Billy Idol Week: Steve Stevens is the Worst Guitar Player of the ’80s



Last week, I learned how to play “Rebel Yell.” I expected a couple of quick fun minutes bashing around power chords and learning a simple guitar hook.

Nope! I couldn’t play the first five seconds. The song opens with a complicated fingerpicking figure before moving into a fussily precise intro section. Then it finally bangs into three quick power chords before moving into the verse section where, instead of power-chording in tandem with the bass, the guitar plays a precious little upper string countermelody. The chorus doesn’t even let loose with big easy power chords. You still have to move up and down the neck with stopwatch precision.

I watched a video of Stevens playing the song by himself. While I was instantly irritated by his harsh Brooklyn accent and decision to decorate his home studio with a mannequin wearing trashy ’80s lingerie, I still didn’t know how to play the song.

Casual listeners would probably never suspect any of this. The song feels like a three chord howler, like Danzig’s “Mother,” only faster. It succeeds despite the over-thought guitar part, as the guitar is mixed way below the vocals and the keyboards.

I was fresh off effortlessly intuiting the hook and chords of “Dancing With Myself,” a song that originated with Idol’s punk band, Generation X. Learning Rebel Yell, a song from three years deep into Idol’s solo career, I realized the corrosive effect of Idol’s guitar player Steve Stevens.

The ’80s were a shit time for guitar players in many respects and Steve Stevens encapsulates almost all of the bad of ’80s guitar. His guitar is so compressed it sounds like he’s playing through a plastic amp. All of the liberating roughness of ’70s punk and blues-style metal guitar was polished away, leaving only the speed and pomp.

His playing is the peak of Guitar Center salesman style. Guitar solos are showcases for technique-driven tricks instead of melodies. Every third note is a harmonic and the wammy bar never gets a rest.

In comparison, the guitar player for Generation X is sort of a savant genius. The glorious two string opening guitar hook of “Dancing With Myself” undoubtedly did not arise from hours of practice. The chorus is pure Johnny Ramone power chords and comes on like a rush and a release. When Idol remade the song as a solo artist, Steve Stevens played the chords almost timidly, with delicate timing. The guitar sound is an echoey ghost of its punk origin. It strips it of everything that was originally remarkable.

Stevens has stuck with Idol since the early ’80s, occasionally straying for solo records or to take on high-profile chances to ruin songs by people like Michael Jackson.

I just found out this week that he appeared (or maybe even starred) on some dumb reality show about how he’s a vile Los Angeles rock cliche married to a plastic surgery nightmare lady.

I still think that Billy Idol seems like a chill guy but his 30 year association with Stevens makes me question his choices. Maybe Idol’s so laid back he doesn’t want to cut loose an old friend?

Published by Mister Bulger

Adam Bulger is the editor in chief of and a frequent contributor to the parenting website He's also recently written for the wedding site and the college student aide Less recently, he's written for The Believer, Forbes, The Atlantic's website, Suicidegirls, Inked Magazine and probably about a dozen other places that are too obscure or defunct to bother listing.

36 thoughts on “Billy Idol Week: Steve Stevens is the Worst Guitar Player of the ’80s

  1. Dude…get a clue. Stevens does NOT sit around pondering how he can write easy music for novice players. He’s a guitar genius…and if you knew a FRACTION that he does about guitars and song writing you would know that. Almost anyone can play a power chord…get a grip.

    1. Thanks! I will try to get a clue! But first, can I ask you how you stumbled on this article that made you so angry? It was published a while ago but is suddenly getting a lot of Facebook traffic. Did someone on a Billy Idol fan page post it?

  2. yeah man it was posted on a billy fan page hehe
    so you might get to read the occasional message from some people who may dissagree with you, but billy idol fans are not psychos like justin bieber fans so your in no danger whatsoever (then again justin beiber fans are just harmless 12 year olds so they cant do much harm either)

  3. I do not get the feeling that Billy Idol is chill about anything. I think that he wanted the pop sound out of Stevens cause his soul and clothing were now expensive and bought by pop. I think you summed him up best in your post about Cradle of Love. I think you just need to let Billy go…he was a product of his era, and his turn in Wedding Singer was the best thing he did since 1981 and nothing has trumped it yet,

  4. and if you keep talking shit about Dirty Diana i am gonna come over there and challenge you to a dance-off you can’t possibly win!

  5. You fucking useless piece of shit. Steve has won Grammy’s & toured the world.
    What have you done – nothing. You cant even copy him (and you claim he’s shit)
    You’re a fucking worthless waste of space. You deserve to die

  6. So you´re saying he sucks ´cause he plays with a top notch technique and he comes from a time where musicians had to study pretty hard to learn their instruments and also wrote songs that demaned time and effort to learn ?
    Just like the classical composers , musicians from the 60´s , 70´s and 80´s wrote music based on skills , if that don´t suit you then you should learn some Nirvana shit , any retarded who never played a guitar can play Nevermind from head to tail , you don´t even have to know how to tune your guitar

  7. He´s a bad guitar player ´cause you had to sit down to earn one of his songs and didn´t make it , perhaps he should have written easier songs for you to play …
    And people wonder why music in this country is dead …

  8. Steve Stevens is one of the best guitarist around! The dope who wrote this is a real smack job! Keep Rocking Steve you rule

  9. Sometimes the monkey is smarter than the organ grinder. You cannot listen to an original song like Stevens’ song Sadhana (Wood and Steel) and print the boloney you just printed. With Idol, Stevens is a Ferrari on a go-kart track. As virtuosos go, at least Pattitucci had Chick Corea to play for.

  10. Steve Stevens was one of the original hair-metal lead guitar heroes, even though he was sidekick to (ahem) “punk” Billy Idol. Stylistically he fits way better with Motley Crue & Ratt’s lead guitar sounds than he does with any punk players; I’d even go so far as to say Stevens may have been an influence on those bands since he was earlier and very well-known due to Idol’s impressive string of 80s hits. Along with producer Keith Forsey (originally an obscure drummer in various German “Krautrock” bands) he helped Idol perfect that compressed sound that fit in well with The Fixx and other bands of that decade. And made Idol a ton of $$$$.

  11. Steve S kills, listen to unplugged and hear the clean genius he brings to BI
    Listen to Run across the desert Sands on Atomic Playboys
    His Spanish guitar influences are unique to R&R and he is one of a kind, major reason for BI successful career

  12. Amazing who they let write these days, just amazing. You obviously have no clue about guitar playing, guitar players, composition and song writing, sound, recording or anything else you have ‘written’ about. Steve is a legend and one of the most humble guys out there. You on the other side are just a lil attention whore joke loser

  13. You don’t know what you’re talking about.Sorry,what you wrote is full of impolite comments

  14. Christ! Only a true dipshit has the nerve to even question Stevens not being one of the greatest guitar players ever! You just weren’t smart enough to learn his shit. Steve Stevens is a master! With more versatility than most guitarist will ever comprehend. I feel stupider for even reading your goofy opinion.

  15. Mr. Bulger,
    Sit down and listen to Flamenco a Go-Go one of Steve’s SOLO recordings from start to end and he will show you how wrong you are. the guy may have a Brooklyn accent but hey he’s from Brooklyn cant hide that. FYI he is self taught so……… learn from that but since you only can handle A E G power chords i think my comment will be lost on you. So if you cant beat them and don’t want to join them don’t talk shit.

  16. Steve Stevens was probably one of the 80’s best guitar players you dumb fuck douchebag! His technical prowess on the fretboard has gotten him very far in his musical career. Proof positive of his playing ability.

  17. I’m absolutely flabbergasted that someone could say or print what Mr Bulger did about Steve Stevens. OMG Steve is easily one of the best guitarists to ever play the instrument. Just ask Eddie Van Halen what he thinks of Steve’s guitar playing. Eddie holds him in very high regard.

  18. Come on people… I’m a huge Steve Stevens fan but certainly this guy’s entitled to his opinion. Also, whether he can play or not has nothing to do with his ability to judge a guitarist. It all comes down to how does the guitarist’s playing make you feel. But I do have to agree, doing a reality show does not reflect well, but hey, it’s show business.

  19. At first I assumed this article was satire. By the end, was not so sure. If it’s not satire, then I am stunned at the author’s ignorance. Steve Stevens is a bad guitar player because you do not have the skill to play like him? Just wow. So Muhammad Ali was a bad boxer because you can’t fight like him. Michael Jordon was bad at basketball because you can’t play like him.

    If this article is satire, bravo, you got me. If it is not satire, seek professional help.

  20. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, but I recommend you listen to both Bozzio Levin Stevens albums and then make up your mind about Steve. Both albums are instrumental and the tone is sweet and organic.


  21. This “article” is garbage. Simple power chords is obviously all you can do on a guitar, and you actually get frustrated when more effort and skill is required. Stevens is a great guitarist, and even the sound of his amp turning on sounds better than anything you will ever play. Go smash your guitar and maybe go fishing.

  22. Listening to SS on Memory Crash right now with Prime Mover. It’s cerebral and symbiotic illustrating genius to say the least. In regards to rights to opinion, there is a difference between opinion and an educated opinion, You decide what the OP was. I know what I believe 🙂

  23. Hi Mr. Bulger,
    Concerned that you don’t acknowledge that Stevens was one of the most sought after session guitarists of the 80’s with, as you noted, Michael Jackson, Robert Palmer, The Cars’ Rick Ocasek and Top Gun Soundtrack Award-winning Top Gun Anthem with Harold Faltermeyer. With respect to Idol, the effects, as you note, the techno sound was more Idol and that led to a split after Whiplash Smile. Stevens achieved so many different sounds with the solid body that no song sounded alike. Stevens recently plays a Gibson and Knaggs with no whammy. Not that there is a problem with a whammy as Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan often used it. I also met Stevens at a NY concert and he spent 45 minutes explaining his guitars and his pedals. When his stage manager prompted him that the show was going to start, Steve looked at me, an eleven year old kid, and said he needed a few more minutes. Steve’s wife set up the meeting and she allowed my brother to join us. She is a beautiful person with a magnificent figure and great sense of humor. Unless you met her in person, I found it odd that you would comment on her exaggerated TV persona. Countless guitar magazine covers and numerous hits for Stevens, coupled with a fantastic New York accent. Thanks for getting me to think about how great one of my 80’s guitar heroes was and is! Good luck in your guitar endeavors.
    Kind Regards,
    Connor Wilson

  24. Steve Stevens is one of the best guitarist live today. Go to a show and watch is 15 minute solo. He can play anything and I mean anything. I will not bash you like others but you are very wrong on this one. Also if you have been to a Billy Idol concert you would no Billy is not relaxed he wants it done right every time and if it is not he gets pissed.

  25. This is the most unqualified piece of shit article. Sounds like a failed musician who knows nothing about music having a tantrum.

    Stevens is a monster guitarist and you are so fucking retarded you can’t even know shit( you) from chocolate.

    Kill yourself…

  26. Steve Stevens is the most underrated versatile guitarist in recent history. His talent ranges from hard knocking rock n roll guitar to a subtle flamenco playing style. I can assure that he and his wife are also devoted to his fan base…Long live Steve Stevens !!!!! (VESTRO)

  27. you can have skills and still be a shitty guitar player. Look at Satriani or Vai. Mad skills, but too much widdly woo squonk and not enough space between the notes. I found this website by googling “why does Steve Stevens suck?”.

  28. I don’t know what this writer is attempting to insinuate about Stevie Stevens chops other than they were out of his league technique wise. Generation X were a punk band and therefore mostly novices on their instruments. Attitude over technique is the realm of those with no talent other than look and attitude. The sex pistols sucked, as did most punk bands before skilled players became involved. Though I can appreciate bashing around on guitar in my garage, I’m not buying a recording of that crap. But the untalented need hero’s too, so I understand his intimidation at encountering true genius, and settling for a savant.

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