Thursday, April 8, 2010

Video Affects - Billy Idol: Hot In The City, 1982

In 1981 William 'Billy Idol' Broad of defunct latterday UK punk act Generation X crossed the Atlantic to carve out a new career as a solo artist. He took with him a version of the band's earlier song Dancing With Myself and an image carefully combining the sneer of Presley, the patois of Iggy, the hair of Sid Vicious and the bleach of Sting. The music was as carefully pruned - Dancing, with its 4/4 beat and "whoah-oh" rejoinders could have been a longer, more commercially-lucrative Ramones track, the guitar work of Steve Stevens was an essential element in hardening an instrumental approach that owed as much to synthesisers, and yet with Hot In The City there's a look back in its pretence of earlier rhythmic trappings, and the inclusion of female backing singers (not an obvious punk ingredient) adds to this. The song's beat isn't dissimilar to Springsteen's Hungry Heart, two years older and also checking the rear vision mirror with its influences. Where Hot differs is the then ultra modern 80s punk look of its singer and the video tailored for the song.

This is the earlier version of two - the second, with a mock crucifixion (Idol being as willing to adopt the cross and rosary that the likes of Prince and Madonna would make emblematic) fell foul of MTV and was censored, but no matter - it's this version that made the impact on me. A girl walks into a record store, sees Idol's single sleeve which (with the aid of a not that convincing vis-mix) morphs into the man himself, and the song begins, Idol's face burned and overexposed with some rudimentary post-production, and some appropriate explosive images key in the background to denote - y'know, hotness and all that. If you've seen the video and on the evidence of my previous post you can probably guess the rest - some of said images are of atom bomb tests with the required infernal mushroom clouds, disintegrating model towns and burning living trees. Striking stuff; arresting images, and though I’d have had to recognise them for what they were I'm convinced that this is the first time I saw those now-ubiquitous film sequences. They freaked the hell out of me given that I was twelve and starting to notice the wider world around me.

The images after twenty years plus perhaps another thirty to forty don't carry the weight they must have back in their day or mine. The regularity with which they've been used counts towards that, as well as their replacement by other, more recent images - I can probably name videos which have include Kennedy's assassination and the destruction of the World Trade Center, for example, but those examples as much as this have affected me in the idle (sorry) way that documented historical footage and images can be adopted in the name of popular entertainment - in the case of Hot the images are in the background, 'filler' rather than focus, simply there to neatly underline a suggestive lyric. But it never left me that on seeing them at the time and some time afterwards their appropriation seemed somehow wrong - this was weapons testing, a show of strength and power and utter annihilation backing a song about feeling a bit 'restless'? Very punk and confrontational, I suppose, though not quite swastika armbands on Bill Grundy's Today show. But then even to twelve year old me Billy Idol wasn't punk, he was pop, and the visual collision of those two worlds shook me and scared me.

Mind you, for what it was worth, Idol's first couple of albums aren't bad, but that third one was a stinker.

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe I misspelled 'Broad' as "Borad" in the first sentence. I have been too obvious with my Timelash-love, I think.