Billy Idol – Rebel Yell
Rebel Yell is pretty much THE archetypal 1980’s rock song. Every facet of it, from Stevie’s overuse of the wang bar to the sound of the studio reverb is unmistakably 80’s. Even after several decades this song still has the potential to give me goosebumps.
It’s a love song no two ways about it, but it has a kind of ‘radiohead – creep’ or ‘teen spirit’ angst. It reeks of the alchohol and the night.
For me this song is every inch a ‘teen spirit’ but it was tried and found guilty of the crime of being ‘a pop rock song’. But just stop for a second and think about this verse :
I’d sell my soul for you babe
For money to burn with you
I’d give you all, and have none, babe
Just to, just to, just to, to have you here by me
In the band we refer to this section as ‘the romantic’ bit.
But the whole song is just one big expression of that kind of burning love you have for someone you are deeply in lust with. There’s no frills it’s just a straight up and down declaration of unconditional love.
I love this bit too :
He’s out all night to collect a fare,
Just so long, just so long it don’t mess up his hair
Accentuated in the video by Billy Idol preening his quiff. Like all truly great rock, it’s unsophisticated and unremittingly on point.
I think the vast majority of our songs are in B Minor, and this is one of them. Stevie Stevens did something on this song that very few other guitarists have ever done, he created something absolutely timeless.
The opening staccato picking in B is just lovely to play. Usually when you have a ‘peddle tone’ it’s the bass note that drones, but in this lick it’s actually the chord.
So you have to pick the b and e strings with your middle fingers whilst your thumb walks the bass note around to a different pattern. For me the transition from picking with your fingers to requiring the plectrum (for the ensuing pinched harmonic) is difficult, because I hold my pick like a moron.
It’s such an iconic start to a song that everyone instantly recognises it even if they couldn’t tell you what the song is called. Neil used to play this in Band of Oz, and he grew his finger nails especially for this, referring to them as the rebel yell fingernails.
With them he managed to get that lovely ringing sound, but I don’t bother I just pick it with the pads of my fingers, and let it be a bit dull 🙂
Once the initial riff is over it drops into a textbook example of 80’s hair metal with a little riff that runs down from G to E including a lovely pinched harmonic.
The main riff in the verse is a set of three triads (sometimes actually diads) on the d,g,b strings. With some funky rhythmic picking.
The rest is just full on 80’s wang bar nonsense.
The keyboard parts fill in the gaps and add a lovely 80’s atmosphere to the whole song.
Let’s say the song is in the key of Bm. Making the verse progression something like : VI, III, i
The chorus then goes : i, III, VI
And the rocky dropped middle 8 goes : V1, v, iv
Played over the chorus progression, the solo is what I’d call ‘wang bar pentatonic’. It starts with it’s own introduction, a rapidly bent note that echoes Billy singing ‘owww’. I guess Stevie did this because Billy kept forgetting to ‘introduce’ Stevie’s solo for him. I know our band forget to do it too.
The intro bend is followed by some double stops in D and then some extreme bending such that a lot of the notes sound almost chromatic.
The solo famously features a toy alien ray gun used over the pickups like a kind of bizarre ‘e-bow’. I just do a pick slide there because I’m slap-dash like that