Friday, May 28, 2010

May 28: Generation X, "Kiss Me Deadly"

Artist: Generation X
Song: "Kiss Me Deadly"
Album: Generation X
Year: 1978

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Though the history of recorded music is littered with countless songs of teenage rebellion and the general theme of the angst of youth, and overwhelming majority of these songs are either annoyingly cliché or simply sub-par.  Across every genre and era, one can find numerous examples of both good and bad songs of this nature, yet one can easily make the case that some of the most concentrated examples of how to “properly” portray these types of songs can be found during the “punk explosion” of the late 1970’s.  After dumping their frontman, Gene October, the other three-fourths of the band known as Chelsea began anew with the moniker Generation X.  The name, derived from the 1965 Jane Deverson book, commonly refers to those born during 1961-1981 and in many ways this was a fitting name, as the band made songs for “everyman,” and did a fantastic job of capturing the feelings of the youth of the day.  Bringing amazing amounts of attitude, yet having more concentration of the musical arrangements than many of the other London punk bands, Generation X made great inroads insofar as punk gaining a bit of pop exposure with moderate success of singles from their 1978 self-titled debut.  With the forceful, anthemic “Ready, Steady, Go” and the gritty, powerful “One Hundred Punk,” Generation X brilliantly walked the line between punk and pop in way unlike any other band of the era.  Yet their finest moment lives within what stands as their finest musical achievement, the angst-filled “bad boy” anthem, “Kiss Me Deadly.”

Standing today as one of the most heavily covered songs of the era, many know the song, yet few are aware of its origins.  As the song begins, it is immediately unlike any other punk tune, as it is soft, melodic, and certainly has very little of the stereotypical punk element at face value.  The riff and progression played by guitarist Bob “Derwood” Andrews is truly iconic, and its brilliance is a testament to both his talent as a musician in capturing the mood, but also to Tony James and Billy Idol as the duo share writing credits on every song on Generation X.  The song slowly builds, as the rhythm section of James on bass and drummer Mark Laff keep pushing the tempo and energy higher.  One can only imagine how much this would have “set off” clubs at the time, as even listening to the recording more than three decades later, the song still brings with it an amazing amount of intensity and excitement.  The way in which the music comes across can easily be interpreted as a reflection of the London youth at the time the album was recorded.  Though "Kiss Me Deadly" certainly has a more sonically appealing and less aggressive approach at the onset, by the time the song hits its stride, it is nothing short of a punk classic, and it is without question one of the finest compositions to come out of the late 1970's punk explosion.  As Generation X, the band bears little resemblance to their former band, and "Kiss Me Deadly" is perhaps the best example in history of the idea that "louder does not equal better or more powerful."

Along with the distinctive music, one cannot argue that Generation X also sports one of the most easily recognizable voices in music history in the form of Billy Idol.  Truth be told, in his days with Chelsea, he went by his real name (William Broad), but as soon as Generation X began, he took on this alter ego, and it has proven to be a fitting name over the decades.  Few performers have as "perfect" a snarl as Idol, and the emotion that he brings to "Kiss Me Deadly" is nothing short of extraordinary.  Clearly, the words he sings are something he himself has lived, and this close connection comes across in every line.  As previously stated, "Kiss Me Deadly" is one of the most accurate and honest descriptions of teen angst that one can find, and everything from teenage promiscuity to the dangers of London's streets at night are explored within the words.  The latter of these themes is directly addressed when Idol sings, "...When two punks chose to risk the subway, for a tube to Piccadilly..." and that he uses the word "risk," one can only imagine how hazardous the late night London streets were at the time.  Yet the brilliance of "Kiss Me Deadly" is the way in which Idol is able to keep a sense of innocence within the punk-framed vocal delivery.  The songs' third verse is perhaps the most honest depiction of teen love that has ever been recorded as Idol almost seems to joke, "...and later in a downstairs room, she pulls her lover ecstasy but they can't make a sound, in case her mother might come down..."  Certainly, this nervous scene that Idol paints is something all have experienced, and it is one of the most important pieces in making "Kiss Me Deadly" perhaps the most "authentic" song of teen angst and life ever recorded.

Though it is now perhaps lost in the spotlight of his solo work, one can easily make the case that the most significant work of the career of Billy Idol came during his stint as the frontman of the UK punk band, Generation X.  While the group as a whole was, at the time, overshadowed by the antics of The Sex Pistols and the sheer power of The Clash, one cannot deny their importance and influence on later bands, and their 1978 debut record remains an absolute classic of the era.  Finding a way to infuse a bit of musicality and pop sensibility into the still young punk style, Generation X were true pioneers, as they were one of the punk bands to get score appearances on television.  The entire sound of their self-titled debut is driven by the cocky snarl of Idol, and the band is able to make the music take on a similar tone. This creates the distinctive sound that "is" Generation X and with "Kiss Me Deadly," the band throws nearly every punk norm to the wayside and in the process creates something that isn't quite a ballad, but isn't quite "normal" rock; but a musical sound onto itself.  Whether it is the sensational tension built by the music, the amazing attitude from Idol’s vocals, or the utter honesty within the lyrics, there has truly never been another song quite like Generation X’s 1978 masterpiece, “Kiss Me Deadly.”

No comments: