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The harrowing film behind Billy Idol's greatest song

First inspired by the raging punk era bubbling over in mid-1970s London, Billy Idol set his sights on rock ‘n’ roll fame as the lead singer of Generation X (aka Gen X). From their inception in 1976, Gen X began to make a name for themselves in London as one of the many rebellious punk acts that looked to put a middle finger to the establishment in the wake of the Sex Pistols. By 1977, the group had become one of the most well-known punk acts in the UK alongside the likes of The Jam with one of the first appearances on the BBC’s Top of the Pops. Despite their popularity, Gen X were not a huge success in the charts and the backing from their label began to dwindle. 

With failing attempts to reach the higher echelons of the UK charts and the members striving to move in all opposite directions creatively, this first incarnation of Gen X was dissolved, marked by the departure of Billy Idol who looked to new horizons as a solo artist. Idol’s solo career took him from national fame, as just another punk band frontman, to a position of global acclaim. His first solo album Billy Idol was released in 1982 with staggering commercial success thanks to the catchy single ‘White Wedding’ which, along with a re-release of Gen X single ‘Dancing with Myself’, allowed Idol to gain extensive air-time on the newly-established MTV with his charismatic visual performance. 

It wasn’t until 1983 with Rebel Yell that Idol would reach the height of his power as a popular post-punk artist. The album was his most successful to date with high uptake across the Atlantic. Of the hits on Rebel Yell, one song stands out as possibly Idol’s greatest track. ‘Eyes Without a Face’ was one of Idol’s slower singles that had a brooding appeal to it as he looked to take a turn from punk influences and instead produced a new-wave classic. 

‘Eyes Without a Face’ was written as an ode to the French film ‘Les Yeux Sans Visage’ which translates to English as – yes you guessed it – ‘Eyes Without a Face’. The film was released in 1960 by french director Georges Franju. It is a horror story in which a surgeon causes a car crash that leaves his daughter’s face horribly disfigured. The guilt-ridden and delirious father then sets about reclaiming his daughter’s beauty in a twisted frenzy of face-peeling abductions in hopes he can graft his way to redemption.

This horrifying story connected with Idol in such a manner that it inspired him to write one of his most earnest ballads that definitely deserves its place in musical history above the rest of his discography. Having recently seen the classic french film, I can’t help but have a few extra hairs on my neck stand on end when I listen to Idol’s ‘Eyes Without a Face’.

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