'80s - Billy Squier (2006)
'A New Tale of Life's Tape'
Squier originally performed with The Sidewinders, a band that premiered during the early 1970s. He joined Andy Paley, Eric Rosenfeld, Leigh Fox, and Bryan Chase, but then Eric left and they replaced Bryan with Jimmy Wilkens on drums. Squier then left the group to form the band Piper, which released a couple of albums in the mid '70s, Piper and Can't Wait, but broke off soon after.
Piper was managed by the same management company as Kiss, and opened for Kiss for some of their most memorable performances during their 1977 tour, including a three-night, sold-out run at New York's Madison Square Garden.
Squier signed with Capitol Records to release his solo debut in 1980. Tale of the Tape was a minor hit, partly because Squier played a mixture of pop and rock, which earned him a large crossover audience. The song "You Should Be High Love" received a fair amount of play on album rock stations, but no single cracked the pop charts. Years later, the song "The Big Beat" became the most sampled song in hip-hop history.
Brian May was actually scheduled to do "Tale of the Tape" but was tied up with Queen recording "The Game"... with Reinhold Mack. Mack would go on to produce Squier's breakout LP, "Don't Say No" a year later, with Billy.
Squier had a string of arena rock and power ballad hits in the early 1980s. And from that '81 album he is probably best known for the song "The Stroke." Other hits include "In The Dark", "Rock Me Tonite" "Lonely Is The Night", "My Kind of Lover" , "Everybody Wants You" and "All Night Long".
Squier is also known for his collaborations with Freddie Mercury on Squier's 1986 release Enough Is Enough ("Love Is The Hero", "Lady With A Tenor Sax"). Mercury also sang background vocal's on Squier's hit single "Emotions in Motion."
In 2006, Squier joined Rod Argent, Richard Marx, Edgar Winter, Sheila E, and Hamish Stuart touring with Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band.
Chatting recently with Billy, I first wondered having left The Sidewinders and created Piper, and with Circus Magazine touting your album as the greatest debut album ever produced by an American rock band, why you then broke up soon thereafter?! "Well, it’s really a simple answer, but as I grew up my focus was on the bands that I followed. Being in a band was like being in a gang to me. So, I wanted to be part of a band and never thought that I’d be Billy Squier, the solo artist. As time went on and I was playing more, singing more, and writing songs more, I suddenly realized that's what I had to do if I wanted to hone my singing and my songwriting to my best advantage. So, I developed my skills more and became more of the complete package. That said, I never directed my own videos. I really wanted nothing to do with videos, but they were a necessary evil at the time. I did direct MTV's first in-house video, which was my song, "Christmas Is The Time To Say 'I Love You'." Even within the structure of a band I was becoming more focused on what I had to do.”
”And Piper was the turning point because in essence it was my band. Everything was coming from me, it was my vision. Then as the band stated to become recognized it was natural that other members of the group wanted to start doing what they wanted to do. And where there’s nothing wrong in that I thought that it was detracting from what I was trying to accomplish. So one day I just woke up and thought I’ve got to become a solo artist. This is how I’m gonna become successful. This is what I have to do.”
When you left Piper was there any animosity between the band and you? ”I think that it was probably disappointment rather than animosity. I don’t believe that any of us parted on bad terms. It turned out that the other guys weren’t prepared to go as far as I was. So, in that sense it also represented the end of the road for them.”
At what point having gone solo were you able to look in the mirror and say, ‘Now I’m somebody famous’? ”Well, I don’t think that I would use the word famous, but I think I knew that I was getting there when ‘Tale Of The Tape’ came out. Because when that came out there was this one song on there called ‘You Should Be High, Love' which in America was the most requested song on rock radio for something like two months! So even though it didn’t turn out to be this huge record, I heard that and I knew I’d done something right with that record. But 'Don't Say No' was a record I'd always wanted to do. It was the record that I'd waited to do. I remember feeling that if the record wasn’t going to be a success that I would quit. Because I knew - at that point – that I couldn’t do anything better. And fortunately I didn’t have to because the record was obviously a big success. So, to answer your question, I felt I'd "arrived" with the release of 'Don't Say No'.”
Is there any truth in the fact that your big hit ‘The Stroke’ has its musical origins in a Led Zeppelin riff? ”Well, With all due respect to those guys the answer’s no. I was a big Led Zeppelin fan and you can certainly hear those guys popping up across the spectrum of my musical releases. But as far as ‘The Stroke’ itself goes I’d have to say I don’t think there’s any Zeppelin influence in there! But, if you asked me about ‘Lonely Is The Night' … then I’d say yes,” he laughs. ”But there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean we’re all influenced by those that come before us.”
Being best known for ‘The Stroke,’ once and for all please tell us where it originated and if there’s a story to tell re: it’s recording? ”Well, the song originated in all places, Detroit. It was one of the foremost American cities for rock ’n roll and it started there. It’s not based on what people think it is, but for the most part sure there’s a lot of innuendo attached to that song. And people certainly take it to the provocative ends of the Earth, so to speak. But it’s really about something that is a lot more mundane which was a commentary on the way people treat each other. And in particular, within the music business at the time. People will tell you anything they think you want to hear to get what they want out of you. You’re their best friend until they don’t need you any more and then you’re out the door. That’s what ‘The Stroke’ is really about.”
”Now, what was interesting to me was that when I decided to call the song that I realized right away that nobody was going to know what the song was about, but that they were going to make it out to be very provocative, very sexual - and that it could cause a lot of controversy. So, then I said great what better combination could there be for me to write such a song? So, here as a writer I could lay out my scathing commentary on the music industry and people will take it all the wrong way - which would probably ensure that it would be fairly successful in that respect! So, I had the perfect combination, a unique situation in getting that song out to the public.”
”As for the other part to your question, I came up with the drum track for the song in a funny way. We recorded the song and I wasn’t hearing what I was looking for. I started recording the snare drum backwards which creates the sound you hear before the sound that precedes the actual drum.”
Your now-infamous video for ‘84s hit "Rock Me Tonite" featuring you dancing flamboyantly around your apartment is often credited with harming your career. Is this an overstatement or an understatement?! ”I’d say it’s an understatement! I think that’s probably the most damning four minutes of video ever shot in history! Well, from my perspective it is!”
Were you even happy to do it at the time? ”No, not at all! But, often times you’ll get caught up in a sequence of events. There’s a sequence here after it’s done – but you don’t see it clearly while it’s going on – but here’s what happened. I was making ‘Signs Of Life’ in England and we knew it was going to be a hit. We knew that ‘Rock Me Tonite’ was going to be a bit hit - as well in as much as you can tell – so we went through a lot of directors for that video. Directors who wanted to push a particular moralistic stamp onto my music. We started off with one high profile director, but the situation deteriorated rather quickly, Then we got another director who was very successful, but started doing the same thing and so we suddenly found ourselves in June, the record was coming out in July and the record company already had an exclusive MTV air date. And so here you are without a video! So then appeared this fellow who was a very well known choreographer who had what seemed to be a pretty unique idea about taking me away from the band and cataloging all my moves. So I thought that it sounded very interesting, the fact that we were exploring a different aspect of my performing persona. And so that’s how I went into it. But then what came out of it was clearly something different in terms of the way it ended up being staged. The look of the video had not even been what I wanted. It had not been set out like I’d have wished. And again, this was all happening at the 11th hour. And so, the rest is now history! It knocked me right off the top of the mountain and I never got back! And it wasn’t for a lack of trying. I made four records after that all of which were up to the previous standard if not higher. But, nobody cared. People saw the video and just decided that I’d lost the plot and … next!”
For this new CD ‘80s Hits Stripped,’ you have an acoustic version on 'The Stroke' on there … when was that recorded? ”I recorded that song for the MTV sister station, VH-1. They were doing something around the end of 1998 and they wanted me to do ‘The Stroke.’ So I told them I would but not the way I usually did. I told them I wanted to do an acoustic version of it which I didn’t have at the time. I remember then hanging up the phone and wondering what I’d just committed to! I mean, I was gonna do an acoustic version of ‘The Stroke’? What was that gonna be?! Fortunately though I realized that 'The Stroke' was actually a blues song! So I took it in that direction and it ended up being the starting point for my "Happy Blue" CD, which is entirely acoustic. So we had fun with that and took it to a completely new place, extending the legacy of that song.”
Will there be any new music from you soon, perhaps? ”I wouldn’t hold your breath, but music will come. But sometimes you’ve just got to get out of the business for a while, you know. I find myself getting involved in all the things I never had time to do when I was a 'career artist'.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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