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VodkaPundit

Friday Night Videos

September 20th, 2013 - 9:13 pm

As I’ve written before, rock really lost its way in the ’70s. Glam acts like Queen (RIP, Freddy Mercury) were supposed to be outrageous, but it seemed everybody felt the need to go disco or glitter or add a giant string section. New Wave came along to rectify that, a stripped-down musical movement self-consciously naming itself after the stripped-down French cinema movement of the ’60s. Acts as diverse as Blondie, Talking Heads, Billy Joel (his Glass Houses was a New Wave album) and Billy Idol were even including French in some of their lyrics.

Idol liked to call himself a punk rocker, and he certainly dressed the part — but c’mon, really. He had the synths, the band had the musical skills, the studio production teams had the pop sensibility… Idol could yell “PUNK!” like a rebel all night long, but he was pure New Wave. The punk attire just let white suburban kids pretend they were all angry and outsidery and stuff, just like most radio hip-hop does for white suburban kids today. And I mean no insult — way back when, I was one of those white suburban kids. Good times.

Idol made his name with harder-edged stuff like “Rebel Yell” and “White Wedding,” and I won’t even describe to you how seriously I used to get into the over-the-top dance floor fun of his cover of “Mony Mony.” But I always thought he was at his best doing mid-tempo songs like “Flesh For Fantasy” and tonight’s pick, “Eyes Without A Face.”

The title references a 1960 French-Italian horror movie of the same name. The movie “Eyes Without A Face” didn’t go nearly as far as the Italian gorefest pictures that followed in its wake, but like Billy Idol, it went far for its time. What keeps me coming back to the song is the bridge. It kicks in — and kicks up — with a Steve Stevens guitar solo, and then Idol comes back with some great imagery from a road trip I’d still kill to go on:

When you hear the music you make a dip
Into someone else’s pocket then make a slip
Steal a car and go to Las Vegas
Oh, the gigolo pool

Hanging out by the state line
Turning Holy Water into wine
Bringing it down

I’m on a bus on a psychedelic trip
Reading murder books tryin’ to stay hip
I’m thinkin’ of you, you’re not there so

Say your prayers
Say your prayers
Say your prayers

Maybe what makes Idol’s mid-tempo music work so well is the tension between his almost languid phrasing and Stevens’ ripping guitar work.

All the things New Wave was known for — synthesizers, pure rock guitar, ear-candy production values, big hair, an inventive video, pretentious use of French, obscure movie references, and a sly eye on the pop charts — are all on display here in one wicked little ditty about lost love on a lost highway.

It just doesn’t get much better than that.

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All Comments   (16)
All Comments   (16)
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The Idol bridge (Eyes without a face) happened at 9 PM every week day night at the club I bartended at to mark the end of happy hour (the suits) and welcome the night life, which in boom town Midland, Texas at the time ended at sunrise many a night.

I honestly do not miss it. I sometimes do wonder how I survived it though. The Cold War was still raging, and everyone knew that Midland was a Tier 1 target for the Soviets. Strange times we live in now, where the biggest threat to the citizenry now comes from our own government.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
As a teenager, I was so turned off by Idol's fake punk pose that it took me well into my 20's to appreciate his music. Which is too bad because I could have used him best at 17 when I could first get into the dance clubs.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
I must not be able to speak English, because this, from Wikipedia, is gobbley-gook to me:
"In 1958, when Idol was two years old, his parents moved to Patchogue, on Long Island, New York, US. The family returned to the UK four years later with Idol and a younger child Jane (who had been born in the US), settling in Dorking, Surrey.[5] In 1971 the family moved to Bromley, southeastern London, where Idol attended Ravensbourne School for Boys. Idol (rather William Broad) also attended Worthing High School for Boys in West Sussex. In October 1975, Idol went to Sussex University, to pursue an English degree and lived on campus (East Slope) but left after year one (1976). He then went on to join the Bromley Contingent of Sex Pistols fans, a loose gang that travelled into town when the band played.[6][7]
Idol first joined the punk rock band Siouxsie and the Banshees (before the band had decided on that name) in 1976, but soon quit and joined Chelsea in 1977 as a guitarist. However, he and Chelsea bandmate Tony James soon left that group and co-founded Generation X, with Idol switching from guitarist to lead singer. Generation X were one of the first punk bands to appear on the BBC Television music programme Top of the Pops.[8] Although a punk rock band, they were inspired by mid-1960s British pop, in sharp contrast to their more militant peers, with Idol stating; "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".[6] Generation X signed to Chrysalis Records and released three albums and performed in the 1980 film, D.O.A., before disbanding."
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
I won't even give your comment about rock losing its way in the seventies the derision it deserves, which come from somebody currently listening to Nightmares On Wax but really, you lose your chops with that throw away comment my friend.

What I will say about mid tempo Idol tunes, and I say it with all due respect, is this: Voice like Bing, Hair like Sting. The million dollar combo!
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
More seriously, I'm not saying there wasn't good rock in the '70s. There was TONS of good rock in the '70s. But we're also talking about the decade of ELO, and when the Rolling Effing Stones even did an album (Some Girls) drenched from top to bottom with disco.

That's a hell of a long way -- and not all of it good -- from rock's humble roots.

New Wave wasn't perfect, and it was usually far from great. But at its best, New Wave did serve the vital interest of pulling rock back away from the stadium-level bloat it had grown to, and into a simpler and more honest form.

And then about ten second later, New Wave choked to death on its own excesses like Mama Cass with a ham sandwich.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Exactly my point. Don't forget the Stones began the decade with Exhile on Main Street, and I dig the ELO ref. truth be told, the seventies represent both the best and the worst of rock.

Perhaps the band that most personifies this phenomena is Aerosmith. I'll never forget my high school buddy giving me this cassette with glazed eyes. "Man, you gootta hear this" he said. This was Toys In The Attic, recorded off one speaker, and it still was awesome. Of course the decade finished with The Joe Perry Project, the live act of which comprised one good song and 12 angry rants about Steven Tyler. Good times.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Stones (Mick) also said that they didn't start making any REAL Money until they started doing Dance numbers.

It's called 'Show Business' for a reason.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
If your point is that, if you dig deep enough you can always find great music -- well, yeah. But the point of rock is that it supplanted pop as America's popular music. So to find out where rock was, you had to -- and don't turn your nose up, because you know it's true -- follow the charts.

It took me a long while to come to grips with that fact. But it is true.

So if you follow the charts, yeah, rock lost its way. But New Wave and punk helped strip it back down, adding some ironic wit and modern neuroses along the way.

But then Nirvana came along a little while later and I finally said, "Eff this, I'm listening to Tony Bennett."
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
No, my point is that inspite of the conventional wisdom that is reflected in your post, one doesn't need to dig far at all to find that the seventies were an outstanding decade for rock. While one can watch the charts "to find out where rock was", this is a bizarre and ultimately futile means of assessing he music scene. Sure maybe you would have ad fun at Studio 54, but "where rock was" was at CBGB's, Elvis's performance of Radio Radio on SNL, and at Malcolm Mcclarn's fetish shop in London, and Bono's mom's kichen in Ireland. The charts? Ya, that was the candy that tasted so good but left you unfulfilled, the volatility in music history the veered, but ultimately reverted to R&B's constant mean.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh, rock didn't lose its way and get stupidly self-indulgent in the '70s? Do you REALLY want to make your stand there?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApxnAr6pRt0
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sure, it's easy to pick a decade and find a rock act that became self indulgent. It's like the center for science in the public interest claiming McDonald's represents the sum total of american cuisine. It's as lazy as it is misleading. The seventies, we're deeply influential with great acts such as Iggy Pop, the Isley Bros, The Clash, Our Elvis, and others establishing the grooves that influence bands to this day.

Be careful where you tread brother, I respect your view, but a man's gotta know his limitations, or at least acknowledge the truth when he's been called out.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Just so you know, I believe our beloved VodkaPundit used to make his living as a DJ. I may not agree with him, as music, like any beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. However, you cannot say he loses his chops, just because you disagree with him. That's just hubristic and condescending.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you -- and I'm not being at all facetious -- for helping prove my point.

Iggy Pop -- punk, which was New Wave's even-more radical brother in the reaction against rock's excesses.

The Clash, same story.

Isley Bros. were pure R&B from rock's early days. They did have have great grooves in the '70s, but are hardly germane to this discussion, since they never moved away from the roots that made that great.

Elvis? I love me some Fat '70a Elvis. You want to put on A Little Less Conversation, and I'm going to say, "Turn it up to 11!" But if you want to argue that '70s Elvis -- dead on a toilet -- wasn't the epitome of the self-indulgence of '70s rock... well... you don't really want me to mention "In The Ghetto," do you?
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Slow down there Vodka Boy, you miss some key points. One, your point was that rock lost its way in the seventies. Nope, only some acts did and those that focused on those acts missed what the seventies truly where all about.

Case in point, I mentioned "Our Elvi", an obvious reference to Mr. C but you go to Presley who was completely spent as a creative force by 1965, and I'm being generous in that dating. This is what happens to those who focus on the charts, and not the art,

The Isleys? A hugely influential force on future bands, not the least of wgich is The Black Keys, and truly where rock was at in the seventies and ultimately where it was going.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're right: that hair, at least, definitely isn't punk.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
"...rock really lost its way in the ’70s."

Or earlier. When banjo boys began taking themselves seriously, as though their perpetually adolescent selves had some great message for the world. When reviewers began treating their bleating as revelation.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
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