Thirty years on, Don’t Say No holds up as one of the great rock record from the '80s, one that established Billy Squier as an artist who has played a seminal role in defining the American guitar rock (and hip-hop) of today.
It’s always a point of reckoning when records that were the biggest thing in your summer day camp when you were a kid are re-released in 30th Anniversary editions. In this instance, the record in question is Don’t Say No, the second solo record from Mr. Billy Squier, now available in remastered expanded form courtesy of your friends at Shout Factory.
Like Rick Springfield and John Waite, Squier has been relegated by the unaware as an '80s memory, conveniently ignoring a rock provenance that most rockers would give their publishing for. Cutting his teeth as a guitar-slinging teen around 1970’s Boston, he moved to NYC as a member of art rock ensemble Magic Terry and the Universe, a band that also featured bassist Klaus Flouride, later of Dead Kennedys. His next band, Kicks, featured Jerry Nolan of the New York Dolls and served as a precursor to his breakthrough band, Piper. The debut Piper record was held as the best debut from an American rock band to date and featured a pre-Kiss Bruce Kulick in its ranks. The Kiss connection garnered him representation from the Kiss management and facilitated the first release under his own name for Capitol Records, Tale of The Tape. Tale of The Tape didn’t set the charts on fire, but did feature "Big Beat", a decent record that also happens to be one of the most sampled records of all time.
Tale of The Tape got pretty decent buzz for Squier, and Queen guitarist Brian May was booked to produce the follow-up. Scheduling issues precluded May’s involvement, but Queen production svengali Reinhold Mack was drafted on board in his place to helm the boards for what eventually became Don’t Say No. It proved to be a fortuitous pairing. The first single, "The Stroke", hit the charts at the same time MTV came on the scene and the combination of Squier’s good looks and the follow-up singles "In The Dark" and "My Kinda Lover" kept the record on the charts for the better part of two years. Don’t Say No eventually moved almost 4 million units stateside.
How well does it age? Pretty damn well, frankly. The cover art is still a bit cheesy, but brooding rocker personae aside, pretty much all 10 songs on Don’t Say No kick some serious ass. There is a pretty obvious Zeppelin influence, but that is not to be derided so much in an early '80s record. Squier is a hell of a player, and the Mack factor pushes all the guitars up front nicely. The band is tight as a pair of Squier stage pants, anchored by what would soon become his core band of bassist Mark Clarke, drummer Marc Copely and keysman Alan St. Jon. "The Stroke" is still a great tune, and "My Kinda Lover" and "Lonely Is the Night" have aged pretty nicely. Sonically, Don’t Say No is pretty much what you would expect from an early '80s record with a Queen producer at the helm, but save for a couple period-sounding beer commercial guitar tones Don’t Say No stands the test of time.
To remind us of such, live versions of "My Kinda Lover" and "The Stroke", from 2009, are appended to the back end of the remaster. Both are a little long, although no one listening can deride Squier for having lost any guitar chops over the passing decades. He tears it up on both live tracks, almost legitimizing the interpolation of both "Voodoo Chile" and "Spoonful" into the closing 14-minute version of "The Stroke". One might argue, and rightfully so, that 14 minutes is too much, but the Dallas crowd is in the palm of his hand for the duration. Thirty years on, Don’t Say No holds up as one of the great rock record from the '80s, one that established Billy Squier as an artist who has played a seminal role in defining the American guitar rock (and hip-hop) of today.