Why Billy Idol Enlisted a Drug Dealer to Torture His Record Label
Billy Idol has detailed how he and his drug dealer “tortured” the singer’s record label in an effort to gain further artistic control.
The incident took place in 1983 as Idol was readying his sophomore album, Rebel Yell. The singer’s label, Chrysalis Records, was focussed on getting the LP out quickly. So when Idol deemed Rebel Yell’s original cover art not good enough, the label responded by gruffly declaring they were going to put the album out anyway.
“I went, ‘Wait a minute. We've worked really hard on this record. We just spent six months making sure this record is killer,” Idol recalled during a recent conversation with Yahoo Music. “The last thing I'm fucking doing is putting out a cover that's not right!’ So, I went down to Electric Lady (studios) and got what I thought were the master tapes. And I gave them to my heroin dealer, James.”
Idol and his drug dealer held the tapes ransom, demanding the label listen to the singer’s request for a new album cover.
“I said to [Chrysalis], ‘This guy's on the street. He needs money. So, if you mess about too long, he's just going to bootleg [the tapes]. He's not going to sit on them forever!’” the rocker recalled. “James wouldn't have actually done that, I don't think. But it was great, frightening them to death. It really was torturing the record company; they’d tortured us, so we tortured them back a little bit!”
As luck would have it, the drug dealer actually had the wrong master tapes – Idol had grabbed another artist’s by mistake. Regardless, the plan worked.
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“They soon started listening to me,” the singer noted. “The cover was changed, and then everything went all right. I mean, for fuck's sake, they were just being stupid. And after that, they never fucked with me again!”
'Rebel Yell' Turns 40
Released Nov. 10, 1983, Rebel Yell became the best-selling album of Idol’s career, moving more than 40 million copies worldwide.
In honor of the LP’s 40th anniversary, Idol is readying a special edition release featuring “quite a few extras.” Among them, a cover of Rose Royce’s “Love Don't Live Here Anymore,” which Idol abandoned after discovering Madonna had her own version on the Like a Virgin album.
“It's not what you expect. My version is a kick-ass fucking rock song,” Idol declared. “I must’ve been broken up about something! I don’t [remember] if something was happening in my life at the time, or why I even wanted to do the song. I probably wanted to do it because I have always looked for covers that people couldn't imagine me singing, like ‘Mony Mony’ and ‘To Be a Lover.’ … But if I do say so myself, actually we would've pissed all over Madonna's version, because it's a rock version.”
The 40th anniversary edition of Rebel Yell is expected to be released in 2024.
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Gallery Credit: UCR Staff