Billy Squire: Signs of Life

BillySquireAfter my music introduction through “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park,” my Mom buying me vinyl copies of Kiss’ ‘Love Gun,’ ‘Alive,’ and ‘Alive II,’ not to mention my older cousin turning me on to Prince, somewhere in that time I discovered Billy Squire.

I don’t know where or how I discovered Squire, but the safe bet is I heard his breakout hit “The Stroke” while running around in my little Speedo at the local swimming pool. The radio station there would always play the same hit songs over and over and over. Sex jokes aside, Squire’s monster single “The Stroke” was off of his 1981 smash album ‘Don’t Say No.’ The album was released on April 14, 1981 and unbeknownst to Squire at the time, MTV would launch a mere four months later and skyrocket Squire into the Hi-Fi stereos of every teenager across America. Thanks to MTV and radio, not to mention the ladies love for Squire’s wavy brunette locks, ‘Don’t Say No’ produced three additional hit singles with “In the Dark,” “My Kinda Lover,” and “Lonely Is the Night. “Of those four singles, “The Stroke” was my least favorite. Nonetheless, I played ‘Don’t Say No’ in my cheap boom box repeatedly in 1981.

At a time when big hair metal was creeping out of the Sunset Strip of California, it was a secret shame to like a pretty boy like Squire, but damn it I did. His songs were rock & roll, poppy, and damn infectious. Let’s face it, Squire could pen a hook that stuck in your head long after the song was over.

A little over a year after ‘Don’t Say No’ was released, Squire struck while the iron was hot and released ‘Emotions in Motion.’ I gave my Mom my allowance and she bought my cassette while on her lunch break from work. When she brought it home I was ecstatic. I stared at the red, yellow, and blue album art (cover art was by Andy Warhol) like I was staring at a Van Gogh painting, while I was blaring the new album on my trusty, but still crappy, boom box.

Even at the age of 11, I knew ‘Emotions in Motion’ was a solid album, but it didn’t live up to the four-time platinum selling predecessor. ‘Emotions in Motion,’ which featured Queen’s Freddie Mercury, and Roger Taylor as “emotional support.” The big hit was the catchy and rocking “Everybody Wants You.” The song catapulted Squire in the charts again, but the following singles – “Learn How to Live” and “She’s A Runner” failed to keep it there.

‘Emotions in Motion’ did sell three million copies and earned Squire the opening slot on Queen’s 1982 North American Hot Space Tour. Squire became the go to guy as he recorded “Fast Times (The Best Years of Our Lives)” for the film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” With his continuing success, Squire started headlining tours and brought over an unknown band from England to open for him called Def Leppard. This turned out to be a disaster as Def Leppard’s ‘Pyromania’ was just released in America and fans flocked to the arenas to see the boys in Leppard and didn’t give a shit about Squire. Times were changing for the boy from Wellesley, Massachusetts.

I don’t know if it was discovering bands like Def Leppard, Poison, Dokken, Motley Crue and their hair sprayed brethren, but I started to give up on Squire. But damn it, I couldn’t give up the ghost just yet. ‘Signs of Life’ was released in 1984 and contained Squire’s biggest single of his career – “Rock Me Tonight.” Yes, that’s right, the world’s worst video was Squire’s biggest hit, charting at 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. I don’t know what Squire was thinking when he was dancing around the loft-type setting of the video (directed by Kenny Ortega), snapping his fingers wearing pastels clothes as if he had raided Cyndi Lauper’s closet. But if the charts were any indication, he was sashaying all the way to the bank to cash his royalty check.

BillySquire-2014“Rock Me Tonight” was a drastic difference in comparison’s to Squire’s second single and arguably my favorite Squire song – “All Night Long.” Sure, it was far heavier than the monumental single, but it wasn’t enough to keep my interest. Ironically Squire’s 1986 follow-up was called ‘Enough Is Enough’ and that’s exactly how I felt.

MTV made Squire a huge rock star, but it also hamstrung him as a musician. He steadily kept releasing albums up until 1998, but was put out to pasture far before that. His catchy pop rock hits and good looks only took him so far until there was someone else to fill his shoes.

Although Squire hasn’t release any new music in nearly 20 years you can still hear Billy Squire’s music on the radio on a daily basis. Not only is his music a main staple on classic rock radio, but Squire’s song “The Big Beat” from his 1980 debut album ‘Tale of the Tape’ has become the most sampled song in hip-hop history. Everyone from Run-DMC (“Here We Go”) to Jay-Z’s (“99 Problems”), and Alicia Keys (“Girl on Fire”) contain samples from Squire’s song.

The long brunette locks are gone and there isn’t any new music on the horizon for this one-time rock idol, but a new found respect for Squire has been found as I sit here and listen to his greatest hits album writing this. I learned that in the 2000s Squire has done countless charity work, from taking part in the Boston Legends Tribute to James Cotton and performing at several events for the Little Kids Rock charity.

Squire along with his wife, professional German soccer player Nicole Schoen, have been active volunteers for the Central Park Conservancy for over 17 years, physically maintaining 20 acres of the park, as well as promoting the Conservancy in articles and interviews. He also supports the Group for the East End and its native planting programs on Eastern Long Island.

Sure, Squire’s “Rock Me Tonight” video is an embarrassment and he’s even said it was the start to the downfall of his career, but the guy had an amazing run during the 1980s and has continually used his music and name to promote causes he’s believed in, you really can’t ask for more than that.

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