December , 1982
By David Huff
The East Coast Rocker That's Quietly Taking the World… And How
Billy Squier sat back in his chair for a moment to collect his thoughts.
Twenty minutes earlier, he had just rocked packed house at the Myriad in Oklahoma City with one of the most powerful performances for an opening act, outside of John Cougar, the state had seen in years.
Squier was opening for Queen on this nationwide tour, and like Cougar who opened for Reo Speedwagon, his album was solidly entrenched in the Top Five while Queen's was off struggling somewhere. The show wouldn't have sold without Squier. It was that simple.
Queen had succeeded in alienating a large segment of their fans with the release of Hot Spaces, because it lacked the power and the punch its predecessor, The Game, had socked this country with almost two years earlier.
Billy Squier didn't have to worry about that however. His current release, Emotions in Motion was well on its way to duplicating the platinum success of its predecessor, Don't Say No, had generated.
Debuting as a solo artist in March of 1980 with the album The Tale of the Tape, Squier gained some attention with the moderately successful single, "Rich Kid," which got him noticed. The follow-up to that album,
"I have what you would call qualified success,” answered Squier modestly backstage after his thunderous encore performance. "I am now able to do what I have always wanted to do and make a living at it. I believe I am succeeding in terms of the industry which I'm in. I think probably the simplest definition of success is being able to have the freedom to do what you want to do. If you like what you're doing and are able to do it, then you are pretty well off.
"Obviously, I would like to have lots of money and be able to go wherever I want to. But, I have lived my whole life not doing that and I am pretty happy right now. I have a long way to go as far as establishing myself to the point where I want to be. There's a lot more that I want to do, but this is the most positive time in my life. Now, I am beginning to feel that I am starting to benefit from all of the time that I have put into it, and it feels real good."
And feel good Squier should. Not only did his second album, Don't Soy No, hit platinum, but it stayed in the Top Ten for several weeks. It had an abundance of hit singles with the most noteable one being "The Stroke." And then he released Emotions in Motion.
One thing that is very interesting about Squier is that every album that he has done has been with different musicians. Even the people that tour with him are different. Is Squier that great of a songwriter and composer that he can go through all of these line-up changes in two years but still put out hit singles and platinum albums? How is two platinum albums in the Top 100 for an answer?
Squier has been in the music business for several years, and the majority of that was spent as the front man for other groups. The first was Sidewinder, and the second was Piper. Piper actually went as far as recording two albums for A&M Records before they broke up. It was Squier's experiences with Piper that eventually made him realize that he would have to depend on himself.
"When I put Piper together," explained Squier, "I was trying to realize a lot of dreams that I had as far as being part of a band and living a kind of larger than the music kind of lifestyle. What happened was I found out that those type of situations aren't manufactured. The bands that survive are the ones that influence all of us like the Stones, the Who, and these groups that have been together for years.
"Those bands weren't the ones that were calculated. They were special to those people involved, and as I realized this, I started to think that there are a lot more problems in trying to keep a band together if it really wasn't functioning as a band. This is what was happening in Piper, so basically, I was leading the troops out there.
Again, the traumas and the emotional yo-yo Squier was experiencing within the framework of Piper is in part responsible for the five line-up changes in Squier's band the past couple of years.
Squier recorded his first album with studio musicians. He then put together a band a week before he was going on tour in support of Alice Cooper and others. After six months, he went into studios to cut Don't Say No and again, another line-up shift ensued. And the same thing happened again with Emotions in Motion, and again with a band to go on the road to support that album and tour with Queen.
To gain an insight into Squier's creative genius and never ending quest for that right combination of players to make his band complete, here's a quote from Billy in a story done in JAM two years after Squier had released his first solo album.
"It (Piper) wasn't really a concerted effort. So, I felt at that point, rather than try to continue forming groups, I should try to rely on myself more since I do write my own songs, and I sing, and I play, and also produce.
"I thought that I should go with what I had, and then leave myself open till the time comes that I might get one of these magical situations together. Ironically enough. I feel that the band that I have as a solo artist is much closer than any band that I ever had before."
As the saying goes, it was close, but no cigar.
Despite the problem Squier has had finding the right musicians to play his music, one has to appreciate the brilliance this man possesses. It's a credit to any musician who can just get a recording contract in the first place, but to go out as a soloist right off the bat and then write and put together two successive smash hit albums that go platinum with a. host of smash hit singles with various musicians on each album, is nothing short of near genius.
The fans are coming backstage to greet Squier. He's ever so polite in signing autographs, posing for pictures, and engaging in small talk with people who's name he doesn't know, and faces he will never see again. But it's all part of the game, and Squier accepts it graciously.
"Things have really taken a rather dramatic turn for me since I became a solo artist," Squier acknowledged. "First off, I have stopped listening to people that said I couldn't do this, but I had to do that.”
"I think that if you are serious enough about what you do, then you are aware enough to look around you and see what various aspects of your career are important because there is no reason that anybody should tell you what to do.
Squier has a special style that blends classic pop-rock and heavy metal with a combination melody and instrumental punch. Most of his tunes deal with sex and rebellion in a way that would make any 16-year old smile appreciatively and say, "Yeah, that is what I have been trying to tell ya."
But Squier insists that he aims his music at a much wider audience.
"Someone like myself doesn't want to alienate AOR (album-oriented) radio because that's where most of the real fans are, people who listen to FM radio." he said.
"Those are the people who go out to the shows. Those are the people who are in the front rows...people who are interested in you as an artist more than your one big hit single.”
"You know. I don't say to myself, 'Well, I hate Top 40, AOR is where I want to be.' But, at the same time, I want everybody to like what I do. Now of course that's not reasonably possible, but it is possible for a group, let's say Queen, to have hits on AM radio and also be a major FM band."
So far, the equation Squier has worked out has done very well. In these hard hit economic times, any artist that can get a gold album, let alone a platinum, is doing something right in order for people to go out and buy their music. And to do it with two successive albums, well...
"I think the formula is correct. That's something I haven't changed over the course of the last several years. But I have, I think, been able to perfect it a little bit and become a little bit more aware of things that go on around me that I can apply it to." That musical message that Squier applies usually revolves around his real-life experiences. He says it was especially apparent on Don't Say No, where the tunes dealt with loneliness, love, plain old pelvis busting sex, and freedom.”
"I think that it's very important to release a single that is what you want people's perception of you to be. If I released a ballad off my first album, which I sing falsetto and it's very different than most of the things I do. That would totally mislead people as to what Billy Squier is about.
"It doesn't hurt. It (singles) is the most immediate vehicle for establishing a group. But it's sort of a double-edge sword because if you have a hit single which is not indicative of the band, or the artist, it can kill you."
Somehow, I don't think Billy Squier will ever die a slow musical death.