Certain Songs #491: Generation X – “Your Generation”

generation X Album: Generation X
Year: 1977

Oi. There is so much to unpack here, so let’s start with the phenomenon of the punk rock name. Obviously, adopting an onstage psuedonym is as old as the performing arts themselves, but I would argue that it reached its popular music peak during punk rock: Johnny Rotten, Billy Zoom, Elvis Costello, Poly Styrene, the list goes on.

The weird thing, of course, is that stage names would seem to be antithetical to a music that prided itself on authenticity, but a well-chosen moniker instead actually contributed to the ethos surrounding an artist. And this is key: it also allowed them to reinvent themselves and fake it so real that they became beyond fake.

So while John Mellor was a worldly diplomat’s son who played some songs in a pub, Joe Strummer was the guttersnipe revolutionary who bashed his guitar without mercy. Or if John Cummings, Thomas Erdelyi, Douglas Colvin & Jeffrey Hyman were just some guys playing in a garage, then Johnny, Tommy, Dee Dee and Joey Ramone were an united gang moving together in a straight line. And while Susan Ballion would have been just one of the Bromley Contingent hanging around with the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie Sioux was a mysterious goth princess.

And so it went with William Broad, who was so clearly aiming for massive stardom from the very start that it was always impossible for him to claim he went with “Billy Idol” except for how naturally it described his ambitions.

And so because of this, that first Generation X album was viewed with some suspicion from some quarters for being too poppy. Which is exactly why i love it so much. Between the John Lennon covers, songs about 60s TV shows, proto-power ballads and songs about being young and searching for your identity, Generation X made the cardinal sin of not trying to change the world.

But like the Buzzcocks, it did make the world a more fun place in which to live. Of course, naturally, their first single — “Your Generation” was the closest thing to a political song on the record.

A cheeky answer song to The Who’s “My Generation” — ironically, a song and style that was incredibly influential across the punk rock spectrum — “Your Generation” blazed forth with chugging punk rock guitars as Idol sang:

I’m trying to forget your generation,
Using any way I see
Well, the ends must justify the means
Your generation don’t mean a thing to me!
I said, your generation don’t mean a thing to me!
I said, your generation don’t mean a thing to me!

Despite Bob Andrews overdubbing stinging leads on guitar, and a truly thrilling crowd-sung call-and-response at the end, “Your Generation” wasn’t really the same kind of clarion call as “God Save The Queen” or “White Riot,” — it was less politics and more youthful rebellion — but it it sounded fucking great.

Of course, by the time I got around to buying Generation X in early 1982, they’d already broken up and “Dancing With Myself” — which had already transmogrified from being Generation X’s last single into Billy Idol’s first single — had started bubbling up from the underground into the popular consciousness.

And naturally, when Billy Idol fulfilled the promise of his stage name, he was slagged again: KFSR DJs would play songs from Generation X and remind the listeners that it was from “when Billy Idol was real,” a stance which I whole-heartedly agreed with at the time and in retrospect find silly.

Now I think that Billy Idol was never really real, which is why he was always true to himself.

“Your Generation”

“Your Generation” performed live in 1977

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