Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Billy Squier: Don’t Say No: 30th Anniversary Edition

Hard rock underwent some changes as the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, and as the mythopoetic pretensions of the prog era gave way to the instant gratification of corporate rock. Even Led Zeppelin—formerly dedicated to delivering arcane blues-rock from remote, Tolkien-esque mountaintops—adjusted its sound to accommodate the relentless wallop and sheen that dominated the age of Boston and Van Halen. And where Zeppelin left off, Billy Squier stepped in. A veteran of the Massachusetts music scene who made an impact in the cult power-pop acts The Sidewinders and Piper, Squier went solo in 1980 with Tale Of The Tape, an album that wedded his pop sense with booming drums and roaring guitars. The record was a mild success—and it later had its fat riffs and beats repurposed on multiple hip-hop records—but Squier didn’t really break through until 1981’s Don’t Say No, produced by ELO/Queen boardman Reinhold Mack.


Shout Factory’s 30th-anniversary edition of Don’t Say No only features two bonus tracks—both negligible live performances recorded last year—but more importantly, it preserves that Squier/Mack sound, which converts crowd-pleasing bar-rock into the kind of monolithic music designed to make everyone within a thousand-foot radius of a Blaupunkt turn their heads. Even now, Don’t Say No deep cuts like “You Know What I Like” have a crisp, modern feel, such that the punched-up production leaves an impression, even though the song itself is simple almost to the point of inanity. And when Squier cranks his Robert Plant-like yelp and Jimmy Page-like guitar crunch up to their maximum capacity on the cross-format smashes “The Stroke,” “My Kinda Lover,” “In The Dark,” and “Lonely Is The Night,” Mack makes sure the notes are buffed so thoroughly that they never lose their shine. There are limits to how far surface appeal can carry rock ’n’ roll, and by the end of the ’80s, both Squier and the glossy style he represented fell out of favor. But Don’t Say No remains one of the most consistently entertaining albums to come out of corporate rock’s most fertile period (roughly from ’78 to ’83). From the neon synthesizer accents to the introduction of new guitar sounds every few minutes, Don’t Say No is a record that means to dazzle, yet the air of desperation implied by the title is a little touching, too. The grandiosity here is in service of a come-on, but the sound itself is so cathartic that in a way, it meets its own needs. Big Black once recorded an album called Songs About Fucking, but Don’t Say No offers songs as fucking.

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