Music Moment: The Lost Art of Billy Squier

MTV has sucked for years, though that wasn’t always the case. There used to be a time between its 1981 beginnings up until the early 1990s that I used to look forward to watching the channel. I discovered a lot of artists as a result of MTV, one of them being Billy Squier.

Billy Squier’s ‘Emotions in Motion’ 1982 album cover

Squier is a rock musician who wore jeans, t-shirts, had semi-long, curly hair who loved to play music. He wasn’t pop-happy, narcissistic, misogynistic, conflicted or full of angst.

His music was enjoyable and easy to rock out to whether you were at home, driving around or hanging out in a bar. He wrote songs mainly about men, women, relationships, love and sex that had good hooks and strong lyrics. He had a distinctive voice and was handy with a guitar. His big hits included “The Stroke,” “In the Dark,” “Everybody Wants You” and “My Kind of Lover.” He’s one of the artists who helped start me on my ‘inner white boy‘ music journey.

It’s kind of amazing that he was successful during the 80s given he was in the era of music video stars such as Michael Jackson, Madonna and Duran Duran. Squier’s videos mainly showed him singing with his band live or lip synching with his band. Straight-forward videos for a nothing-too-fancy-up-and-coming rock star.

Then came the “Rock Me Tonite” video off of his 1984 Signs of Life album. The one time he attempted to do a stylized dance video and it was a cringe-worthy disaster.

I remember the first time I saw it.  I thought he looked ridiculous. His dancing was weird and out of character. The layered pink and white shirt he wore in the video looked like it came from the Flashdance movie set, which he then proceeded to rip off his body. I’m not sure if David Lee Roth or Mick Jaggar at the height of their strut-worthiness could’ve pulled off that video let alone Squier. The video was a misstep, but I decided to overlook it because I liked Billy Squier. Unfortunately many others didn’t do the same though the song was and is still his biggest hit.

Billy Squier in concert (Photo/Wiliam Randolph, 2009)

Squier has done several albums since Signs of Life, but his career has never been the same. Squier himself has blamed the “Rock Me Tonite” video for his career slide. Maybe this was just another true-to-life example of the Buggles’ song “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Then again, maybe it was just the early 1990s and the changing music landscape with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam becoming the death knell for Squier’s type of 80s rock music.

When I look at today’s music charts I can’t help but think it would be nice to see another Billy Squier – a rock musician who enjoys playing music without artifice. Luckily Squier still tours–albeit on a much smaller scale–and fans have posted snippets of his live shows and other performances (old and new) on YouTube. He’s still around and looks and sounds great to his old fans; hopefully to be discovered by new ones.

Though Squier is known for bigger hits, my favorite song by him is a 1983 live version of “She’s A Runner” which he did in Detroit. To me it definitively sums up Billy Squier and his music to his fans. It also shows why he should’ve had a larger, longer and more successful career. Sigh – damn THAT music video.