The old adage about best laid plans fits with me here at the end of the first week of 2018. Instead of a week filled with fun, I contracted a non-influenza upper respiratory infection that has been kicking my butt all week, even with the aid of an antibiotic, a steroid, acetaminophen and Mucinex, and much to my family’s delight, I still do not have much of a voice. So, in place of my usual booming coach’s voice, I have a whisper, which is not good for yelling at the TV during basketball games. Now, when I say that I am yelling at the TV, I am not really emotionally involved in the game. It’s more of a coaching-thing. I tend to see what most other coaches see and react the way I normally would have while on the bench. No, I find myself yelling more at the inept play-by-play announcers and their while-a-former-great-player color analyst who-lacks-the-ability-to-actually-convey-what-athletes-are-really-told-to-do totally misses the action on the court. Oh, such is the burden I must carry.
So, what began as a fantastic post-Christmas holiday slowly slipped into a inconvenience. On the day after Christmas, my wife took me to a newly-discovered record booth in an antique mall (thanks Son #1!) in a nearby town. There, I latched onto a couple of gems, such as the sophomore effort by The Clash, 1978’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope and The Band’s 1973 album of cover songs Moondog Matinee. Yet, the most surprisingly satisfying discovery was that of Billy Squier’s 1981 forgotten-classic Don’t Say No. This album was released near the end of my senior year in high school. It seems that the album shared turntable space with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Hard Promises and Rush’s Moving Pictures as my go-to albums for that summer. That summer was full of promise as I was heading into my four-year transition into adulthood known as college. I am certain my neighbors were very tired of those three albums being blared out of my room’s windows that summer.
The song that hooked me on Don’t Say No was, of course, that initial single “The Stroke”. Back in the day, I was still one of the biggest Queen fans in my world, so when I first heard “The Stroke”, the song struck me as a terrific follow-up song to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. Yet, I could tell the incomparable Freddie Mercury was not singing this song. Musically, “The Stroke” had elements of the Queen-sound, but it definitely was not a Queen song. So, I went out and purchased the 7-inch single. I will never understand my reasoning at the time, though it could have been due to low funds at the time. Anyway, that 45 rpm single was put into high rotation on Radio Keller’s playlist. The song’s whole funk-rock vibe with the self-satisfactory lyrics made for an obvious rock/pop radio dream song at the time. And, it was all over the radio. Then, other cuts from the album began to quickly get added to AOR radio playlists all over and this album blew up in the wake. Billy Squier had created an album that sonically fit nicely between all of the big rock artists of the day, like Pat Benatar, Journey, Foreigner, Loverboy, Rush and the rest.
But, my question was, would this album just become another nostalgia trip for me like the first Quarterflash album, or would Don’t Say No have stood the test of time as it becomes something of a forgotten classic? Today, I just finished listening to the album for a second time today, and I honestly have to say the album stands up. Oh, sure, some of the synthesizer sounds do scream “80s Music!”, but most of the time those washes were properly placed, especially for such a budding artist as Billy Squier was at the time. But, his pop chops may have been developed during his brief time as the leader of the power pop cult band Piper. Piper had released two albums of classic late-Seventies power pop, with their eponymous debut album being something of a cult classic, while the sophomore album should be generally overlooked. But, Squier had earned his pop stripes with Piper and was ready to rock out with an AOR sound that was both eternal and of its moment.
Few albums of any era have the Side One one-two-three punch that Don’t Say No packs. The album kicks off with what is most likely still Squier’s concert opener “In the Dark”. From the sonic build up at the beginning to the big hooks throughout the song, Squier had written an arena anthem that was required of artists nearly 37 years ago. Then, in sequence, is the first single “The Stroke”, which is followed by another single “My Kinda Lover”, yet another bonafide AOR hit. But, that does not mean that Side One closes out with throwaway songs. Hardly. Donnie Iris would have killed to have written and recorded “You Know What I Like” and “Too Daze Gone”. Like I said, this album was made to make a huge impact both in concert and on the radio, and Side One accomplished this.
Usually, after such an exhilarating opening salvo like this album has, you expect a huge drop-off in the quality of the material, believing the artist has front-loaded his or her album. Needless to say, my worries were quickly cast aside as Side Two opens with what had become Squier’s concert show stopper in “Lonely Is the Night”, yet another single from the album. “Lonely Is the Night” is Squier’s second anthemic song on this album. Instead of a musical build-up, Squier simply begins the song with just he and his guitar. But, when the whole band kicks in at the chorus, you can actually feel your fist ball up and ready to be thrust into the air, even after all these years. After a solid “Whadda Want from Me”, Squier, in a move that predated the whole power ballad phase of the late-Eighties, Squier shifts gears with his own ballad, an elegant slow song that took listeners by surprise back in the day. But, after the success of such tactics by REO Speedwagon on Hi Infidelity, Foreigner 4, Paradise Theater by Styx and Journey’s Escape, we all should have clearly known that this was going to become THE sound of the Eighties, and not my beloved New Wave. The song is “Nobody Knows”. And while this song never really gained any kind of radio play, you can tell that the song was absolutely begging to be used at Proms throughout the USA.
Side Two ends with high quality AOR rockers “I Need You” and “Don’t Say No”. While these cuts are good, they were easily replaced in Squier’s concert set list the following year after the release of his second hugely successful album Everybody Wants You. By 1984, Squier seemed poised to become a huge artist, who, along with Loverboy, seemed like they were both ready for long-term success, which might have put a damper on a band like Bon Jovi if those artists had continued their upward trajectory. Unfortunately, for Squier, it was NOT his music that stymied his career. No, it was his video for his first 1984 single “Rock Me Tonite”, a terrific slice of AOR delight as their was this side of Night Ranger. So, instead of Squier coming out with a video of concert footage, much like Bon Jovi did for their Slippery When Wet songs in 1986, someone was convinced that Squier needed to dance and prance around in metrosexual clothing and underneath pink satin sheets while lip syncing this great tune. Unfortunately, America was NOT ready for its over-masculine rock heroes to be in touch with their feminine side. And, then again, Squier was NOT Freddie Mercury either, with whom we were all in on the joke. Unfortunately, Squier’s career deflated quickly, and he has been largely lost to time.
But, I am so glad I finally found my replacement vinyl for this classic album, so I could prove to myself that I was NOT dreaming or letting time over-valuate this album. No, Don’t Say No is a classic, but it has largely been forgotten. So, if that album has been collecting dust at your house, my advice is to take it out, clean it off and pop on your turntable and crank it to “11”. Because “11” IS one more than “10”.