Billy Idol – Rebel Yell
She said, "Come on baby I got a license for love
And if it expires pray help from above" because
In the midnight hour she cried, "More, more, more"
With a rebel yell she cried, "More, more, more", oh
October 24, 1983, a Monday, was one of those magical days when two or more songs that would make history came out at the same time (but in a completely unrelated way). One of them was “Relax,” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. But if that wasn’t enough, among the new releases of British record stores you could find another pearl, much more visible than “Relax”.
Yes, because while Frankie Goes To Hollywood were completely unknown at the time, Billy Idol was already a successful singer. The previous year he had an amazing success with two great songs, “White wedding” and “Dancing with myself” that made him a great protagonist of all MTV rotations. And after all, he was destined to be a character: aggressive look, outfits between heavy metal, punk and and s/m clubs, full leather and studs, and above all, an unmistakable way of raising a part of the upper lip. It was his “Whiplash smile” that would later give the title to another album. And of course, talent and energy to sell.
“Rebel Yell” was born one night when, Billy is celebrating Mick Jagger’s birthday with the Rolling Stones, most notably Ron Wood and Keith Richards. And on their table appears a bottle of bourbon whisky, precisely “Rebel yell”, which the group begins to drink directly from the bottle. Maybe it’s the atmosphere, maybe the name, maybe the bourbon, but Billy Idol decides that “Rebel Yell” sounds really good, and it’s going to be the title of his next song.
And after all, the bourbon whisky in turn must have been named after something! The Rebel Yell, the rebellious scream, was the scream of confederates attacks in the American Civil War. In fact, there are recordings made in the 1930s where civil war veterans, aged about 90, yelled the scream. Each, however, played a different scream, someone said “Yoo-hoo”, some “Yee-haa”, others much more complex verses. I mean, apparently, every regiment or battalion had its own rebel yell, and correctly Billy Idol also found his yell for the song, that “More, more, more” that the girl repeats to Billy on that one night stand.
This song has always been a real concentrate of energy, and certainly some of the credit also goes to Steve Stevens, one of the greatest all time guitarists, who always accompanied Billy Idol in his records and concerts (but also the guitarist who performed the solos of “Dirty Diana” by Michael Jackson).
And for this very song Steve Stevens invented one of the sounds that will make him famous all over the world: the ray-gun. In fact, through a synthesizer he managed to create the effect of a laser gun and insert it into his solo. It came out so well that it became his trademark, and over the years the story took a fantastic turn, because Steve Stevens started using toy laser guns that made the right sound, and connected them to the strings and pickups of his electric guitar, which was thus endowed with an incredible sound and effect!
“Rebel Yell” remains a timeless, always modern, current, and very strong hit. If you need an evidence, look for the 2016 iHeartRadio festival video in which Billy Idol, in his 60s, sings this song along with a wild Miley Cyrus. And of course, along with Steve Stevens with a toy laser gun on the guitar!
Billy Idol on Wikipedia