Rocking Me Tonight... Billy Squier - The Most Underrated Rocker?

One of the many advantages of growing older and wiser is being able to look back and put events and memories in their proper context. If you follow my “tweets” (if you will) on colingawel.com, you will notice that a great deal of the content consists of a running commentary between myself and my 5-year old son Owen concerning “what rocks” and “what doesn’t”. We listen to a mind numbing amount of old hard rock as Owen’s favorite station is “The Bone-yard” on XM satellite radio. I prefer “Underground Garage” or “Outlaw Country” myself, but as parents know, sacrifice is part of the gig.

With benefit of almost 40 years of under my belt, it is easy to size up which classic rock is actually pretty good and what isn’t. This is hard to do at the age of 16 and pretty much impossible for a 5 year old to accomplish. I would extrapolate that this general principle applies to almost every experience. For example, think back on all the jobs you have had and with the benefit of time it is easy to pick out the worst one. Mine was serving breakfast at a Damon’s Grill located inside a hotel. You had to be there at 5 am and the place was either empty or completely packed depending on convention business. Both scenarios were a night mare. BTW- Nobody tips at breakfast and don’t get me started on how picky people can get about toast.

Anyway.. KISS was playing on Bone-yard, “God of Thunder” or “Shock Me” or something, and this obviously, rocks.The next song was by W.A.S.P. which just as obviously, sucks. When I tried to change the channel Owen got upset and started arguing that S.W.A.T. (he meant WASP) sounded just like KISS so how could that be bad. I tried to explain the difference but couldn’t so he won the debate and we ended up listening to the whole song.

So what has all this got to do with Billy Squier being the most underrated rocker? I’m not sure but..

On the last Watershed tour down south, Biggie and I got into the habit listening to old “King Biscuit Flour Hour” concerts on his I-Phone. The Billy Squier show just blew us away. It aged like fine wine. The songs, the performance, the guitar tones were timeless and perfect. Sounded as great today as it did recorded in 1983 or whatever. It was hip. If “The Killers’ or “Kings of Leon” covered the song “Two Daze Gone” right now, it wouldn’t sound any cooler than Billy’ version recorded 25 years earlier. I guarantee that if you listened to 100 other live shows from the 1980’s by various bands, you would be hard pressed to find more than a handful that weren’t embarrassing both sonic ally and lyrically. Billy and his band were crushing.

Billy’s first three solo records, “The Tale of the Tape”, “Don’t Say No” and “Emotions in Motion” were all produced by the mysterious uber-producer known only as “Mack”. I wore out the grooves out in high school and I am wearing out the blips and dashes or whatever right now. He made some decent records after these and all had highlights, but nothing compares to these first three.

Don’t take my word for it- right now –download:

 

  • You Should be High Love
  • Calley OH
  • Don’t Say No
  • Two Daze Gone
  • I Need You
  • Everybody Wants You
  • She’s a Runner
  • Catch 22

 

 

Or visit www.billysquier.com or better yet just turn on your local classic rock station- Bet you 5 bucks Lonely is the Night, The Stroke or My Kinda Loverwill be played within 1 hour.

Q: So why is he the most underrated?

A: We can divide bands into three categories

1)Over-rated- ex: Talking Heads, The Pixies, Wilco, Nirvana

2)Rated accurately- ex: Ramones, Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Green Day

3)Underrated -ex: Frank Black, Cheap Trick, The Hives

Billy falls into a fourth category all by himself, not only is he not given credit for his great records and live performances, he is “mis-rembered” (forgive me, just read a Roger Clemens book) as the guy who danced around his bed in the historically terrible video for the hit single “Rock Me Tonight”

Has a video ever done more damage to a career and reputation than this one? If Marion Berry could chose between being caught on tape smoking crack with a hooker or starring in this rock video, I think he would stick with the rock in his pipe. I probably would too if pressed on the issue.

Personally, I have no problem with guys dancing around their bed acting supergay tearing off pink t-shirts. It’s just not the type of performance hard rock superstars typically do to “energize their base”, especially right before a massive arena tour.

I wish I could say I was being hard on the video and with the benefit of hindsight that is really isn’t that bad. That Billy got a raw deal. I can’t.  Check it out here

But that’s life. We all have highs and lows.

None of that matters now. Billy Squier is playing Columbus tonight and I am excited like a 16 year old kid all over again. Unlike other rockers of his era, Billy hasn’t prostituted himself doing endless summer “wing fest” tours and reality show appearances. That makes this show that much more special. It’s about the music and the music is alright.

CG