Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Billy Squier Primer"
ROCK ME TONITE
This is the clip that ended Billy Squier's career, that shot him from the beer drinker's hope to nobody's favorite seemingly overnight.
Dancing in a pink tank top? What was he thinking?
He wasn't. He listened to famous choreographer Kenny Ortega and was instantly finished. Oh, he got some airplay thereafter, but there was a stink upon his career that still hasn't worn off.
Meanwhile, this is a serviceable hit, but nothing like what came before, on "Don't Say No."
THE BIG BEAT
Yes, there was a first album, cut with Eddy Offord, of Yes fame, which got hardly any traction, despite this track ultimately being sampled by a who's who of rappers.
YOU SHOULD BE HIGH LOVE
This track on the initial LP, entitled "Tale Of The Tape," got a bit of airplay, in retrospect it sounds like classic Squier, but it was not a hit. Squier was just another unknown journeyman who'd worked with various outfits and failed and now had a deal with one of the worst labels in the business. And then came...
The one. An instant hit. All over the radio. With that backward snare drum, masterminded by producer Reinhold Mack, who'd just come off Queen's huge "The Game." It was 1981, most people did not have MTV, but "The Stroke" broke through on FM, before the new English wave hit, when we were sick of the same old seventies hits. "The Stroke" was played into the ground, but with just a few modernizing tweaks, it could be a hit again today. Especially notable are the dynamics, how it can be loud, then quiet, then...
IN THE DARK
Nothing was as big as "The Stroke," but I far prefer this, for the wall of sound riff, which segues into Billy's mellifluous vocal. This is the kind of track that's made for air guitar, you just close your eyes, pick out your imaginary axe, and then open your peepers and perfect your moves in front of the mirror...
Punks said they wanted to get rid of this sound, but so much of America still loves this sound. Probably my favorite Billy Squier cut.
MY KINDA LOVER
The album opened with "In The Dark," "The Stroke," then this, with the enrapturing chorus you couldn't help but do your best Stevie Wonder head weave to.
TOO DAZE GONE
Sure, it was an album track, but it was oh-so-good. Kinda reminiscent of Bad Company whilst still being its own cut...
"Too daze gone... Too daze gone..."
And then that lyrical guitar underneath, whew!
LONELY IS THE NIGHT
The big hit that opened the second side of the album, and I had to own the LP, along with millions of others, because after a few hits you believed there had to be more, and there was. It's all about the riff, with that squealing, bending sound, like an animal in heat. And those little guitar accents after the lines of the verse, and then that twisting, bending vocal in the pre-chorus. "The Stroke" may be overplayed, but despite "Lonely Is The Night" getting a ton of airplay, it's still fresh in my mind.
DON'T SAY NO
Despite featuring future masked marvel Bruce Kulick on his solo debut, despite cowriting with Desmond Child on same, the second album was all Billy Squier all the time, he wrote all the songs, he pushed the envelope, proving he was a talent to be reckoned with. Sammy Hagar modernized Capitol Records, but Billy Squier made the label one to be considered.
"Don't Say No" finishes the album on a tear, daring you to drop the needle and hear the whole opus again.
Billy Squier was a star. Radio made him, MTV blew him up, and then...
EVERYBODY WANTS YOU
The follow-up to "In The Dark" wasn't quite as good, but what could be? Furthermore, by this time Culture Club and the rest of the new English wave were squeezing out the classic rockers on the all powerful MTV. Still, this made inroads, this is good, it could have fit perfectly on "In The Dark," and that's a good thing!
SHE'S A RUNNER
Another keeper from "Emotions In Motion," it's the guitar sound that's so intriguing, that keeps you listening. The track builds, it's different from what's come before, but it satisfies.
EMOTIONS IN MOTION
The title track. Queen-influenced. Actually, Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor participated on it. "Emotions In Motion" was not made for radio, but for home, it was a hit in your living room.
SIGNS OF LIFE
And then came "Rock Me Tonite," on this, Squier's fourth solo album. It was the wrong video at the wrong time. By this time, Squier was a star, MTV was all powerful, Michael Jackson had penetrated it, everybody was watching, and Squier misfired.
Why wasn't anybody in the room saying NO!
But that's rock and roll. Where everybody convinces each other something's a winner, and then the public immediately puts thumbs down, kind of like with Robin Thicke's "Paula." But Billy Squier was bigger than Robin Thicke. Back when it wasn't about the single, but the body of work.
And then it was too late. Squier retreated, lost momentum and the game changed. It was no longer about rock and it was all about the video.
So what we're left with is one superior album and a few tracks, a guy with talent who made it but then was excoriated and gone. Proving, once again, that even though you think you've made it, that may not be true.
Furthermore, it shows the power of video. Without it, Billy Squier would still be a star today, filling sheds all by his lonesome, or with Styx and Def Leppard.