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Top 7 Billy Idol Songs of the '80s

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In a visual sense, Billy Idol has consistently remained one of the most memorable and beloved icons of the '80s. But it's important to note that Idol most definitely distinguished himself in a musical manner as well, producing one of rock and roll's most seamless hybrid forms of punk rock-inspired melodic hard rock that could also double convincingly as new wave and dance pop. Here's a look at some of Idol's finest '80s tunes, most but not all of them achieving major hit status.

1. "Baby Talk"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Chrysalis

Never during his successful pop music career did Billy Idol link more directly to his recent punk rock past than on this fine, uptempo track from his debut EP, 1981's Don't Stop. Possessing a singing voice full of attitude and swagger certainly didn't hurt Idol in making a transition to pop star, if for no other reason because it projected an edgy danger needed to separate him from the rest of the pack. After all, aside from the glossy, sneering, spiked blonde image, Idol has always been a skilled showman capable of shining just as brightly on record as on a TV screen. By reaching back to his Generation X days for simple, punchy riffs and catchy yet stylized melodies, Idol served notice that he would become and remain an '80s fixture.

2. "Dancing With Myself"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Chrysalis
Speaking of simple riffs and the need for punk rock cred, Idol borrowed one of his most successful tracks originally performed with Generation X to splash himself all over the video pop culture map. Idol quickly proved a good match for the new decade's fresh visual medium, but even more importantly he demonstrated a willingness to cross genres without lingering in thought over the decision, which made his brand of dance music epitomized here feel organic and immediate instead of cynical or canned. Though Beavis and Butthead did their best during the '90s to propagate the idea of this tune as masturbation metaphor, it's really a simple musing about the act of dancing itself, with self-consciousness tossed aside in prime Billy Idol style.

3. "Hot in the City"

An infectiously playful Idol fully embraced synthesized keyboards for the first time on this tune, a song that quickly begins to communicate just how dominant and on target the singer was during his first two or three years as a solo artist. Few '80s icons had the ability to blend dance and rock music this effectively, as Idol refused to abandon loud guitars even as his crossover appeal continued to reach new levels. Also painfully underrated as a songwriter, Idol always exhibited an uncanny ability to compose melodies and interpret them vocally as if each song had been around for a couple of decades. So, despite all the ways Idol's music and image seemed dated during the '80s, his musical offerings always had plenty of room to breathe.

4. "White Wedding"

Having always believed that this song was a smash hit in 1983, I was amazed to discover that it actually cracked the Top 40 by only the smallest of margins, instead gaining most of its favor on rock radio and MTV. I think it's probably easy to underestimate Idol's firm status as a rock musician simply because of his universal and often overpowering image as an '80s icon. This alternately delicate and aggressive rocker would deserve praise in any era as a straight-ahead rocker, but in the subtle hands of Idol the tune becomes something more entirely. As a performer, he managed to stay impressively true to the renegade, unpredictable nature of rock and roll even as he dialed into its mainstream as well as intriguingly gothic potential.

5. "Catch My Fall"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Chrysalis

Though a bit heavy on the saxophones, this sleeper track from Idol's most well-known album, 1983's Rebel Yell, proves the singer's increasing value as a treasure of the '80s. His vocal performance certainly revealed Idol's abundance of charisma, but it's easy to forget that he was also one of the era's most expressive singers. This tune failed to become a full-fledged hit for a variety of reasons, but it was certainly good enough to take over radio. Sporting a great central lyric ("If I should stumble, catch my fall") along with some singular guitar work from Idol's new collaborator, Steve Stevens, the tune represents the depth of quality of this artist's work during his mid-'80s peak.

6. "Rebel Yell"

This is an '80s song everyone knows and has heard dozens of times, and yet somehow it manages to hold up to all that exposure as an exemplary slice of rock and roll. The fact of the matter is that no one got away with more vocal swagger and edge during the '80s and lived to tell about it as a pop star than this former punker. The addition of Stevens on guitar had most definitely cemented Idol's sound, but the real reason for Idol's huge success with this album lies within his ability to convey an unusual level of energy and danger through a flashy but ultimately non-threatening visage. Sure, Idol's leather-studded, spiked blond look scared plenty of parents, but fans generally understood his strength was showmanship, not menace.

7. "Eyes Without a Face"

Despite the fact that he enjoyed several more years of stardom that extended into the '90s and beyond, Idol reached his pinnacle in every way with this classic pop tune. I probably should amend that last part, as out of nowhere Idol and, especially, Stevens transform this song into a fierce rocker featuring one of the decade's most electrifying guitar riffs. Hardly any artist of the era had a greater ability to mix pop and rock than Idol, even though it seemed at times during the decade that no one ever tried to do anything else. The difference between Idol and all the rest was that he succeeded in this area without forcing the issue, something that feels like a minor miracle given the former punker's ripeness for total commodification.
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