16 Strokes

Billy Squier

Capitol Records, 1995


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Billy Squier deserves better. As in more respect, a bigger following, and certainly a more creatively packaged collection.

Squier, who emerged as a solo artist after stints during the 70s in semi-anonymous Boston groups the Sidewinders and Piper, hit it big with two monster albums that sent him soaring to the top of the charts in the early '80s. He was the radio-friendly hard-rock man of the moment in 1981 and '82, scoring three top 35 hits in a matter of 18 months.

In essence Squier was a one-man wrecking crew, his vocals from the high-energy Steven Tyler-Robert Plant school, his guitar-playing from the melodic sledgehammer Joe Perry-Mick Ralphs school. But listening to this album it's hard not to catch another major influence. I'd be amazed if a guy who matched hard-edged guitars up with punchy, rhythmic synthesizer tones as often as Squier hadn't been listening carefully to what Ronnie Montrose and Gamma were doing in 1978, '79 and '80.

In any case, the first five tracks on this tight, fairly comprehensive collection tell the bulk of the Billy Squier story. If you were alive and listening to rock radio in the early '80s, you heard them: "The Stroke," "In the Dark," "My Kinda Lover," "Emotions In Motion," "Everybody Wants You." Memorable four-minute blasts of rousing guitar, wailing vocals and atmospheric synth fills, all taken from two huge albums, 1981's my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Don't Say No and 1982's Emotions In Motion.

The synths in particular can sound a little dated now, but Squier's playing and instinct for a great radio hook are in top form through these early hits. Every song has a killer lead riff and a catchy chorus, and "Everybody Wants You" in particular drives like a Porsche -- sleek, muscular and unrelenting. It's classic '80s AOR - maybe a little flashy or bombastic in places, but kicking you in the butt the whole way with artillery-blast beats and meaty hooks that don't let up. (My only question about the song selection on this album - where is "Lonely Is The Night," an AOR staple and one of Squier's best album's tracks?)

The sleek element unfortunately began over time to dominate Squier's music, as tracks from 1984's Signs Of Life and 1986's Enough Is Enough rely more and more on smooth synth tones rather than Squier's rowdy leads. It seems especially counter-productive given Squier's obvious guitar skills, and tends to date tunes like "Eye On You" and "Love Is The Hero" as somewhat disposable mid-80s pop-metal. It's easy to detect the heavy hand of label execs demanding a slicker pop sound and less of the hard-edged guitar that gave Squier's early music much of its rough-hewn appeal.

What's interesting to note is how influential Squier remained even as his star began to fade. Poppy hair-metal bands like Bon Jovi and greasy power balladeers like frequent Squier sound-alike Bryan Adams did not spring whole from the ground. For better or for worse, their heritage is written all over tracks like "She's A Runner " and "Don't Let Me Go." And Squier certainly didn't abandon the sharp guitar hook - later tracks like the thundering "Don't Say You Love Me" and the comically seedy "She Goes Down" show he still had the gift for the riff, even if not that many people were listening any more.

Squier forged onward through the late '80s and '90s playing to a much smaller audience of hardcore fans. Like many '70s and '80s acts of his tenure, the road back from fame hasn't always been easy. But Squier has a lot to be proud of, looking at this album. If only Capitol had given him the respect he's earned. While this disc has a great bunch of music on it, the packaging is as poor as I've ever seen, with weak, cliched, repetitive design and no liner notes whatsoever. The music is mostly strong, but the packaging flat-out sucks. Not only do they fail even to attribute the songs to Squier's individual albums (at least two of which made Capitol godly sums of cash), in several cases they don't even manage to get the songs' run times right.

Shame on you, Capitol -- Billy Squier deserves better. Just ask any hard rock act that's hit the stage since 1981.

Rating: B

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© 2001 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.