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Gonzo’s Gems: “Don’t Say No” When it Comes to Billy Squier

By Sam “Gonzo” Gonzales

I remember standing in a record store, sifting through record albums when I first heard “The Stroke” by Billy Squier. “Now everybody… have you heard… if you’re in the game… then strokes the word…” The song and it’s lyrics had my immediate attention. It was catchy and it rocked. So much so, that on the strength of that one song alone, I purchased the “Don’t Say No” album and took it home. I played it a couple of times from start to finish and came to the conclusion that not a bad track could be found on the entire album. Along with “The Stroke”, you had another great rocker, “Whadda You Want From Me.” The attitude of the song was summed up by it’s lyrics, “I am who I am… whadda you want from me…”. You also had the beautiful and poignant ballad “Nobody Knows”, sung in a high falsetto and dedicated to the life of John Lennon.

Born on May 12, 1950, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Billy Squier began playing piano at the age of 9 with his grandfather’s tutelage. After two years of banging away at the piano keys, Billy’s interest turned to the guitar, which he then mastered by the age of 15. He cut his teeth playing in several bands in the Boston area and the early 70s found him spending his time, following his musical pursuits between Boston and New York. He recorded and released his solo debut, “Tale Of The Tape” in 1980, which gave him a somewhat successful rock radio hit with “You Should Be High Love”. But it was the following year, with his second album, “Don‘t Say No“, that Billy experienced his big commercial breakthrough.

A couple of nights after purchasing “Don’t Say No”, I grabbed a handful of albums, placing my new Billy Squier record album in the middle and headed off to a party. A few hours into the party, I saw the chance to make my move. Like a rock ‘n’ roll ninja I moved quickly and silently. Covertly, I pulled out the “Don’t Say No” album, placed it on the stereo turntable and lined up the needle in the groove between “In The Dark” and “The Stroke“. Time to strike! I hit the play button and as “The Stroke” launched out of the speakers I stood back to watch the reactions in the room. Judging from all the smiles and head nods across the room it was an instant hit. As the album continued playing through the remainder of songs, I heard one female party goer comment, “Who is that? He rocks hard!” Yes, Virginia, yes indeed he does.

Then came 1982’s “Emotion In Motion”. It picked up right where “Don’t Say No” left off. With the first track, the ears were treated to “Everybody Wants You”. As with all of Billy’s great songs, it contained a great guitar riff, catchy beat and cool lyrics. Billy was still on a roll. “Everybody Wants You”, “Learn How To Live”, “She‘s A Runner“ and “Emotions In Motion” received plenty of rock radio play. My second favorite tune, “Emotions In Motion” was a mid-tempo rocker that smoldered in it’s own heat. Some time after the albums release, I was in my hometown on vacation. I borrowed my brother’s truck to visit my hometown pals. When I started up the truck the boogie woogie tinged, “Keep Me Satisfied” blared out of the speakers. “Emotions In Motion” was loaded in his cassette player. I smiled. My brother rocked!

1984 saw the release of “Signs Of Life”. The album featured keyboards prominently throughout the album and it introduced the Top 15 hit, “Rock Me Tonite”. Though “Rock Me Tonite” was the hit, I found “All Night Long” an even stronger tune. It had that familiar guitar sound and catchy beat, but the icing on the cake was the underlying keyboards which added an eerie feel to the song. Overall, “Signs Of Life” was a pretty good album, but it was missing the over-the-top bravura of Billy’s two previous albums.

Recorded and released two years later, “Enough Is Enough” sounded much more polished than Billy’s previous efforts. “Shot O’ Love”, “Lady With The Tenor Sax” and “Come Home” were the gems here. Billy’s collaboration with Queen‘s Freddie Mercury on “Lady With A Tenor Sax” produced a cool song with equally cool lyrics: “Here she come now… she tunes so fine… there’s a lady with a tenor sax… cool baby drives a mean Cadillac… lady with a tenor sax…”

“Hear & Now”, released in 1989, was a confident, guitar-oriented album which rocked harder than the two previous albums. In fact, “Hear & Now” probably comes closest in replicating the sound and feel of his two most successful albums, “Don’t Say No” and “Emotions In Motion”. It featured the singles, “Don’t Say You Love Me” and “Tied Up”. The other standout was the mid-tempo rocker, “The Work Song”. You gotta love the way Billy enthusiastically sings, “Roll with the mob… dance to the rhythm… give all you got and take what you‘re given… work, baby work…”.

The momentum continued with 1991’s “Creatures Of Habit”. An encouraging release, it opens up with the song, “Young At Heart”. And “Young At Heart” starts with a bed of distorted guitar notes upon which the following cryptic words are spoken: “So, you say you owe the hands of time… if you don‘t look now, you got no buy… Jack and Jill conquered the hill… but even still… they had to pay the bill…”. Now a guitar riff and drum beat greet us and plunge us headlong into the remainder of the song. Nice start! Up next, the risqué “She Goes Down”, pushed the envelope slightly with it‘s tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Released as a single, it was a good and naughty rocker. But my favorite cut was “Strange Fire” with it’s tasty guitar riff and energy aplenty. The infectious melody and sing-a-long chorus put it over the top.

Capitol Records released “Tell The Truth” in 1993. Billy recorded “Tell The Truth” all over New York city, using a myriad of recording studios and gave each track large doses of creativity, effort and care. The result was an album filled with intricate, yet catchy songs. It was Billy’s strongest artistic effort to date. The gems were “Tryin’ To Walk A Straight Line”, “Rhythm/(A Bridge So Far)” and “Time-Bomb”. “Time Bomb” is a great song with an ominous feel to it. As strong as the entire album was, Capitol Records completely overlooked “Tell The Truth” and afforded it not one iota of support. It became Billy’s last album for Capitol as he parted ways with them after a 12 year musical relationship.

Five years later, in 1998, Billy returned out of the blue with a solo acoustic effort entitled, “Happy Blue”. It deviated radically from the style of music Billy’s fans were used to. There was no bass, drums or electric guitar, just Billy on an acoustic guitar playing stripped down music steeped heavily in the blues. If the blues is your cup of tea, you’ll enjoy this release. Straight off, with the opening track, “Happy Blues”, Billy proves he’s a very capable blues guitarist. And with the acoustic blues rendition of “The Stroke” retitled, “Stroke Me Blues“, Billy shows us a completely different side of his biggest hit. And the less bluesy “More Than Words Can Say” is a beautiful acoustic song. Give “Happy Blue” a few listens and you’ll find that it grows on you.

Billy Squier‘s creative songwriting, emotive voice and impressive guitar playing has created a vast array of hard rock gems and catchy rock anthems. And “Don’t Say No” remains Billy’s biggest success, spawning the ever bombastic “The Stroke”. Just this year, the 30 year anniversary edition of “Don‘t Say No” was released, completely remastered and containing two live bonus tracks. What do I say to that? I say, “Now everybody… have you heard… if you’re in the game… then strokes the word…”. Remember “Don’t Say No”. Rock out!

(CDs) “Don‘t Say No” and “Emotions In Motion“
(Songs) The Stroke, Whadda You Want From Me, Nobody Knows, Everybody Wants You, Emotions In Motion, Keep Me Satisfied, All Night Long, Shot O’ Love, Lady With The Tenor Sax, Come Home, Don’t Say You Love Me, Tied Up,
The Work Song, Young At Heart, She Goes Down, Strange Fire, Tryin’ To Walk A Straight Line, Rhythm/(A Bridge So Far) and Time-Bomb

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