During the punk rock pop music movement in London in the Autumn of 1976, the guitarist William Broad, a 21 year old university drop-out from Bromley; the drummer John Towe, and (at Broad's suggestion) Tony James a 23 year old bass player from Shepherd's Bush 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 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. 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 Broad and James 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 Broad had found in his mother's bookshelf, the new band being 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 the new band took the stage for the first time in public at the Central School of Art and Design on 10 December 1976. Generation X 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 band to play at the venue.
In April 1977, amidst a heavy performance schedule in London and increasingly beyond the confines of the capital city into England's provinces, and having just played their first international date in Paris in a joint billing alongside the upcoming bands The Jam and The Police, John Towe was asked to leave the band by Idol and James as they felt that his standard of musicianship wasn't keeping pace with its rising skill level, and that his personality didn't fit with its developing image. Towe moved on to join a new outfit called Alternative TV. He was replaced on drums by the 17 year old Mark Laff from Barnet, recruited from Subway Sect, to complete what would become Generation X's successful line-up, before it signed to Chrysalis Records and released its first single, "Your Generation" in September 1977, which went to #36 in the UK Singles Chart. They played this song on Marc Bolan's afternoon variety show, Marc, that same month using the 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. In March 1978 the band's first album was released entitled Generation X (1978), produced by Martin Rushent at T.W. Studios in Fulham, which reached #29 in the U.K. Albums Chart.
Generation X were one of the first punk units to appear on the British Broadcasting Corporation's mainstream pop music programme Top of the Pops. The band stood out in the burgeoning milieu of the "punk" music movement for its combination of the raw raucous energy of punk rock with a more commercially melodic sound and image in the tradition of earlier British pop music styles of the 1960s, drawing influences from bands such as The Who, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones 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 rock movement, for which it drew some criticism from its peers, including John Lydon, the frontman-lyricist of the preeminent Sex Pistols.
The band maintained a hectic touring schedule throughout Great Britain through 1978 and 1979, including being supported by a new West Sussex band named The Cure for several dates in November and December '78, and 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 '79. In October 1978 they went into the Wessex Sound Studios in Islington with Ian Hunter acting as Producer to record their second album, Valley of the Dolls (1979), which showed the band trying to stretch its repertoire with the incorporation of aspects of the early 1970s' Glam Punk movement into its sound and dress style. However the release performed disappointingly in the UK Albums Chart, reaching only #51.
After a couple of propitious opening years, the high point of which was the single release "King Rocker" reaching #11 in the United Kingdom's Singles Chart in January 1979, the band's third year saw a deterioration in the chart success of its commercial releases and differences began to surface within it, both in personality antagonisms, and disagreements as to its future musical direction. 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 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 Sweet Revenge). Andrews quit the band just before Christmas, and Laff was asked to leave by Idol and James 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.
With Andrews and Laff gone Idol and James recruited Terry Chimes as a replacement drummer, and the guitarist James Stevenson. This new line up re-titled itself as Gen X, styled itself as a New Romantic band, re-recording some of the Sweet Revenge material and several new songs with the guitarists John McGeoch, Steve Jones from the now collapsed Sex Pistols, Steve New and Danny Kustow, acting as session musicians until Stevenson's permanent status was confirmed, and released a long-player produced by Keith Forsey under the title Kiss Me Deadly (1981). However, the production of the new long-player had been problematic, Tony James later describing 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"). 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 song-writers, failed to chart, despite gigs in 1980/81 and a lacklustre commercial pre-release in October 1980 of the song "Dancing with Myself" (reaching #62 in the U.K. Singles Chart) to promote it. Critical reviews of the new L.P. in the music press were also poor, and in consequence Chrysalis Records dropped the contract and the band broke up in mid-1981.
Idol and James parted company after Gen X's manager Bill Aucoin advised a relocation from London to New York City, which Tony James declined. James went on to play with 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 in the 1980s he became one of the most commercially successful pop/rock stars that originated from the 1970s Punk Rock movement.
On 20 September 1993, during the England leg of Idol's No Religion tour, the late 1970s Generation X reformed for a one-off performance at the Astoria Theatre in London's West End.1978 – Generation X UK No. 29
1979 – Valley of the Dolls UK No. 51
1981 – Kiss Me Deadly (As "Gen X.")
1998 – Sweet Revenge (Originally recorded in 1979, 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.)
1981 – "Dancing with Myself" b/w "Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Dubble" (As "Billy Idol and Gen X.") US