Shock to the System (Billy Idol song)

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"Shock to the System"
Billy Idol - Shock to the System 1.jpg
Single by Billy Idol
from the album Cyberpunk
Released 8 June 1993 (1993-06-08) (U.S.)
Format 5" CD
3" CD (Japanese release)
7" vinyl
Recorded April 1992, Los Angeles, U.S.
Genre Hard rock, electronic rock
Length 3:33
Label Chrysalis Records
Songwriter(s) Billy Idol, Mark Younger-Smith
Producer(s) Robin Hancock
Billy Idol singles chronology
"Shock to the System"
"Adam in Chains"
Alternative cover
UK double CD-single
UK double CD-single
Cyberpunk track listing
(audio segue)"
"Shock to the System"
"Tomorrow People"

"Shock to the System" is single by Billy Idol, released to promote his 1993 album Cyberpunk.


Idol explained for MTV News, he had originally created the song with an entirely different set of lyrics, but upon witnessing the Los Angeles riots of 1992 on television, he immediately rewrote and recorded them that day.[1]

Music video[edit]

A music video was created for the song, and was set in a dystopian future controlled by Cyber-cops (referred to as such by director Brett Leonard.) It depicted an individual who records the Cyber-cops beating a man, only to be noticed and attacked himself. His camera is destroyed and the Cyber-cops leave him unconscious on the ground, as they are busy trying to put down a riot elsewhere in the city. Alone, his camera equipment lands on him and is absorbed into his body, causing him to dramatically morph into a cyborg. The cyborg then joins the riot, leading the rebels to victory.

Idol explained that he was trying to capture the political and economic conflict that had created the LA Riots, and that the camcorder – as displayed in the witnessing of the Rodney King beating – was a "potent way of conveying ideas" and an important metaphor for technology used in rebellion.[2]

The make-up effects were achieved through stop motion, with Billy Idol moving in slow stages during points of the filming. Stan Winston, who had previously worked on the Terminator series and Jurassic Park, supervised and created the special effects for the video. The music video for "Shock to The System" was nominated for "Best Special Effects in a Video" and "Best Editing in a Video" at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards, losing both times to Peter Gabriel's video for "Steam".


The video and song were also heavily analyzed for the overtones of racial, sexual, and physical trauma presented within them by Thomas Foster, associate professor at Indiana University, in his 2005 book, The Souls of Cyberfolk.

Track listing[edit]

Several singles for "Shock to the System" were released to various countries. Several included various remixes of "Heroin", a cover of The Velvet Underground's song of the same name, composed and written by Lou Reed. The cover of "Heroin" also included the lyric "Jesus died for somebody's sins/But not mine", written by Patti Smith for her cover of "Gloria". The Australian, Japan, Netherlands, and U.S. releases included the track "Aftershock", which was not included in the Cyberpunk CD.

Australia and Netherlands release
No. Title Lyrics Length
1. "Shock to the System" Idol 3:33
2. "Aftershock"   4:45
3. "Heroin" (Don't Touch That Needle Mix)   5:10
4. "Heroin" (Durga Trance Dub)   5:10
Total length: 17:78
Japan release
No. Title Lyrics Length
1. "Shock to the System" Idol 3:33
2. "Aftershock"   4:45
3. "Heroin" (A Drug Called Horse Mix)   7:19
Total length: 22:40

U.K. double CD release

Disc 1
No. Title Lyrics Length
1. "Shock to the System" Idol 3:33
2. "Heroin" (Album version)   6:59
3. "Rebel Yell" (edit)   3:50
Total length: 14:22
Disc 2
No. Title Lyrics Length
1. "Shock to the System" Idol 3:33
2. "Heroin" (Smack Attack mix)   6:59
3. "White Wedding" (edit)   3:30
Total length: 14:02
U.S. release
No. Title Lyrics Length
1. "Shock to the System" Idol 3:33
2. "Aftershock"   4:45
3. "Heroin" (A Drug Called Horse mix)   7:19
4. "Heroin" (Ionizer mix)   7:03
Total length: 22:40


Chart (1993)[3] Peak
Australian Singles Chart 44
French Singles Chart[4] 25
Italian Singles Chart[4] 17
Sweden Singles Chart[4] 25
Swiss Singles Chart[4] 37
UK Singles Chart[4] 30
U.S. Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles 5
U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks[3] 7
U.S. Billboard Modern Rock Tracks[3] 23


  1. ^ MTV News: Billy Idol "Cyberpunk" Disk (VIDEO). CABLE TV: MTV. May 1993.
  2. ^ Cyberpunk: Shock to the System. Brett Leonard. Billy Idol. ERG Video & Chrysalis Group. 29 June 1993
  3. ^ a b c "Billy Idol single chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  4. ^ a b c d e ""Shock to the System" single charting (Europe)". Retrieved 2008-05-19. 

External links[edit]