1981, Music

Don’t say No (1981) by Billy Squier

I’m pretty sure the first time I heard “The Stroke” was in an arena. I had no idea what it was and I couldn’t figure out why half the audience (at least) seemed to know the song. Too recent to be “classic rock” when I was growing up and too “rock” (I guess) for those stations that play “the hits” from different decades, I had just never been exposed to it. (If Squier was Canadian, though, you could be damn sure I would have heard it earlier.) So it was a massive surprise that this album was a massive hit. (Also, “The Stroke” was not as big a hit as you think, at least based on how frequently it’s played in arenas now.)

Squier’s songs aren’t much to get excited about: a whole lot of ’70s rock cliches. Even “The Stroke” is a riff in search of a better song. It seems like Squier is just one of those innumerable American arena rock songwriters who found a way of balancing catchy-enough melodies with enough of a rock edge to appeal to a broad group in society. Sure, the songs are catchy. But how is this really that different from, like, Grand Funk Railroad at their catchiest?

I’d say his lyrics are a little better but honestly I didn’t pay that much attention. I think that means they’re fine. (If I don’t recoil in horror, and don’t remember them, that usually means they’re fine.)

There is this one moment on “In the Dark” where Cary Sharaf just goes bonkers on guitar, almost like Robert Fripp trying to play Neil Young’s solo on “Vampire Blues.” It’s too brief to be incredible, but it hints that, lurking below everything else, there was some real creativity among at least some of these musicians. How much of it was repressed? Or, was that brief fill just a fluke? In any event, it just reminds me how utterly bored I am with the rest of the record in terms of how it is arranged – every time through I’d hear that one fill and think “Why couldn’t they do more stuff like that?” Instead, we get generic ’70s American arena rock all the way through.

One redeeming feature is that the album is mostly free of ’80s production cliches, because they hadn’t become vogue in this kind of rock music yet. (The presence of synthesizers does not actually mean it sounds ’80s.) The production isn’t amazing but it’s also perfectly adequate.

There’s actually nothing wrong with this, it’s just too generic for me.


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