It's a pretty big statement to say someone released a perfect record but on April 13th, 1981, that's what Billy Squier managed to do with his second record Don't Say No.
Don't Say No was released four months before MTV hit the airwaves, and three years before Billy's infamously bad career-ending video for "Rock Me Tonite," a song that oddly enough ended up being his highest-charting US single.
Don't Say No seemed to blast its way out of nowhere. The lead single "The Stroke" became an instant staple on rock radio and a top twenty hit on the Billboard charts. If you are old enough to remember spending your Saturday afternoons at the roller skating rink, you are very familiar with "The Stroke."
It may seem like Squier was an overnight success, but his rock 'n roll resume stretches back to the mid 70's when he fronted the band Piper. Piper were managed by Rock Steady Management Company, the same team that managed Kiss. Piper released two albums on A&M Records and opened two sold out nights for Kiss at Madison Square Garden. Both Piper records garnered high praise from rock critics but failed to make any waves in the charts. Billy eventually left Piper, signed a solo deal with Capitol Records and released his debut record The Tale of the Tape in 1980. The album featured a minor rock radio hit "You Should Be High Love" but went mostly unnoticed. Billy's fortunes would soon change.
Squier initially asked Queen's Brain May to produce the follow up to Tape, but May was busy with other projects and suggested Billy use Mack as his producer. Mack had produced the most recent chart-topping Queen album The Game. Billy took May's advice and would go on to co-produce the record with Mack.
Don't Say No kicks off in high gear with "In The Dark," highlighted by the thunderous drumming of Bobby Chouinard. Chouinard was the only holdover from Squier's debut album and he would remain a member of Billy's touring and recording band for several years. "The Stroke" is the album's second track and although the song would eventually become overplayed, it's easy to see why it became an instant radio hit. "My Kind Of Lover" continues the what seems to be effortless flow of hits. Side one closes with two uptempo rockers, "You Know What I Like" and "Two Daze Gone." Both songs have a great live energy.
If you were thinking that they purposely loaded up side one with all the hits and strong material, you'd be wrong. Side two picks up right were side one left off. The opening guitar riff of "Lonely Is The Night" is one of those signature riffs that instantly grabs you. The song became a big radio hit and is still a staple on classic rock radio stations. Halfway through the albums second side Squier takes his first breather with the dramtic ballad "Nobody Knows," a song he mostly sings in a high falcetto voice. "Nobody Knows" is the perfect counter balance to everything that preceded it on the record and is a standout track. "I Need You" is another mid-tempo track but a bit more bouncy and upbeat than "Nobody Knows." The album closes with the title track "Don't Say Know" and it leaves you feeling very satisfied but also wishing there was more.
Don't Say No went all the way to No. 5 in the Billboard charts and would remain on the charts for a solid two years after its release, selling more than 4 million copies in the US. It spawned two top forty hits with "The Stroke" and "In The Dark" along with "My Kind Of Lover" and "Lonely Is The Night" being big rock radio hits. When MTV launched in August of 1981 Squier became a fast favorite on the station and this exposure pushed the album to even greater heights. MTV ran a concert from the Don't Say No tour called Live In The Dark and it captured Billy and his band at their best. All the videos from the album were also in heavy rotation. At the end of 1981 Billy filmed a Christmas themed video at the MTV studios with cast and crew from the station. He was one of the early faces of MTV.
The impact of Don't Say No on the rock world is widely known and well-documented, but you may not be aware of Squier's influence in the world of Rap music. His debut album featured a song called "The Big Beat" and it has been sampled over 200 times by artists like Jay Z, Kanye West, Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest, Alicia Keys, and Run DMC. To a lesser degree "The Stroke" from Don't Say No has been sampled by Eminem and Nas. Eminem has also sampled "My Kind Of Lover."
It's unfortunate that when you mention Billy Squier these days people seem to remember that career-ending video for "Rock Me Tonite," that I mentioned earlier in this piece. They forget that making a record is no easy task and in my opinion, Don't Say No is flawless and has stood the test of time. I think that speaks for itself.
Scott Carr is a guitarist who plays in the Columbus, OH bands Radio Tramps and Returning April. Scott is also an avid collector of vinyl records and works at Lost Weekend Records. So...if you are looking for Scott....you'll either find him in a dimly lit bar playing his guitar or in a record store digging for the holy grail.