Photo: Universal Music Group
Here's How To Celebrate John Lennon's and Yoko Ono's "Imagine" On Its 50th Anniversary
On September 9th, John Lennon's album Imagine celebrates its 50th anniversary with dynamic social media events a "global" watch party of Lennon's and Yoko Ono's conceptual 1971 music film
Did you know "Imagine" isn't only John Lennon's most demonstrative and uplifting album and song, but an irresistible musical film as well? The 1971 flick features quick-cut footage set to every song from the album along with captivatingly intimate scenes of the former Beatle and Yoko Ono at work, home and play. (It's worth seeing for the fashion iconicism alone!)
For the 50th anniversary of the Imagine album today (September 9), fans the world over can watch this strangely underdiscussed slice of Lennon and Ono history together—either online or in person, depending on their comfort level as the COVID-19 pandemic continues around the world.
You can catch Imagine either at participating venues like Sage Gateshead and Grassroots Music Venues in the UK or Hard Rock Cafés in Europe and the U.S., many of which are showing it for free in their rooms. Check with your local Hard Rock Café or Hotel for participation and viewing times.
Barring physical participation, you can also stream Imagine via streaming service The Coda Collection, which is exclusively available on Amazon Prime. It's also available stateside for AXS subscribers and in the UK for Sky subscribers on NOWTV and the SkyGo App, and to rent or purchase globally from Apple TV, iTunes or Amazon Prime; or on Blu-Ray or DVD. Click here to find the best way to watch the film in your country.
English musician Tim Burgess is also joining the Imagine celebration. As the film plays, check out his well-loved Tim's Twitter Listening Party, where the film will be augmented by a second-screen #IMAGINE50 Twitter experience with quotes, photos and multimedia led by Yoko Ono Lennon, the John Lennon estate and many of the collaborators involved with the album and film. All the tweets will be available afterward here.
Confirmed participants include Yoko Ono Lennon, The Estates of John Lennon, guitarist George Harrison and keyboard player Nicky Hopkins, Sean Ono Lennon, bassist Klaus Voormann, drummer Alan White, cameraman Nic Knowland, factotum Dan Richter and MC Tim Burgess.
But the fun doesn't stop there. Immediately following the Tim's Twitter Listening Party watch party, Sean Ono Lennon and BBC6 Music's Chris Hawkins will host a special #IMAGINE50 Listening Party Aftershow with discussion via Twitter Spaces at 1:40 pm LA/3:40 pm NYC/8:40 pm UK /4:40 am Tokyo. This audio-only event will also include many of the above names.
For more info, visit Tim's Twitter Listening Party and check the @johnlennon and @yokoono Twitter accounts for updates.
We've Thrown Everything We Could At John Lennon's "Imagine." The Song Nonetheless Endures 50 Years Later.
Photo: Ian Dickson/Redferns
From Fanny To Madam Wong's & The GRAMMYs: How The Asian Community Has Impacted Rock
While K-pop is Asia’s most dominant musical export today, the continent and its diaspora have a rich rock heritage. GRAMMY.com takes an in-depth look at guitar heroes of Asian descent who have made a significant impact on Western soil.
While K-pop is Asia’s most dominant musical export today, the continent has a rich rock heritage that has traveled much further than you may imagine. Indeed, while the genre is the result of a cultural interplay between Africa and America (with fruitful trips to the UK), its history encompasses numerous important names whose roots trace to Japan, Korea, the Philippines and beyond.
Who can forget the impact Yoko Ono had on John Lennon and his post-Beatles career, for example? And then there's the unsung heroes: the Californian restaurant owner who played a vital part in the rise of punk and the little-known '60s singer who single-handedly brought the sounds of the West to Vietnam.
With the likes of Mitski, Japanese Breakfast and Jay Som now steering a new revolution in rock, what better time to take an in-depth look at the guitar heroes of Asian descent who have made a significant impact on Western soil?
While first- and second-generation Asian artists had previously enjoyed crossover success in the fields of jazz (Toshiko Akiyoshi), doo-wop (the Kim Sisters) and teen pop (Eden Kane) in the first half of the 20th century, the burgeoning rock 'n' roll scene remained out of reach. That is, until a band of Filipino American brothers paid tribute to the post-war era's version of Tony Manero.
The Rocky Fellers reached No. 16 on the Hot 100 in 1963 with "Killer Joe," named in honor of "King of the Discotheque" Killer Joe Piro, and later worked with Neil Diamond on the song "We Got Love." But their sole album on Scepter Records got lost as attention switched to the first British Invasion, and it would be another seven years before a predominantly Asian rock act graced the U.S. singles charts.
Formed by sisters Jean and June Millington nearly a decade after their family moved to Sacramento, California from the Philippines, four-piece Fanny also broke barriers. As the first all-female outfit to land a major label deal, they paved the way for the Runaways, the Bangles and the Go-Gos (Fanny drummer Alice de Buhr would later serve as theGo-Gos' publicist).
Reprise Records reportedly signed Fanny without hearing any of their music — presuming the novelty of four women playing their own instruments was enough of a selling point. The original quartet proved they were far from a mere gimmick, though, with four albums of anthemic rock which inspired David Bowie to hail them as one of the genre's true unsung heroes. Incidentally, the Thin White Duke was the subject of Fanny's biggest hit, "Butter Boy," while Jean was briefly wed to his regular guitarist Earl Slick.
Bowie was just as enamored with Vodka Collins — a Japanese rock supergroup fronted by native New Yorker (and future Arrows frontman Alan Merrill). The cult favorites are rumored to have inspired one of his many alter-egos, Ziggy Stardust. Sadly, a major financial dispute led to their disbanding shortly after the release of their 1973 debut, Tokyo – New York.
That album's producer, Masatoshi Hashiba, however, would also steer a more enduring group to the fringes of the mainstream. Fronted by married couple Kazuhiko Katō and Mika Fuku, Sadistic Mika Band supported Roxy Music on their mid-1970s Siren Tour, while drummer Yukihiro Takahashi later co-founded the pioneering Kraftwerk-esque Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Sadistic Mika Band's name was actually intended to parody the Plastic Ono Band's, the conceptual project co-founded by arguably rock's most prominent Asian crossover artist. Ono helped to push the boundaries of rock music while simultaneously paying homage to her East Asian heritage, drawing upon everything from hetai, a vocal technique hailing from the kabuki form of Japanese theater, to the ancient classical style of Gagaku.
Released on the same day (and with a similar title) as husband John Lennon's solo debut in 1970, Ono’s debut solo album charted 176 places lower on the Billboard 200. Yet it unarguably had the bigger impact: Its uncompromising avant-garde sound credited with ushering in the birth of punk, alternative rock and no-wave (Sonic Youth, tUnE-yArDs and the Flaming Lips are just a few of the artists who have since acknowledged Ono's influence through collaboration). Ono has occasionally flirted with the mainstream — see 1981 Top 40 single "Walking on Thin Ice" — but it's her fearless experimentalism that positioned her as an icon.
Continuing the Beatles-adjacent theme, Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar informed much of George Harrison's work, both as a member of the Fab Four and as a solo artist. The pair worked together on several albums and essentially paved the way for Live Aid with 1971's legendary The Concert for Bangladesh, a star-studded benefit show boasting performances from Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan.
Of course, some of Asia's most culturally significant artists had to wait decades before receiving their dues. Phuong Tâm, for example, was pivotal in bringing the sounds of the West to the East in the early 1960s Saigon. During her late teenage years, she spent up to eight hours an evening performing Vietnamese compositions heavily inspired by the growing presence of American GIs.
Tâm's music career was cut short when her army doctor husband landed a job hundreds of miles away. Remarkably, she kept this past life a secret from her own children until a film producer requested the use of her recordings, much of which had been misattributed. Two years later, a compilation assembled by daughter Hà, Magical Nights: Saigon Surf, Twist & Soul 1964-1966, finally showcased Tâm's youthful grasp of the genre to a wider audience.
Formed by brothers David and Romeo Bustamante in San Francisco's Mission District, the largely Filipino collective Dakila prided themselves on bringing a pan-continental flavor to the early '70s rock scene. They were the first U.S. major label signing to perform material in Tagalog and made a conscious effort to align themselves with various Asian-American causes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Epic didn't exactly handle such an outlier with the utmost sensitivity. Not only did they instruct producers to meddle with Dakila's self-titled debut behind the group's backs, they also released first single "El Dùbi" with a patronizing spoken word instructional on how to pronounce their song titles. Luckily, the double whammy of a more faithful 50th anniversary reissue and forthcoming documentary Searchin' for My Soul is set to give the first true Asian American rock album some long overdue props.
The artwork for Dakila's eponymous LP also featured a wicker chair originating from what would become an unlikely hub of the punk scene. At the time, the Mabuhay Gardens was a Filipino restaurant but within a few years, owner Ness Aquino had joined forces with promoter and punk magazine publisher Jerry Paulsen to reinvent the struggling business as a thriving venue.
The Mab, as it would become known as, attracted some of the West Coast's rowdiest bands including Black Flag, the Nuns and the Dead Kennedys while also welcoming further afield acts such as the Damned and Sex Pistols, hosting one of the latter's final ever shows. Thanks to another sideline in stand-up comedy, the once-flailing business stayed open until 1987.
This San Francisco joint's pivot into the world of mohawks and safety pins appeared to inspire other Asian proprietors in Southern California. In 1978, promoter Paul Greenstein and owners George and Esther Wong helped to transform Madame Wong's into a haven for West Coast punk. The Chinatown venue had a strict policy on vandalism: Rumor has it Esther once confronted two of the Ramones about their bathroom wall graffiti while they were still performing on stage.
Frustrated with such defacing, the Wongs decided to focus on a slightly more "civilized" genre when they opened up a second venue. Madame Wong's West helped put new wave on the Santa Monica map, giving early gigs to the likes of the Police, the Motels and the Knack. But the original remained their bread and butter, which is why a major rivalry — problematically dubbed the Wonton Wars by the local press — started when another nearby struggling eatery muscled in on their territory.
Barry Seidel, who'd rented out the upstairs banquet hall of Cantonese immigrant Bill Hong's family restaurant Hong Kong Cafe, was much less discerning when it came to wanton destruction. When Madame Wong's prevented anyone under 21 from entering the premises, for example, Seidel made his punk nights all ages. To placate Hong, Seidel agreed that performers would pay for any damage caused, a much-needed stipulation as punks with a disregard for crowd capacity regularly broke in via the roof and air conditioning ducts.
But by the dawn of the following decade, the punk boom had given way to hardcore, a style too aggressive even for Hong Kong Cafe who called time on its musical endeavors in 1981. Madame Wong's closed its doors for good following a fire six years later, but its West branch stayed open until 1991 having added the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M. to its impressive resume. Esther's standing in the community was confirmed in the wake of her 2005 death when the Los Angeles Times dubbed her the "Godmother of Punk."
The GRAMMY Winners
Although Larry Ramos of the New Christy Minstrels and the Association, singer/songwriter Yvonne Elliman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma had been nominated at Music's Biggest Night, it wasn't until 1992 that an act of Asian descent won a GRAMMY in a rock category.
Born to an Indonesian mother, guitar hero Eddie Van Halen and his drummer brother Alex picked up Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal for their eponymous group's ninth LP, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Their victory which appeared to open the floodgates.
Just three years later, Indian American lead guitarist Kim Thayil and Japanese American bassist Hiro Yamamoto helped Soundgarden land Best Metal Performance and Best Hard Rock Performance for their album Superunknown. It was the latter category that Smashing Pumpkins, featuring Japanese American guitarist James Iha, also triumphed in at the 1997 ceremony thanks to "Bullet with Butterfly Wings." In 2002, the same award went to Linkin Park for "Crawling," a track boasting the turntablism skills of Korean American Joe Hahn. And let's not forget Tony Kanal, a child of Indian immigrants, whose basslines steered No Doubt to Best Pop Vocal Album for Rock Steady that same year.
Remarkably, the most famous rock star of Asian descent never got the chance to make an acceptance speech. Freddie Mercury, whose parents hailed from western India, received four nominations as frontman of Queen. The band was honored with a Lifetime Achievement in 2018, 27 years after his untimely passing.
It also took decades for another rock giant to hear their name read out. Co-founded in 1985 by Korean American bassist John Myung, prog favorites Dream Theater won Best Metal Performance for "The Alien" in 2022. Also nominated that same year for Best Alternative Music Album and Best New Artist were Japanese Breakfast, the indie-rock outfit fronted by Korean American Michelle Zauner, and one of several artists spearheading a new wave of Asian American indie rock.
The Indie Scene
The first wave of Asian American alternative guitar acts signed to independent labels began to blossom in 1995. It was here when the palindromic Emily's Sassy Lime released their one and only album, Desperate, Scared But Social, through Kill Rock Stars while still at school. One of the few Asian American acts to align themselves with the riot grrrl movement, the all-female trio had to write, record and perform on the odd occasion their parents allowed them a break from their studies. And although they split shortly after graduation, Yao sisters Wendy and Amy remained regulars of the DIY art scene.
That same year, Satomi Matsuzaki joined noise-pop experimentalists Deerhoof, another Kill Rock Stars act, in the same week she emigrated from Japan to America. Obviously not averse to throwing herself in the deep end, the bassist/singer headed out on tour with the band just a few days later, too. Having since tackled everything from tropicalia and conceptual prog rock to sheet music experiments and classical ensembles, few contemporary bands have been so brazenly audacious.
Blonde Redhead, the similarly creative outfit co-founded by Japanese art students Maki Takahashi and Kazu Makino, also released their self-titled debut in 1995. Produced by Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and released through his indie label Smells Like Records, one of the no-wave scene's defining records was followed by equally atmospheric excursions into shoegaze and dreampop, while a guest appearance from Ryuichi Sakamoto on her 2019 first solo effort Adult Baby cemented Makino's status as an icon of the avant-garde.
A year later, Korean American Mike Park founded Asian Man Records, a predominantly ska/punk label run from his California garage. Park and his label helped kickstart the careers of Stateside cult heroes such as Less Than Jake and Alkaline Trio, while also giving a platform for acts of Asian heritage including India's Nicotine and Japan's Yoko Utsumi.
Asian and Asian American indie artists have remained in the public eye through the mid 2010s, crafting devoted followings across the globe. With eight GRAMMY nominations to her name, South Korean-born Karen O has kept the flag flying over the following two decades as the frontwoman of garage punks Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Osaka's Shonen Knife, the one-time Lollapalooza regulars championed by Kurt Cobain, did as much alongside Tokyo's Buffalo Daughter — the Shibuya-kei pioneers who signed to the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label. Meanwhile, the music of Cornelius, a.k.a. the "Japanese" Beck" has graced everything from NFL ads to Scott Pilgrim vs the World. And then there’s David Pajo, the Filipino American guitarist whose journeyman career has incorporated everyone from Slint and Tortoise to Zwan and Gang of Four.
The Asian American rock scene has further coalesced in the last few years with women leading the way. Whether it’s the dreamy indie of Leslie Bear's alter ego Long Beard, intimate bedroom pop of Filipino American singer-songwriter Jay Som or, perhaps most notably, the sonic adventurism of Japanese American Mitski.
Indeed, Mitski's 2018 LP Be the Cowboy was named Album of the Year by both Pitchfork and Vulture, and she received an Oscar nod for her contribution to the soundtrack of Everything Everywhere All at Once alongside New York post-rockers Son Lux, two-thirds of whom are also of Asian descent In another landmark in Asian American representation Mitski had also previously invited Som and Japanese Breakfast to provide support on her North American tour.
And with indie chameleons such as Korean Canadian Luna Li, American Korean Deb Never and Chinese American Sofya Wang all emerging in the 2020s, the future seems bright, too. Indeed, despite concerns the convergence of artists with Asian heritage would be dismissed as a passing fad, it’s clear that rock grounded in this community is thriving stronger than ever before.
Celebrate AAPI Month 2023 With A Genre-Spanning Playlist Featuring BLACKPINK, Yaeji, Olivia Rodrigo & More
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
Living Legends: Nancy Sinatra Reflects On Creating "Power And Magic" In Studio, Developing A Legacy Beyond "Boots" & The Pop Stars She Wants To Work With
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.