Born May 5, 1959 in New York City, guitarist Steve Stevens immersed himself in the sounds of late-’60s and ‘70s hard rock and progressive rock, soaking in their essence and replicating them with his own instrument, using his own hands. By the early ‘80s, fortune came calling in the person of a platinum-haired punk rock exile named Billy Idol, and together they would forge a partnership of hit songs and albums throughout the decade.
While Stevens’ collaborations with Idol are the most popular in his career discography, there is more to his life’s work than those awesome milestones. Let’s sample a handful of Steve Stevens’ best guitar moments throughout the decade, both with and without his sneering partner in crime:
Billy Idol, “Rebel Yell”: The distorted, liquid tone throughout the song (but especially in the solo) gave notice that not only was Stevens a sympathetic accompanist, but also a straight-up guitar hero.
Harold Faltermeyer & Steve Stevens, “Top Gun Anthem”: It’s a stately, tightly composed and performed track, meant to accompany wide-angle images of grand military power, and for the bulk of the song, Stevens complies, though subverting things a bit with a stray lick here and there. The last third of the song finds him cutting loose, throwing every whammy bar/hammer-on/pull-off trick in his arsenal at the thing for a good minute and change, before sliding back into the more reserved coda. It's no wonder a new version of the track is appearing on the soundtrack to the sequel.
Billy Idol, “To Be a Lover”: Idol’s Whiplash Smile (1986) goes heavy on the keyboards, particularly on this, its first single, on which the primary instruments are an organ and a quasi-boogie piano. Stevens sneaks in with about a minute and a quarter left and gives Idol’s Elvis-y vocal a little something to push against for a bit. It’s not a spotlight solo, but it does give the song a little extra spooky lift.
Billy Idol, “Fatal Charm”: Stevens shows off a little of everything here, from hard rock power chords to R&B comping, to noisy little asides behind the vocal. It’s the heaviest song on Whiplash Smile, and it bears repeated listens.
Michael Jackson, “Dirty Diana”: Jackson and Quincy Jones knew how to incorporate heavy guitar into a pop/R&B blend, to great effect. Eddie Van Halen did the honors on Thriller; Steve Stevens got the nod on the follow-up, Bad. Stevens’ solo at the end of “Dirty Diana” might not be as iconic as Van Halen’s turn on “Beat It,” but it closes the song with just the right bit of flash and shredding.
Steve Stevens, “Action”: Stevens might refer to his first solo album, Atomic Playboys, as “a very expensive hobby,” but this cover of a 1975 hit by The Sweet shows why it was worth every penny.