Graded on a Curve:
Billy Squier,
Don’t Say No

Back in the day my pals and I hated this MTV “video star” so much we dubbed him Billy Squealer, but in his brilliant and very off-kilter contribution to rock literature Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe Chuck Eddy puts Billy Squier’s 1981 LP Don’t Say No at No. 67, a ranking so disconcertingly high I had to wonder: Is the guy insane? Or are my ears for shit?

Only one way to find out–I had my girlfriend tie me to a chair, then put Don’t Say No on constant repeat. Fourteen hours later she came back, and found me babbling on about how Billy Squier was a hierophant of unapprehended inspiration and one of the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

“Who are you channeling?” she asked, patently concerned for my mental health. “Algernon Charles Swinbure? Jim Dandy Mangrum? I told you this was a bad idea. The album’s a goddamn loaded gun, and I’m going to hide it someplace where you can’t hurt yourself with it.”

“Don’t you dare,” I hissed. “Billy Squier’s a fucking wizard and a true star. Just listen to “My Kinda Lover.” It’s like Led Zeppelin and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had a baby! And… and… and “The Stroke” is a stroke of Gary Glitter Stomp Rock Genius and the best Suzi Quatro song I’ve ever heard in my life!”

A couple of days (and a whole shit of mood stabilizers) later, my feelings about Squier and Don’t Say No are a bit more… measured. I’m not going to sit here and tell you Squier’s some big musical genius because he ain’t–he’s just one helluva human synthesizer. On Don’t So No he updates Led Zeppelin for the MTV Era, giving Plant and Page a Power Pop gloss (shoulda started a band called Def Zeppelin!) while leaving himself just another wiggle room–unlike, say, the musical jaybirds in Whitesnake or Greta Van Fleet–to escape arrest on charges of being a craven LZ tribute act.

I mean, I dare you to listen to “Lonely Is the Night” and not shout, “Led Zeppelin lives!”, although come to think of it Cary Sharaf’s monster guitar riff has a decidedly Neil Young feel to it. The drums and vocals, on the other hand, are pure Zep bombast boogie, and guaranteed to make you do the Crunge. Ditto “Whadda You Want From Me,” Squier’s hard-to-believe-it-ain’t-on-purpose repurposing of LZ’s “Rock and Roll.” If the latter was a backwards-looking salute to first generation rock’n’roll, “Whadda You Want From Me” is super self-aware third generation stuff–you can’t even see Chuck Berry in the rearview mirror. This baby’ all Zep to its bones–like they say about scrapple, you get everything but the oink.

Don’t Say No has its Zep-Free Zones. “I Need You” is a likable acoustic love song complete with soaring backing vocals and a bouncing bass; on “Nobody Knows” Squier reaches for the falsetto poignant and kinda hits the mark in a schmaltzy Eric Carmen kinda way. Don’t let the strings hit you on your way out! Meanwhile, on “Too Daze Gone” Squier and Company sound a Stonesy country honk, raunch’n’roll note, complete with piano and cowbell.

And despite its supersized stomp, John Bonham isn’t the fella who comes to mind on “The Stroke.” No, with its press-gang vocals and synchronized (synthesized?) hand claps it harkens back to the Glory Days of Glam, Bubblegum Division–think Gary Glitter, or the early Sweet. Except Gary was never this lewd, that is if the song’s actually about jerking off–it could be about a big dance craze (like the Crocodile Rock!) that never made it to my hometown, or the “ear pollution” Billy wants to spread “far and wide,” or his fear of cerebrovascular accidents, who knows? .

Otherwise, what you get are echoes and more echoes–it’s like Robert Plant yodeling on an Alpine mountain peak, this LP. “In the Dark” comes on like a more melodic by far take on synthesized Zeppelin, “My Kinda Lover” ditto; keyboardist Alan St. Jon (wonderful name, that) is right up front on both numbers, helping to drag Zep’s blooze boogie into the unforgivable eighties. And those horns! They’re the oddest touch on the whole record, and pure pop pleasure. As for “You Know What I Like,” it’s a dumbed down take on “Immigrant Song,” which ain’t to say it doesn’t afford real listening pleasure–I love St. Jon’s unhinged keyboard work, and Chouinard’s drumming is pure Nordic Invasion.

Talk about coming from the land of the ice and snow–Squier came out of Massachusetts! But he was no Viking, just a kind of enlightened mimeograph machine, one savvy enough to turn out pop-friendly facsimiles of the songs of his musical betters. Don’t Say No ain’t Led Zeppelin IV, but I sure wouldn’t kick it out of my jukebox. Squealer? You done good.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • Robert Sharpe

    From a different album, but “She’s a Runner” is my favorite Billy Squier tune. Also, anyone throwing shade on Greta Van Fleet sounds like a grumpy old man.

    • Roger Westcombe

      Both the Piper LPs which precede his solo career are quite good.

      • Michael Little

        So I’ve heard. I’ll have to check them out. Thanks for reading!

    • Michael Little

      Greta Van Fleet? I like their songs, I do. But it’s hard to deny their just clever Led Zeppelin pastiches. Is there some originality in that? I suppose. But they don’t have another original bone in their body. Their success is due to the fact that they sound EXACTLY like Led Zeppelin. That said, it’s hard to hate them. They’re just kids who appear to have never listened to anybody other than Plant and Page.

      • Robert Sharpe

        Agree totally, especially that it’s hard to hate them. It’s their cleverness that critics consider intellectual property theft that I find endearing.

        • Michael Little

          They’re parrots. Everybody likes parrots. But you don’t sit around waiting for a parrot to say something it’s never heard before. That’s outside the parrot’s pay grade.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text