Friday, August 7, 2009

A Noble Rock Squire Soldiers On

Billy Squier carried considerable momentum into 1982, writing and performing the track ‘The Best Years Of My Life’, from the cult teen comedy ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High’ (Squier played all the instruments on the track). He then released the album ‘Emotions In Motion’ (US#5 - featuring cover art by Andy Warhol), and embarked on a U.S. arena tour with Queen, and later headlined a tour supported by Def Leppard. The album’s title track single stalled on the charts (US#68), despite boasting backing vocals from Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor, but the follow up ‘Everybody Wants You’ bolted to #1 on the U.S. Album Rock charts (#32 Hot 100). A third single, ‘She’s A Runner’ (US#75), kept Squier’s name on the charts into 1983, but plans were already in the works for his next album.

With Reinhold Mack tied up in production duties for Queen’s album ‘The Works’, Squier turned to acclaimed producer Jim Steinman (see previous post) to helm 1984’s ‘Signs Of Life’ (US#11/OZ#96). The lead out single, ‘Rock Me Tonite’, proved somewhat of a double edged sword for Squier. Whilst the song was a pulsating rock guitar number, and went on to become Squier’s second #1 Album Rock hit (#15 Hot 100/OZ#50), it also proved to be a source of embarrassment for the serious rock musician - well, the promotional video did at any rate. It was to Squier’s vexation that he had been embraced as something of a heavy metal teen idol, but his prancing ‘look at me’ antics in the video ‘Rock Me Tonite’ did nothing to enhance his reputation as a serious artist. The video is frequently cited as one of the most cringe inducing of the era, and it was up against some pretty stiff competition, but its notoriety, and retrospective hilarity, has aided in ‘Rock Me Tonite’ still gaining considerable airplay twenty five years on. Jim Steinman weaved his grandiose pomp-rock spell over the rest of the album, which also featured backing vocals from regular Steinman associates Eric Troyer and Rory Dodd (see future Bonnie Tyler post). The follow up singles proved disappointing in terms of sales, ‘All Night Long’ (US#75), ‘Eye On You’ (US#71), though Squier scored a surprise 1984 Christmas hit with ‘Christmas Is The Time To Say “I Love You”’, the track originally released in some markets as a B-side to ‘The Stroke’.

‘Signs Of Life’ represented the peak pulse rate in Billy Squier’s career, but by 1986 his career heart rate was slowing, as a slew of younger, and more visually outlandish competition challenged for the big hair, hard rock mantel - the likes of Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, and Poison all jostled for attention. Squier had also alienated some of his core ‘guitar hero’ audience via the infamous ‘Rock Me Tonite’ performance, but Capitol retained faith as they backed Squier’s fifth studio album, 1986’s ‘Enough Is Enough’ (US#61). Produced by Peter Collins (worked with Matchbox, Nik Kershaw - see previous posts - Rush, Matt Bianco), the album featured two collaborations between Squier and Queen front man Freddie Mercury, on the tracks ‘Love Is The Hero’ (US#80), and ‘Lady With A Tenor Sax’. Though sales ran into the hundred’s of thousands, the days of multi-platinum albums for Squier were long gone, as were the headlining arena tours.

1989’s album ‘Hear & Now’ (US#64), represented Squier’s last foray inside the mainstream top 100. Co-produced by Squier himself, the set yielded just one minor hit with ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’ (US#58), though as had been the case with most of his singles to that point, the track made more of an impact on the Album Rock charts (#4). In an industry where record labels dispense with talent at the slightest sign of waning sales, it’s arguably surprising that Capitol Records maintained ties with Billy Squier for a further two albums. 1991’s ‘Creatures Of Habit’ (US#117) was released amidst the furore of grunge, with 80s stadium rockers summarily consigned to the passé pile by audiences enamoured with the latest incarnation of stripped down, unpretentious rock music. The album reportedly lacked musical inspiration for the most part, and was largely derivative of Squier’s earlier work, along with a few other mish-mash efforts of other artist’s work. The synth-edged single ‘She Goes Down’ racked up some sales on the Mainstream Rock chart (#4), but its sexually explicit video was restricted to a few late night plays on MTV - Squier writes on his website that he had planned the song as a kind of sequel to ‘The Stroke’ - but it didn’t quite work out the way he’d hoped. Squier’s final outing for Capitol arrived in the form of 1993’s ‘Tell The Truth’, produced by none other than Mike Chapman (of Sweet, Blondie, The Knack fame), and mixed by Kevin Shirley (future producer for silverchair, Aerosmith). The album was reportedly a very personal affair for Billy Squier, and on the album’s liner notes he is quoted as saying “The events which contributed to the writing of these songs are true…the names have been omitted so that you can choose your own…you know who you are”. Squier no doubt racked up some cab charges during the recording phase, with several New York City studios utilised. But by 1993, any hope of substantial backing from his label Capitol, was a forlorn one. The album was released into a market dominated by the likes of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, and an old ‘rock-fossil’ like Squier, sadly, no longer rated a mention, despite offering up, by all reports, a fine album, including the appropriately titled single ‘Angry’ (US#15 Mainstream Rock chart). The shabby treatment handed out to ‘Tell The Truth’ proved a bitter pill to swallow for Billy Squier, and he all but turned his back on the music biz for several years after.

Following a spot of mountain climbing, in 1998 Squier returned to the recording studio, with but voice, and guitar in hand. He released the acoustic blues style album ‘Happy Blue’ on his own J-Bird label. It was from all reports an emotive, and personal affair for Squier - perhaps in part a cleansing of the soul following the unpleasantness surrounding ‘Tell The Truth’. Squier hit the road for the first time in several years, with a mini-tour in support of the album. By 2001, the music cycle had come full circle, and the 80s was once more in fashion - from a nostalgic point of view. It was commonplace for the ‘old dinosaur’ rock acts of the 70s and 80s to dust off the amplifier stacks and combine forces on tour. Bad Company, Styx, and Billy Squier did just that in March of ‘01, embarking on a sell-out U.S. tour, which reminded audiences that these guys could still rock a venue to its very foundations.

In subsequent years Billy Squier has kept a relatively low profile, finding time to attend to interests beyond the popular music sphere, such as gardening and screenwriting. He hit the stage again during 2005 with Def Leppard, but this time around he was happy to be their opening act. In 2006 Squier was invited to tour with Ringo Starr’s famed All Starr Band. He performed alongside the likes of Rod Argent, Richard Marx, Edgar Winter and Sheila E. (see previous post), whilst 2008 saw him return to the fray with Ringo, alongside Hamish Stuart, Gregg Bissonette, Edgar Winter, Colin Hay (see previous post), and Gary Wright (see previous posts). Via his official website, at time of writing, Billy Squier is on the road once again for a U.S. summer tour.

Check out the latest news from the world of Billy Squier here:

No comments: