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Generation x

Of the bands that came out of the first wave of British punk, Generation X were (along with the Buzzcocks) one of the few who believed you could embrace a pop sensibility and still sound authentically punk. On their self-titled 1978 debut album, they played songs that were fast, tough, and energetic, but also had pop hooks and hummable melodies that made them user friendly in a way the Sex Pistols, the Damned, and the Clash were not. They were also less musically doctrinaire than other bands on the scene, proudly embracing glam influences on 1979's Valley of the Dolls, and adding a dance-friendly pulse to their third and final LP, 1981's Kiss Me Deadly. Generation X were not particularly long-lived, but they would cast a long shadow of influence. Lead singer Billy Idol would go on to a wildly successful solo career, and bassist Tony James later launched electro-punk hitmakers Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Generation X first came together in 1976, when the London punk scene was beginning to coalesce. John Krivine, the owner of a punk-friendly clothing shop called Acme Attractions, wanted to form a band to back a friend of his, vocalist John O'Hara, who soon adopted the stage name Gene October. An advert in the weekly music newspaper Melody Maker put Krivine and October in touch with William Broad, an aspiring guitarist and singer from Bromley, and John Towe, a drummer from London's West End. At Broad's suggestion, bassist Tony James from Twickenham was brought on board. As it happened, Broad and James already had punk cred -- the former was part of the Bromley Contingent, a group of Sex Pistols fans who followed the band from gig to gig, and James was a member of the pre-punk band London SS, whose lineup also included Mick Jones (who went on to join the Clash), and Brian James (who would co-found the Damned). The band was called Chelsea, but it soon became clear that October wasn't impressed with his backing musicians, who were equally disenchanted with their frontman. Tensions finally came to the breaking point when Broad, James, and Towe quit Chelsea midway through a gig in November 1976. October would go on to recruit new musicians and Chelsea would cut the classic 1977 single "Right to Work," the first salvo in a long career on the U.K. punk circuit. Broad, James, and Towe promptly formed a band of their own, with the addition of guitarist Bob "Derwood" Andrews, who previously played in the group Paradox. The band felt Broad was a better singer than a guitarist, and his charisma and playful arrogance made him an ideal frontman, so he adopted the stage name Billy Idol and became the new act's lead vocalist. They named themselves Generation X, taken from an influential book published in the mid-'60s on the subculture of the Mods. They played their first public gig at London's Central School of Art & Design on December 10, 1976, and several days later, they were among the very first bands to play at the Roxy, London's first club devoted exclusively to punk rock. In February 1977, Generation X recorded a five-song demo tape, with two of the tracks ("Your Generation" and "Listen") issued on a privately released promo single. The following April, they played their first European date, a show in Paris with the Jam and the Police, and recorded a live session for BBC Radio. By the end of April, the group sacked drummer John Towe, who soon signed on to work with Alternative TV; former Subway Sect drummer Mark Laff soon took his place behind the drum kit, and the band ramped up their already busy touring schedule. Chrysalis Records signed Generation X to a recording contract in July 1977, and after abortive sessions with Bill Price, the group cut sessions with producer Phil Wainman that resulted in their proper debut single, "Your Generation" b/w "Day by Day." Though Elton John criticized the A-side as "dreadful garbage," the record was a hit, making it to number 36 in the British singles charts, and they made an appearance in T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan's short-lived Granada Television variety show Marc, as well as a spot on BBC-TV's venerable music series Top of the Pops. "Your Generation" was soon followed by "Wild Youth," which featured a reggae-influenced dub mix of the same track on the flipside. In March 1978, Generation X's debut album, simply titled Generation X, appeared in shops; produced by Martin Rushent, the album was a commercial success in the U.K. -- topping out at number 29 on the British album charts -- and merited an American release that lopped off two tracks in favor of adding a cover of John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth" and the previously released single versions of "Your Generation" and "Wild Youth." In October 1978, Generation X began recording their second album with Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople (one of the few British rock stars of the '70s who was openly enthusiastic about punk) producing the sessions. By this time, the group was falling out of favor with rock critics and punk purists for their pop-influenced singles and lack of strong political commentary in their music, and 1979's Valley of the Dolls only added fuel to the fire with its glossier sound and unabashed glam and mainstream rock influences. (Significantly, Hunter was unhappy with Laff's drumming, and former Jethro Tull percussionist Clive Bunker was brought in to double up on some of the rhythm tracks.) While two hit singles were drawn from the LP, "King Rocker" (number 11 on the U.K. singles chart) and the title track (number 23), the album's sales were significantly less than that of the debut, the critical reception was largely negative, and Chrysalis was unhappy with the group's commercial fortunes. Tensions grew within the group, especially between Idol and James, with the former unhappy about how the latter's creative choices (especially bringing in Hunter to produce) hadn't worked in their favor. Meanwhile, Andrews and Laff were unhappy with their lack of input into the band's songwriting and musical approach, and after acrimony led to the group abandoning sessions for a projected third album, Andrews and Laff left the band and formed a new project, Empire. Empire released one album, 1981's Expensive Sound, before splitting up; it was a commercial failure, but it would later be cited as a key influence by the Stone Roses and Fugazi. With only half of the band left, Idol and James abbreviated their name to GenX and brought former Clash drummer Terry Chimes into the lineup. Former Rich Kids guitarist Stella Nova was also on board for the sessions for a GenX album, but she proved unreliable, and Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), Danny Kustow (Tom Robinson Band), and John McGeoch (Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees) would all play on the album that became 1981's Kiss Me Deadly. The album was produced by Keith Forsey, and added danceable rhythms to the band's pop-influenced tunes, but the band was on its last legs, and Chrysalis was more eager to promote Idol as a solo artist. The Kiss Me Deadly album included the track "Dancing with Myself," which fared well as a single in the U.K., but after GenX finally came to an end, Chrysalis issued it as a Billy Idol solo single in the United States, where it made a strong impression on the dance charts and became a breakthrough success on MTV, paving the way for Idol's rise to pop stardom in the 1980s. While Idol became a major star, Bob "Derwood" Andrews, after the breakup of Empire, went on to work with the bands Westworld, Moondogg, and Speedtwin, as well as cutting solo albums. Mark Laff joined the Twenty Flight Rockers, and briefly performed with a reunited Subway Sect and Walter Lure's Heartbreakers repertoire band LAMF, but devoted most of his time to a new career as a holistic lifestyle therapist. Tony James maintained a high profile with the purposefully trashy electro-punk band Sigue Sigue Sputnik, who scored a massive hit with the 1986 single "Love Missile F1-11." He'd later form the group Carbon/Silicon, who blended rock and electronics, with his onetime London SS bandmate Mick Jones. In 1993, Generation X staged a one-off reunion show in London, but there was no further activity from the group until 1998, when an album appeared called Sweet Revenge, consisting of unreleased demos of material the group was working on shortly before Andrews and Laff quit the group. Andrews coordinated the release, without the participation of the other group members; an expanded edition appeared in 2004 as K.M.D.: Sweet Revenge Xtra. The recordings would also appear on EMI's 2003 three-disc, career-spanning collection Anthology. In 2018, Billy Idol and Tony James introduced a new project, Generation Sex, that matched them with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols; various problems, including health issues and the COVID-19 pandemic, kept the band from touring for several years, but they returned in 2023 with a performance at the U.K.'s biggest live music event, the Glastonbury Festival.
© Mark Deming /TiVo


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