VodkaPundit

Friday Night Videos

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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.