Billy Idol – White Wedding
Every time I attend a wedding, which for obvious age reasons rarely happens anymore, even if a new generation will sooner or later follow the same steps, this song comes to my mind. An important song, because it determined the turning point in the career of one of the most original and creative performers of the 80s, the great Billy Idol.
In the summer of 1982 Billy’s second album was released, simply titled Billy Idol, preceded by the release of the single Hot in the City. Idol was clearly a character with explosive potential, and had been noticed since his first album with songs like Mony Mony and Dancing With Myself; now, also considering the growing importance that channels like MTV were gaining in the music world, Billy felt ready for the big leap, and in fact he had the right song to make it: White Wedding.
Like many great successes, White Wedding was born a bit by chance. When Billy showed up in New York to record the album, he wasn’t entirely sure he had enough material for the entire album. And the record company actually pointed out to him that he needed a couple more songs. The great producer Keith Forsey left him in the recording studio among guitars, keyboards, electronic drums and other instruments, in order to give free action to his creativity.
As Billy himself said, at that time his sister was actually getting married, and so Billy began by writing on a piece of paper the words “White Wedding” that give the song its title. Then, he started looking for the right chords on the guitar, which he found quite quickly, and then invented the lyrics, and in less than half an hour White Wedding was ready to be recorded.
Warning: of course the song is not about Billy’s sister’s wedding, and in fact it tells about a wedding from a singular perspective: the feelings of a boy who sees the woman he is still in love with, and with whom he probably formed a couple, getting married to another man. And the “little sister” of the text is in fact not his real little sister, but rather the girl who was with him and who told him the phrases we hear in the text (a bit like in Terence Trent D’Arby’s Dance Little Sister, however).
In addition to the actual melody and lyrics of the song, there are two other elements that contributed fundamentally to making White Wedding one of the signature songs of Billy Idol’s entire career.
First, the guitars solos are played, perhaps for the first time as a major protagonist, by Billy Idol’s musical companion throughout his career, the great guitarist Steve Stevens. Today it is difficult to think of a Billy Idol song without the great Steve’s solos, but it was with White Wedding that their collaboration reached a new level.
Then, White Wedding certainly had a huge international success also thanks to a video that remained in the hearts and eyes of all Dinosaurs like us for decades. Billy Idol turned to the great director David Mallet, who had already directed important videos such as Games Without Frontiers by Peter Gabriel, Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie, and many other videos. Billy didn’t have all the necessary budget, but Mallet came to him because he was convinced that Billy Idol, with his grimaces and moves, was the greatest rock star since Elvis Presley.
The video is remarkable, and shows us a wedding in pure gothic, noir, nothing but white style! Only the bride’s dress is white, surrounded by a crowd of guests in leather and studs inside a church that looks more like a cave. In addition to the scenes shot on a hospital bed and in a psychedelic-colored kitchen, the video gives us some scenes that directly entered the story.
We see the three backup singers sheathed in latex who beat their bottoms in time with the music, and also the scene of the nails being hammered to close the coffin which symbolizes the wedding. But the most evocative scene of all is undoubtedly the motorcycle that enters the church, smashing the glass window and shattering it: truly unforgettable!
The bride is played by the beautiful Perri Lister, who was Billy Idol’s girlfriend and also plays one of the three backup singers in latex. Perri was a very well-known face in England at the time, and she appeared on English television with Steve Strange’s Visage when they sang Fade to Grey (but she does not appear in the video). Being Billy Idol’s girlfriend, she was also a regular presence in his videos: she was the girl who was crucified in Mony Mony, and will also appear in To Be a Lover and even in the beautiful The Chauffeur (Sing Blue Silver) by Duran Duran
In short, White Wedding was a song strongly against the institution of marriage, even if many Dinosaurs didn’t know it and put it in the songs to play at their weddings. Above all, it was the song that made Billy Idol (along with Steve Stevens’ guitar) one of the greatest and most original protagonists of the ’80s.
Billy Idol on Wikipedia