In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: Single song highlights from 1983.
Anyone who tries to present the ’80s as some kind of uniform, easily stereotyped, one-size-fits-all decade is either lying or misinformed by too many John Hughes movies. Take me, for instance. As a kid growing up in the ’80s, I liked both kinds of music: new wave and heavy metal. Duran Duran? I loved it. Def Leppard? Well, I guess it was the heavy metal Duran Duran. Still, I prided myself on having enough of an open mind to appreciate all forms of music made by five white men from England. Which is why Billy Idol’s 1983 song “Eyes Without A Face” instantly captured me—not because he was five English men in one, but because it hit the golden mean between fluffy pop played with icy synthesizers and fluffy pop played with distorted guitars.
Idol got his start in the ’70s as the frontman of Generation X—whose name would later be used to label my entire age group, a sad fact that I have not allowed to interfere with my love of Gen X’s immaculately crafted pop-punk. Idol spun Gen X’s final hit, “Dancing With Myself,” into his first solo success, which he then used to slide into the arena of hard rock. Give Idol a new-wave inch and he’ll take a metal mile. (Or something). In any case, his self-titled solo debut from 1982 added metal to his portfolio thanks to the hit “White Wedding,” even if real metalheads could probably smell the punk on Idol from a mile away. By the time 1983’s Rebel Yell came out, he’d established his bad-boy sneer to the point where he didn’t have to worry about trifling concerns such as credibility.
There’s certainly no cred to “Eyes Without A Face.” It’s a cushy, dreamy, Duran Duran-like synth-pop song. But instead of trying to, say, find an innovative or creative way of incorporating the crunchy riffs he was known for, he decided just to just splice a long, Def Leppard-esque bridge smack into the middle of the song. Somehow, this Frankenstein job worked. Cred meant nothing to me when I was a kid—it means even less to me now—and I still get a thrill when that huge guitar drops like a velvet-draped jackhammer. And then falls away just as abruptly. Is it some kind of sonic metaphor for, say, what it might be like to see eyes without a face? Something about context or the lack thereof? Of expectations being gently offered and then yanked away? Let’s just say it is.