Back To The Valley Of The Dolls
Before Billy Idol became a transatlantic megastar and Tony James inflicted Sigue Sigue Sputnik
and the utterly dismal Carbone/Silicon on the world, they could both be found running with the
boss sound in Generation X. Punk Rocker looks back to the times when they were wild, young
and in love with rock 'n' roll, along with a discography which is probably out of date as we speak.
THE REAPPEARANCE of Billy Idol this month playing his first UK tour in 12 years could signal the beginnings of a major
rock 'n' roll revolution you know, the one postponed from a couple of years ago. But there again now Billy's approaching
50 now, so maybe even with all those rammed packed shows it was all a little wishful thinking.
Then again, it might just herald another string of wank records, empty concert halls and embarrassing live stunts from
Tony James' and Mick Jones, as we watch in a somewhat sad kinda way their 21st century decline into has been's.
But it wasn't always like this. When James left no-hope punk band Chelsea to co-found Generation X in December
1976, he was setting out on a path that would lead to some of the greatest no-frills rock music of the decade.
Accompanying him on
this brave crusade were
John Towe, and guitarist
, Billy Idol who
immediately switched to
vocals when the new
combo was formed.
A suitably melodramatic
axeman was found in
Bob 'Derwood' Andrews -
and a name.
Generation X, from the
title of a pulp '60s
paperback book of
shock interviews about
sex, drugs and rock 'n'
roll with teenagers of
Initial gigs - including
the opening night at the
legendary Roxy club -
went well. Generation
X soon had a
as a live band.
Sniffin' Glue fanzine wrote: "They care about melody and arrangement. . . they sing songs about a new way of life."
By snubbing the standard (and generally farcical) 'working class, bored and angry' punk stance, the group incurred a
certain amount of derision from the music press, who treated them as something of a joke.
But their blend of rousing youth anthems, good looks, a distinctive home made visual style, and a wide array of potent
'60s trappings (old Who riffs, target T-shirts) had already won over a full-scale army of devotees.
John Towe left early in 1977, to be replaced by Subway Sect's Mark Laff. But Generation X, inexplicably, were the last
of the initial wave of punk groups to find a record deal, and their first single, 'Your Generation', didn't emerge until
In those speedy days, it was at least six months too late for surging call-to-arms to be taken entirely seriously.
Another glorious punk battle-hymn, 'Wild Youth', followed soon after, and the self-titled debut album was eventually
released in the Spring of 1978.
It was worth the wait. Produced by Martin Rushent, who had
catapulted the Stranglers to regulars in the National charts.
'Generation X' was an irrepressible record, a classic collection of
stormy pop tunes and tales of spikey-topped reprobates living it
up in the big city.
Their third single, "Ready Steady Go' (a stirring paean to the
Swinging '60s, full of stinging guitars and feverish hooks), made it
into the Top 50.
Generation X pursued a solid gigging policy (often with love-
struck girls screaming in the front rows) and their reputation
continued to grow - as did Billy Idol's ego.
'King Rocker' hit the shops in time for Christmas '78. Assisted by
a brazenly rigged marketing strategy, involving a choice of four
alternative picture sleeves, and four colours of vinyl, the single
soared up to a giddy number eleven spot.
Unfortunately, the sight of Idol strutting around on Top Of The
Pops - complete with black leathers and exaggerated Elvis sneer
wasn't much of a turn-on for the great British public in general
but it certainly captivated the screaming teens.
Commercially, the band had now peaked.
A kitsch gem, 1979's 'Valley Of The Dolls' album (produced by (ex-Mott The Hoople mainman Ian Hunter) came to you
dripping with ostentatious guitar licks, riffs and solos. It was little short of a masterpiece, on which Idol and James pursued
their young-and-in-love-with-rock 'n' roll theme almost to the point of self-parody.
'Valley Of The Dolls' was panned by the press.
Generation X's obsession with the classic rock aesthetic and penchant for assorted hair dyes and guerilla stagerags
was just not on as the new wave began to embrace the trenchcoat-and-trauma style of the latest Liverpool and
Manchester groups. The album, and its accompanying singles, fared little better with the public. The inevitable finally
occurred when Mark Laff and Bob Andrews became unhappy with the new, more lightweight direction Billy Idol's music was
They quit the band. Later, Laff was to turn up as founder member of Twenty Flight Rockers, and a rather podgier
Derwood as a member of Westworld. Idol and James were left to pick up the pieces in time for a third album and a new
With the name shortened to Gen X, the remaining members
succeeded in recruiting original Clash drummer Terry Chimes,
but they still needed a guitarist.
Desperate times called for desperate measures, and the result
was an album crammed full of guest guitarists (John McGeogh
and Steve Jones were among them).
'Kiss Me Deadly' had a mixed reception. By now the confused
state of the band had most fans totally baffled, and by the time a
permanent guitarist was found in James Stevenson (oddly
enough, poached from Chelsea), it was too late.
In January 1981, with 'Kiss Me Deadly' fading into insignificance
behind him, Billy Idol put survival before honour and caught a
plane to New York.
Idol turned the last Gen X single. 'Dancing With Myself, into a
solo US hit - and finally set about becoming the international
star he'd always threatened to be.
Meanwhile, Tony James was back in Blighty, preparing to launch
one of the biggest hypes in pop history. . .
Generation X Discography
SINGLES - ALBUMS