Thursday, June 4, 2015

Billy Idol, "Dancing with Myself"

Probably the best anecdote from last Friday's Billy Idol show at Pier 97 is that he kept changing the lyrics to his songs to be about New York. Every artist who has ever headlined a bigger venue than a club does this, but there's nobody like Billy Idol, who changed every verse of "Dancing with Myself" ("If I had a chance to ask NEW YORK to dance!"), all of his "L.A. Woman" cover ("NEW YORK woman!") and maybe a dozen other verses to reference the city in which he was performing. At first the crowd ate it up, applauding wildly at every namecheck, but then he did it so much that his "New York!" shout became silly and a little annoying, and the crowd stopped responding. But he kept at it, screaming the city's name and interjecting it into enough lyrics that all of us were cheering and singing along with him by the end.

It's story which applies to Idol's career--cheerful, loud, brash and over the top until it became self-parody, but persistent and exuberant enough that by keeping it up he became cool all over again. His records don't sell like they used to, but neither do George Michael or Prince's, and as Idol's performance last week proved, he's got enough hits and charisma to bring in crowds and start parties long after he's topped any charts.

"Dancing with Myself" was first recorded by Idol's pre-stardom punk band Generation X, and is as much a Generation X song as "Careless Whisper" belongs to Wham!. I've always liked it, and perhaps taken it for granted thanks to its ubiquity. But my friend at Friday's show pointed out to me that it's a perfect example of a song that was written for everyone. It's just punk, pop, dance and rockabilly enough, and loaded with a universal theme, to get anyone in the world on the dance floor. Punk kids who think "White Wedding" is a sellout like this song, as do parents who told their kids to turn down "Rebel Yell". Countless artists have tried to write songs that everyone will like, so I'm impressed that this one works so effortlessly, from the Buddy Holly-worthy hiccups to the perfectly-composed progression (notice how the riff completely different from the bass line, and yet the synch up perfectly). Of course Billy didn't have a chance to ask the world to dance. He never had to ask.

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