April 13 – Fans Said Yes To Billy

Perseverance pays off. Just ask Billy Squier. The Massachusetts rocker spent his 20s (and the entire decade of the ’70s) toiling away relatively unnoticed in a number of bands, then with a solo album before hitting it big… which is what he did with Don’t Say No, his second album, released this day in 1981.

Squier had been a musical youth, learning to play piano quite well by age 9. A couple of years later, he picked up a guitar after being inspired by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and in particular Eric Clapton. Eventually he got signed to Capitol Records, but his 1980 debut went nowhere.

Happily, Capitol hadn’t given up on him and sent him to the famous Power Station studios in New York to work with producer Reinhold Mack (who was hot at the time, having just finished up Queen’s mega-seller, The Game) for his sophomore effort. Don’t Say No may sound like a full band effort, but was more solo than a number of “solo” records of the era. Squier wrote all ten songs, played lead guitar on them, added piano where necessary, even drummed on some of the tracks and then helped Mack produce the effort. Among the few session musicians used was Mark Clarke on bass. Clarke was with Uriah Heep previously.

With so much input from the singer, the success of it really was a reflection of his appeal – an appeal helped on with the female fans by his video-ready good looks. Thankfully for him, it seems there was appeal to his glossily-produced hard rock lite, if you will. the sound was perhaps a forerunner of Bon Jovi and in the words of Classic Rock Review, a sound which was highly reminiscent of Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin with “an additional gloss layer that makes it very radio friendly.”

That was probably not a bad description of the album, and in particular the three hits it launched, “In the Dark”, “My Kinda Lover” and the biggest one of his career, “The Stroke.” A little bit raunchy, a little bit heavy but no so much that AM radio couldn’t take to it. All three plus “Lonely is the Night” were heavy rotation staples on FM rock stations that year, and “The Stroke” made it to #17 overall on the singles chart, and #7 to the north in Canada where he was also popular. Off this continent, he didn’t draw much notice however.

Critics back then seemed slower to take note of Don’t Say No than the fans did. It took only three months to go gold in the U.S., and eventually it would end up at triple platinum, the best of his career.

Retrospectively, it seems like it’s received reasonably well for the style and era it came from. Allmusic rate it a very favorable 4.5-stars noting it was “undoubtedly his best” of the nine albums to date, and that it’s a “near-perfect example of early-’80s melodic hard rock.” The aforementioned Classic Rock Review also suggested it “leaves one with little doubt that this is a bona fide, legitimate rocker.” But they add the reservation, on “the other hand, (there’s)something that’s a little off, something you can’t quite put your finger on” but something that kept him from being widely respected among the decade’s greats or continuing on with a lengthy, superstar career.

Perhaps so, but I imagine if you were to ask most musicians if they’d be happy with one triple platinum (and two other platinum) records and a couple of singles played heavily on radio nearly four decades on, their answer would be “don’t say no!”.

8 thoughts on “April 13 – Fans Said Yes To Billy

  1. Badfinger (Max)

    I saw him with Nazereth opening up. It was a really good show. I was hooked on The Stroke…I bought the single and then the album. Lonely Is The Night sounds like a glossy Led Zeppelin song.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I liked the album back in the day. Strange though, I don’t mind hearing any of those songs on radio but I couldn’t imagine myself pulling the disc out to listen to now if I still had it. But he was a hot commodity for a little while.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Badfinger (Max)

        He was…I saw him on the Emotions in Motion…I think that is it…tour.
        I went mainly just to go to a concert but I was surprised…

        Liked by 2 people

  2. He and Nazareth were in/playing to the same- or pretty similar- ballpark- hair, guitars loud brash, and flash.
    I agree, Dave- I think after his heyday this is one CD that would gather dust for a long long time. Then one play and back to the dusty dark oblivion. Good enough at the time though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve bought a few of those discs through the years – not those guys, but same type thing… artists who I don’t mind when I hear them on radio so I get a greatest hits of them and then a year later realize “I never really feel like making an effort to hear any of these songs.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well… I still listen to this album along with Billy’s other albums esp. Hear And Now is a total favourite of mine. Bill had a great run in the 80s and yeah I still dig the guys tunes lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. he was really big for a little while. My sweetie liked him a lot in high school but she says that was terribly unpopular because it was assumed he was gay, not that the high schoolers would have put it that politely. I have no idea if he is or not, but while bands like Culture Club were popular and breaking ground, I guess in hard rock that was more of a non-starter . So if that was a widespread rumor, true or not, it might have harmed his long-term prospects.

      Like

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