Generation X (band)
|Also known as||Gen X|
|Origin||Chelsea, London, United Kingdom|
|Genres||Punk rock, dance-punk, pop punk, new wave|
|Years active||1976–1981, 1993|
Generation X (later known as Gen X) were an English punk rock/post punk band from London in the late 1970s, primarily remembered today for being the musical starting point of the career of its frontman/vocalist, Billy Idol.
Formation - 1976
During the punk rock pop music movement in London in late 1976, the guitarist William Broad, a 21 year old university drop-out from Bromley and associate of the Bromley Contingent; the drummer John Towe, a West End music shop assistant, and - at Broad's suggestion, having already met via an ad previously put in the Melody Maker by Broad seeking other musicians - Tony James, a 23 year old university graduate bass player from Twickenham and former member of the London S.S., all replied to an advert placed in the Melody Maker by John Krivine, the owner of a fashion clothing shop called Acme Attractions in the King's Road in Chelsea, seeking musicians to form a new West London band around the vocalist/frontman John O'Hara aka "Gene October". After a few weeks of rehearsals the band became known as Chelsea, and began by playing a few support gigs in West London and Manchester, primarily playing cover versions of rock and roll songs from the 1960s. However, by November Gene October felt that Broad and James were becoming too dominant creatively, and that his personal chemistry with them wasn't good, a feeling which they reciprocated, and Broad, James and Towe together abandoned Chelsea and formed a new band they named Generation X after a book with that title that James found that belonged to Broad's mother when visiting his family home. The new band was initially managed by Andrew Czezowski, Acme Attractions' accountant.
With his photogenic looks and inherent egotism Broad, styling himself with a punk pseudonym name of "Billy Idol", abandoned the guitar to be the frontman and lead singer of the new unit when the 17 year old lead guitarist Bob "Derwood" Andrews was recruited from the Fulham rocker band Paradox, and 'Generation X' took the stage for the first time in public at the Central School of Art and Design on 10 December 1976. The new band played its second gig 4 days later at the newly opened The Roxy, which their manager Czezowski had also taken over the management of, being the first to play at the venue. Soon after formation Generation X abandoned playing cover versions in its live performances around London of other acts' songs and began writing its own material, with Idol writing music around James' lyrical song constructions.
In early 1977 the management for the band was passed from Czezowoski, who preferred club management to live acts, to a dual management of Stewart Joseph, a fanzine promoter from Rough Trade Records, with the Sounds journalist Jonh Ingham, who professionalized the act's business aspect, and began approaching record companies to secure a recording deal for it.
In mid-March 1977, amidst a heavy performance schedule in London and increasingly beyond the confines of the capital city into England's provinces, notable for its physically demanding high-energy stage act, a gig had to be abandoned at the University of Leicester mid-performance due to Derwood Andrews requiring hospitalization from being struck on the head by a beer bottle thrown from the crowd. In mid-April 1977, having just played their first international date in Paris in a joint billing alongside the upcoming bands The Jam and The Police, and recorded Generation X's first live radio session at the British Broadcasting Corporation's Maida Vale Studios, John Towe was asked to leave the band by James and Idol as they felt that his style of playing was too overt for what they wanted from a drummer, and James, the band's strategist, had come to the view that Towe's personality didn't fit with the image that he was formulating the act into. Towe moved on to join a new outfit called Alternative TV.[Note 1]
He was replaced on drums by the 18 year old Mark Laff from North Finchley, recruited from Subway Sect after an extensive audition process for the vacancy organized by Idol and James, before the band signed to Chrysalis Records and released its first single, "Your Generation", in September 1977. "Your Generation" was produced by Phil Wainman, who wasn't impressed with the musical quality of the act, particularly with Laff's technical ability or with Idol's capacity as a singer, and in response to Idol's asking for his opinion during production as to whether he thought Generation X were "going to make it", replied in the negative. On release the single went to #36 in the U.K. Singles Chart. The band played the song on Marc Bolan's afternoon variety show, Marc, that same month using Granada Television's Manchester studio instruments for the performance, afterwards making off with the drum-kit and being banned by Granada for 10 years as a result.
Along with writing and performing the band's musical output, James and Idol around this period sought to extend the band's brand identity beyond purely the musical sphere by designing and manufacturing a series of op-art and pop-art T-shirts for use in Generation X's photo-shoots and live performances, and James was attentive to its public image conveyed in the act's dress and styling. The band's co-manager Jonh Ingham introduced them to the graphic artist Barney Bubbles, who with them created the cover for the Your Generation single release, drawing inspiration from the 1920s abstract geometric work of Russian designer El Lissitsky, which introduced the Russian Constructivist school into English pop music design, which would be utilized by other bands into the 21st Century. Bubbles was also commissioned by the band to design its newspaper adverts and posters.
In September 1977 Generation X was one of the first punk units to appear on the B.B.C.'s mainstream pop music programme Top of the Pops, and began to acquire some mass media recognition as one of the punk-rock acts that had an accessibility of sound and image with the potential to achieve commercial pop music success. Contrarily the same analysis led to recurring adverse criticism of the band in the media of the alternative music scene from which it had emerged, with a number of reviewers dismissing the act as artistically and intellectually vapid, and suggesting that it was using the guise of being a part of the punk movement cynically as a stepping-stone in pursuance of more prosaic pop music fame and fortune. As punk-rock developed an increasingly radical overtone, driven partly by the politicized content of the songs of The Clash, Generation X also faced accusations of being middle-class interlopers upon what was increasingly espoused as a working-class sub-culture movement, evidence for this being a story in circulation within the scene originating from the music journalist Tony Parsons of the New Musical Express that when Idol and James had turned up in a pub setting for an interview with it, on being asked what they wanted to drink, had asked for two orange juices.
Generation X stood out in the burgeoning milieu of punk-music bands for its combination of the raw raucous energy of punk-rock with a more commercially melodic sound and visual image in the tradition of earlier British pop music styles of the 1960s, drawing influences from bands such as The Who, The Kinks, The Small Faces, and The Beatles. It also produced songs that lyrically focused on the concerns of being an adolescent in West London in the late 1970s and, apart from playing a few gigs in support of Rock Against Racism, eschewed the societal commentary, cultural nihilism and radical politics of the punk movement, for which it drew some criticism from its peers, including John Lydon, the frontman-lyricist of the preeminent Sex Pistols.
Towards the end of 1977 Jonh Ingham resigned from Generation X's management, leaving Stewart Joseph in sole charge.
The band kept a hectic touring schedule throughout Great Britain through 1978, which included the event of a Hell's Angel in the crowd at a gig in Derby in mid-March climbing up on to the stage and punching Idol in the face hard enough to cause him to fly backwards "like a ping-pong ball", landing in the drum-kit - Idol getting back on to his feet, dusting himself down and resuming the band's performance as if nothing had happened. In the same month the band's first long-player was released, entitled Generation X (1978), produced by Martin Rushent and engineered by Alan Winstanley at T.W. Studios in Fulham, with a cover portrait shot photographed by Gered Mankowitz, which went to #29 in the U.K. Albums Chart. The band maintained a high work rate of live performances as the year developed, with Idol also going on a first promotional visit for the band to the United States in May 1978; another international gig in Paris in June; several live BBC radio performances, and being supported by a new West Sussex band named The Cure for several dates in November and December '78. In October Generation X went into Wessex Sound Studios in Islington, with Ian Hunter acting as Producer, to record their second album, entitled Valley of the Dolls, which saw the band moving to a style of mainstream rock music with the incorporation of aspects of the early 1970s Glam Punk movement into its sound and look, along with the mid-1970s song-writing techniques of Bruce Springsteen.
1979 - Break up of Generation X
In January 1979 the band's commercial high point was reached when the song "King Rocker" went to #11 in the United Kingdom's Singles Chart, assisted by being issued in the format of a variety of differently coloured discs with distinctive band portrait cover art which required multiple purchases of the single to acquire the complete set, designed by the graphic artist Barney Bubbles, who had worked on the band's graphic art previously in 1977.
However, after a couple of propitious opening years, the band's third year saw a deterioration in the chart success of its commercial releases, with the Valley of the Dolls (1979) L.P., also released in January, performing disappointingly in the UK Albums Chart, reaching only #51. The situation wasn't improved by Generation X being driven off stage by an onslaught of missiles from a mob of U.K. Subs fans during a triple-bill concert at the Lyceum Ballroom in London in February 1979, as a part of an ongoing violent tendency from a proto-Street punk element that dogged the band's live appearances. As the year progressed amidst a continuing heavy touring and increasing television performance schedule, induced by the commercial failure of the Valley of the Dolls L.P. consequential differences began to surface within the band in terms of personality antagonisms centered upon Andrews and Idol. Andrews was in antipathy with Idol's changing character caused by Idol's increasingly severe narcotic use, and his sensing of a soloist career intent within Idol (who was beginning to create a performance-persona based upon a fusion of elements from the solo acts of Gary Glitter, Elvis Presley and Billy Fury in their prime), which were in combination destabilizing the band's internal relationships. Rifts were also opening as to Generation X's future musical direction post the Valley of the Dolls L.P.'s sales failure. Andrews, who had been impressed by the recent work of the critically acclaimed Joy Division, favoured a move into the new Indie Rock sound, and wanted more of an involvement in the band's song composition, whilst Idol and James were drawn to a more mainstream and commercial dance-punk one, were flirting with the idea of incorporating elements of shock rock into the band's act, and refused to admit his material into their song-writing partnership. These internal disagreements (complicated by the loss - in legal acrimony - of the band's manager Stewart Joseph) came to a head towards the end of 1979, after the band had returned from its first international tour in Japan, during the uncompleted production sessions at the Olympic Studios in Barnes for what was to have been Generation X's third album (which would be released retrospectively 20 years later under the title K(iss) M(e) D(eadly) - Sweet Revenge). Andrews quit the band just before Christmas, and - at Idol's instigation - Laff was asked to leave a few weeks later after a disagreement about the band's song-writing credits, departing to join Andrews in a new band entitled Empire, which found little commercial success. Generation X's last live performance had been at Totnes Civic Hall on 28 November 1979.
Gen X - 1980-1981
With Andrews and Laff gone (with James putting out a line to the music media's questions as to why Generation X had split that he and Idol had fired them because they "had a terrible tendency to sound like Deep Purple"), Idol and James recruited Terry Chimes as a replacement drummer. James also found a manager for the new formation in the form of Bill Aucoin, however after assessing the act's potential, Aucoin was surreptitiously more interested in the commercial possibilities of Idol as a solo artist in the American marketplace than the band, and began moving behind the scenes to this end.
This new line-up re-titled itself as Gen X, styled itself as a New Romantic band, and with the lead guitarist Steve New went into Eel Pie Studios in Soho in early 1980 to record a demo session of material. Idol and James wanted New to be Gen X's guitarist, but after recording and rehearsing with him through the early months of 1980 they abandoned the idea over concerns about his professional reliability due to a narcotic habit.
In mid-1980 Gen X went into AIR Studios in Oxford Street  to re-record some of the Sweet Revenge material and several new songs for a new long-player. Chrysalis Records, now subject to the influence of Aucoin, had shown reluctance to fund it after the commercial failure of the Valley of the Dolls L.P. in the previous year, and the debacle at the Olympic Studios a few months before, and to secure the new financing Idol had to recourse to entering into discussions with the label of the option of a potential solo career signed to it beyond the band's existence. Also involved in the recording sessions, along with Steve New, was a selection of some of the best lead guitarists in London's post-punk scene that were looking for new units to team up with, viz., John McGeoch, Steve Jones, and Danny Kustow, who acted as session musicians in what was essentially a tryout for the new band's guitar slot. In January 1981 a long-player produced by Keith Forsey was released entitled Kiss Me Deadly (1981).
However, the production of the new record had been problematic. Tony James later described narcotic use by other members of the line-up, including Idol, during the recording sessions as hampering it, and his personal working relationship with Idol was becoming distanced by James' unease at Idol's intensifying attraction to opiates (James would later ascribe the cause of the end of the band and his professional partnership with Idol to: "really, drugs destroyed us"). This distancing was exacerbated by Idol's increasing self-sufficiency in song-writing, a wearying of James's company due to what Idol perceived as an uptight demeanor that had developed in James's personality, and an increasing allure to Idol of the prospects of a solo career for himself which had been waxing in his mind since 1979. Also, during the recording of the Kiss Me Deadly L.P. James had got on badly with its producer Keith Forsey, with whom Idol had established a professional rapport and was eager to work with again.
The record itself, despite the innovation of its sound as a part of the New Wave movement in pop music, and its display of Idol and James' maturing talent as songwriters, failed to chart, regardless of a brief low-key tour in November 1980-January 1981 (with James Stevenson playing guitar) to promote it, and a lacklustre pre-release of the song "Dancing with Myself" in October 1980, which reached #62 in the U.K. Singles Chart. Critical reviews of the new L.P. in the music press were also indifferent, and in consequence Chrysalis Records dropped the contract and Gen X broke up in February 1981, its last gig having been at the Paris Theatre in London on 7 January 1981.
Idol and James parted company in February 1981 (with some discord from James' corner, with an unnamed party briefing the music press that the premature end of Gen X had been brought about due to a "chemical imbalance") after Gen X's ex-manager Bill Aucoin advised Idol to relocate from London to New York City. James went on to form and perform with the rockabilly/cyberpunk act Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and a number of other bands. Idol left England with a solo artist contract from Chrysalis Records to start anew in the United States of America, taking Gen X's single Dancing with Myself as a calling card, where during the 1980s he became one of the most commercially successful pop/rock stars that originated from the 1970s Punk Rock movement.
1993 - Reunion of Generation X
- 1978 – Generation X UK No. 29
- 1979 – Valley of the Dolls UK No. 51
- 1981 – Kiss Me Deadly (As "Gen X")
- 1998 – K(iss) M(e) D(eadly) - Sweet Revenge (Originally recorded in 1979, released in 1998, reissued in 2003 as a second disc for the Anthology)
- 1985 – The Best of Generation X
- 1990 – The Idol Generation (Australia only)
- 1991 – Perfect Hits 1975–81
- 2002 – Radio 1 Sessions 
- 2003 – Anthology
- 1999 – Live at the Paris Theatre '78 & '81 (Reissued - and edited - in 2002 as One Hundred Punks – BBC Live in Concert)
- 2003 – Live at Sheffield
- 2005 – Live
- 1977 – "Your Generation" b/w "Day by Day" UK No. 36
- 1977 – "Wild Youth" b/w "Wild Dub" UK
- 1978 – "Ready Steady Go" b/w "No No No" UK No. 47
- 1979 – "King Rocker" b/w "Gimme Some Truth" UK No. 11 (released in five various album covers)
- 1979 – "Valley of the Dolls" b/w "Shakin' All Over" UK No. 23
- 1979 – "Friday's Angels" b/w "Trying for Kicks" / "This Heat" UK No. 62
- 1980 – "Dancing with Myself" b/w "Ugly Rash" (As "Gen X") UK No. 62
- 1980 – "Dancing with Myself" b/w "Loopy Dub" / "What Do You Want" (As "Gen X.") UK
- 1981 – 4 EP (As "Gen X.") UK No. 60
- "Dancing with Myself" (12" versions have an extended cut)
- "Rock On"
- "King Rocker"
- 1981 – "Dancing with Myself" b/w "Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Dubble" (As "Billy Idol and Gen X") US
- Bromley Contingent
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- List of Peel sessions
- List of musicians in the first wave of punk music
- List of performers on Top of the Pops
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