Tuesday, March 19, 2013

billy squier

Billy Squier had a handful of catchy guitar-driven tunes in the early 80s.  What makes him interesting to me is how illustrative he is of the moment when FM rock radio began to decline sharply.  Squier is a lot like Tom Petty in many respects. You can think of him as Petty’s ugly little brother, cruder and harder, but equally backward looking.  The transitional tensions of the era are embedded in Squier’s music, which features plenty of crunchy guitar, but plenty of synth as well. His approach to making music was always anachronistic, a continuation of the 70s arena rock tradition along the lines of Boston, Areosmith, Foreigner, Queen…  At the same time, Squier was not completely immune to more contemporary crosscurrents. The slightly haughty pose he adopted as a performer, for instance, created an image that flirted a bit with punk.  But he was initially (and fatally, as it turns out) marketed to the meatheaded hescher crowd, guys like the freaks in Freaks and Geeks, who wanted their music to remain stuck in the traditional 70s mode of rocking out, and who resisted the more intellectually challenging atmosphere created by punk and New Wave. The fundamental – and intractable - problem for Squier was that his demographic was disappearing, and its disappearance pushed the corporate rock radio model into a protracted death spiral. The emergence of MTV only served to accelerate the decline. I can remember seeing Squier on MTV a lot in 9th grade, and he was unquestionably out of place amidst A Flock of Seagulls, Haircut 100, Thompson Twins, Culture Club… But what gave Squier at least a fighting chance was his ability to craft catchy hooks.  If you came of age during the early Reagan era and now, more than 30 years later, someone sings you a few lines from In the Dark, Everybody Wants You, or Lonely is the Night, chances are you’ll say something like, ‘Hey, that’s Billy Squier, right?  He had some good songs!’  Yes he did, and this gave the record executives the idea that they could re-fashion Squier’s image and turn him into a different kind of commodity. The new packaging was notoriously disastrous, even if the music was still quite catchy. The problem was pretty simple, or at least it seems so in retrospect: No meathead would ever wanna watch Billy Squier flit around in a pink tank top like some nancy boy on the set of Flashdance, and those with more effete and sophisticated tastes would never be convinced that Billy Squier was anything other than music for meatheads. I believe this is what’s known as a a Catch-22… I feel bad for Billy Squier. He was caught at the wrong end of a transitional period, a talented guy for sure, but also the wrong guy at the wrong time.  It’s too bad because he had a knack for songs that echo inside your brain for a long time…

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