Dancing with Myself
Single by Gen X
Album: Kiss Me Deadly
Released: October 1980
Label: Chrysalis
Songwriters: Billy Idol, Tony James

Billy Idol emerged from the London punk rock scene in the 1970s as the lead singer of a band called Generation X. His real name is William Broad.

While a student, his Chemistry teacher wrote on his report card, "William is an idle student." Broad wanted to use the stage name Billy Idle but chose the spelling "Idol" to avoid confusion with Monty Python cast member Eric Idle.


Chelsea punk band
L-R: Tony James, Billy Idol, Gene October

Idol began his music career in late 1976, playing guitar for the newly formed West London 1960s retro-rock band Chelsea. Gene October, singer/front-man for the band, styled Idol's image. He advised Billy to replace his near-sighted eyeglasses with contact lenses, dye his hair blonde, and get a retro-1950s rocker crew cut. 

Generation X

Generation X punk band
Generation X

After only a few weeks with Chelsea, Idol and Tony James, the band's bass guitarist, quit the group and started Generation X. Idol switched from guitarist to singer/front-man. Generation X - aka Gen X signed with Chrysalis Records, released three albums, performed in the 1980 film D.O.A., and then disbanded.

Dancing With Myself

The song really is about people being in a disenfranchised world
where they're left bereft, dancing with their own reflections.
Billy Idol in a Rolling Stone interview

"Dancing with Myself" was released in the United Kingdom in 1980 from the last Gen X album,  Kiss Me Deadly.

When Idol left the band and came to New York for his solo career, he wasn't sure what to do. Feeling depressed, he went out to a nightclub. While in the bar, suddenly, a crowd merged onto the dance floor. The song that got them moving was "Dancing With Myself." Idol realized this was a hot sound, and he should run with it. He evolved his punk roots into a new wave/dance style.

His producer remixed "Dancing With Myself," fading down the guitar and bass tracks and accentuating the vocal and percussion tracks to produce a more rhythmic sound for the American commercial market. It was Idol's first hit single in the United States, making him one of the biggest stars of the '80s. 

Billy Idol
Billy Idol

Some listeners thought "Dancing With Myself" was about masturbation. According to Idol, he got the idea after watching Japanese kids "dancing with themselves" at a Tokyo disco in a nightclub. The kids would dance in a pogo style up and down and watch themselves in the club's mirrors. 

Idol told Rolling Stone magazine:  "The song is about people being in a disenfranchised world where they're left bereft, dancing with their reflections." He conceded, however, that there is "some sort of masturbatory element" to the song.


I wanted to put a sexual feeling into it,
and that's when I started doing with songs
like 'Dancing With Myself.'

A music video for the newly launched MTV was made for the 1981 United States single release. Directed by Tobe Hooper, it featured Billy Idol in a scenario drawn from the 1971 film The Omega Man. A lone figure in a post-apocalyptic cityscape, he's besieged on a skyscraper rooftop by partying mutant street waifs. n Guitar Center Sessions, Idol explained:

"With 'Dancing With Myself,' I was trying to put back in punk energy, but streamline the music at the same time and make it great to dance to and slightly more sexual - some of the things that punk precluded because it was a sort of gang kind of music. I wanted to put a sexual feeling into it, and that's when I started doing songs like 'Dancing With Myself.'"


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