When you think of a successful solo male artist who has reached what you would consider success in his career, who comes to mind? If you’re thinking in terms of recent talent, you may think Justin Timberlake or Usher. Many other men may come to mind. But when I was asked to think of three men that have made an influential mark with their music, I wanted to compare three men who had some things in common, but who had their own individual styles and had thrived during different periods. I chose to compare Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Billy Idol. These three men have all had different effects on the entertainment industry, fan bases and music in general. Bob Dylan had the height of his popularity through the 60’s, David Bowie swallowed the 70’s and Billy Idol shone through the 80’s. All three were idolized, emulated and remembered for their work. They all influenced current day music in a great way and achieved success in their time and for some beyond their time.
Robert Allen Zimmerman was born in Duluth, MN on May 24, 1941. He learned how to play the guitar as a child, along with the harmonica. He formed a rock and roll band in high school called the Golden Chords. After graduating from high school he began studying art at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. While attending school, he began to perform at coffee houses and very small venues in and around the city. His performances specialized in folk music. He started going by the name Bob Dylan, borrowing the last name from the poet Dylan Thomas. He loved the blues while in his college years and he began to mesh his folk with the blues that he loved so much.
He made his way to New York City in January of 1961 and he immediately impressed the folksy community of Greenwich Village. In April of that year, Dylan opened for John Lee Hooker at Gerde’s Folk City. He got great reviews for this performance. John Hammond, who worked for Columbia Records at the time, began actively seeking Dylan out. He was successful I finding him and signed Dylan onto his record label in the fall of 1961. He produced Dylan’s debut album, which was a collection of folk and blues that only ended up producing 2 original songs. It was released in March of 1962. Most of the work on this album was political protest, for which Dylan would later be very famous. Dylan tried for some time to cross over to the rock and roll era but his manager wouldn’t have it. He said that Dylan should ‘stick to his folk and blues and that to the other guys’.
One of his more popular albums from the early years was “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album. This made such a huge impact on the art and folk community that people began to cover his sings almost immediately. There were all original writings. By 1963, Dylan was writing faster than he could record and was performing at least a hundred concerts a year.
By 1965, Dylan felt that he was ready to make his crossover to rock and roll, but in the interest of business decided again to stay with his folk music. He began his own brand of “folk-rock” When the 1966 release of the double album “Blonde on Blonde” came out, he had sold over ten million records around the world.
On July 29, 1966, Dylan was injured in a motorcycle accident outside his home in Woodstock, NY. He suffered injuries to his neck vertebrae and a concussion. While he recovered from his accident, the world outside changed drastically and the rock and roll world became more heavy and artsier because of the ‘psychedelic revolution’. When Dylan returned from his recovery, fresh and ready to write, he discovered a world he was not accustomed to. He decided to try something new, and changed his style a bit to accommodate a little bit of country. With the release of Nashville Skyline, he got a top ten hit with “Lay, Lady, Lay”.
Bob Dylan is perhaps one of the most revered artists from that time period. E began a whole revolution of music. He did tons of work for soundtracks, some acting, mostly song writing and of course his own recordings. He has a total of 85 albums and appears on a number of other albums including lots of work with “The Band”. But even the most seasoned artists couldn’t be fully prepared for the musical revolution that was about to begin.
Then came disco…
David Jones began his career at eh age of 13, when he learned how to play the saxophone. He performed at many school functions and seemed to shine in the spotlight. After graduating high school at the age of 16, he began recording almost immediately. As soon as he began to get noticed he changed his name to David Bowie. As his new name began to be known, Bowie quickly learned that he loved the spotlight more than anything and after a few stints with generic bands, discovered that the only way to make it was on your own. His first album of any recognition went back to his original heavy style. “The Man Who Sold The World” had a definite heavy guitar fell to it that fans didn’t reciprocate well to.
Shortly after his first few releases Bowie decided to introduce a new character to his fans. After the release of “Honky Dory”, Bowie invented an alter ego for himself. His new persona was Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy was an androgynous, bisexual rock god from another planet that belted out stylish glam rock. England was eating out of Bowie’s hands after this. With his bright orange hair and women’s clothing people loved watching him perform. This being from another world radiated from the stage. Just as Bowie was known as Ziggy Stardust, his band became known as “The Spiders From Mars”. “The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust” was released with so much enthusiasm in England that elaborate, theatrical concerts that followed the release were even more popular. It was this sensation throughout England that helped to launch Bowie’s career into the U.S.
Almost immediately after he decided to re-release “Space Oddity”, an album that had previously flopped, he gained an American top 20 single. Bowie’s next album worth discussing was “Diamond Dogs”. This album got horrible reviews from the critics and it was said that there was no way it would generate any publicity. Bowie proved them so wrong when the album produced the hit single “Rebel, Rebel”. Bowie supported his album with a very elaborate, very, very expensive U.S. tour.
Longing once again for a change, Bowie showed himself this time, not as the freakish Ziggy Stardust, but as a very sophisticated, stylish David Bowie. The change took fans by surprise. So did Bowie’s change in musical style. He adapted a kind of soul feel to his music. But still being the ever-elaborate man that he was, he still kept some of his cheesy, tacky style in it, thus creating what critics called ‘ plastic soul’. Bowie’s next major release, “Young Americans”, was the height of his soul movement. It became his major American crossover album with a Top 10 hit “Fame”, a song he co-wrote with John Lennon.
Bowie starred and co-starred in a number of movies throughout the 70’s and 80’s but learned the hard way that music was definitely his forte. Even though “Labyrinth” happens to be my personal favorite movie of al time, critics did not take well to his decision to crossover to the big screen. In 1989 Bowie launched the “Sound + Vision” tour. When he began his tour he announced that this would be the last appearance of Ziggy Stardust and all the other characters that he had introduced over the years. The tour was a great success and so was the 3-disk box set named after the tour.
David Bowie has been called the “Chameleon” of music. With a total of 102 albums, he has changed and adapted well to each and every style of music that the 70’s tried to offer to the world. He began a list of sub genres of music including punk, new wave, Goth-rock, new romantic, and electronica. From a hippie singer-songwriter to a sexy Stardust persona, the man has done it all.
William Albert Michael Broad was born on November 30, 1955 in Sussex England. He started his career in 1976 when he joined a group of Sex Pistols followers called the Bromley Contingent. Most of the kids in this formed their own bands. Broad, being no different, joined Generation X in the late 70’s. Mr. Broad decided it was time for a name change. A schoolteacher had once returned a paper of his that titled him as an “idle student”. He took this to heart and twisted the word a little into a parody of rock stars and the name stuck. With Billy Idol snarling on lead vocals Generation X rocked small clubs all over England. With only moderate success the band split in 1981, William stayed in touch, however with manager Bill Aucoin. Aucoin saw more in Billy and wanted to help him rise to stardom. He groomed Billy into a mainstream rock figure; a classic bad boy. His debut album, “Billy Idol” came out in 1982 and stayed on the charts for 2 years because of his video’s for the singles
“White Wedding” and “Hot in the City”. However it was his second album “Rebel Yell” that really hit the fans hard and gave him his star status. It sold 2 million copies and gave away 2 Top 10 hits, “Rebel Yell” and the rock ballad “Eyes Without a Face”/ He followed his success with “Whiplash Smile” and “Charmed Life”
Billy Idol has recorded a total of 27 albums and has done work with many other bands in the past. His major breakthrough, although his music was doing well, was in 1983, when he appeared on the first ever MTV commercial. Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” video was the very first music video to ever be played and it gave him huge success. With his distinct look and rebellious ways Billy Idol completely owned the 80’s.
These three men have influenced the world of rock and roll in ways that we couldn’t even imagine. Without them we would not have half of the music that we have today. They all had trials and tribulations to go through to achieve their success and they rose above them triumphantly. They have impacted the world in a way any music fan could not easily forget.