I think of bands like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, which influenced Billy Squier.
“The Stroke” is about the music business, so it would fare well in a film about that subject. “Nobody Knows” would place in a romantic comedy. “Lonely Is the Night” could fit in a romantic interlude in a mystery.
When Billy Squier’s videos appeared on MTV in 1981, they stood out because they represented hard rock on a cable channel that largely played new English music. While in some ways Squier’s fare seemed anachronistic at the time, the production techniques on his second album, Don’t Say No, remained in line with the 80s. Soon, hair-metal bands became popular for making records that sounded, in some ways, like what Squier had done before. Indeed, for better or worse, “Nobody Knows” established a template for the decade’s future power ballads.
What’s surprising is how well Don’t Say No stands up nearly four decades after its release. Squier is, first and foremost, a rocker, and his music carries as much Rolling Stones in its DNA as it does Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin. He’s also a solid and enjoyable songwriter whose hooks grab your ear. And it helps that he fashions killer guitar riffs.
Kevin Gray’s remaster of Don’t Say No tones down some of the top-end energy of the original Capitol Records pressing and brings other instruments into better focus to deliver a more satisfying listen. It also makes certain elements of the record sound less dated. The synths and background vocals on “In the Dark” scream 80s via the forward, bright sound on the original pressing, but Gray balances them with the rest of the instrument and vocal parts. Yes, the synths are still locked into the 80s, but now sound more organic.
Similarly, Bobby Chouinard’s kick drum goes deeper and thumps harder on the opening of “The Stroke,” and the gated snare sounds firmer and less swishy. Gray lets the bottom end of the rhythm guitars shine throughout the album, and the big riffs on “The Stroke” and “You Know What I Like” consequently seem fatter and more layered. Keyboards that previously hid in the background comprise a larger swath of the overall arrangement, and background vocals don’t get lost as they do in the dense, bright mix of the original. George Marino was a fine mastering engineer, and the aural impact of the album was a product of its time, but Gray chooses to let the music fill out the space.
Chouinard’s drums slam harder on “Whadda You Want from Me” and Squier’s slide guitar slashes with menace. Guitar solos feature added snarl, and the reissue paints a truer picture of the guitar tones and attack. Squier’s voice is also more centered and solidly presented on the Intervention LP than on the original pressing, where it sounds somewhat soft at the edges. On the new pressing, you can hear his vocal technique more clearly. Even “Nobody Knows,” a track I used to skip, benefits from the improvements. The twelve-string guitar sounds natural and full, and the nylon string guitar feels warmer. Squier’s falsetto appears less forced, and the dynamics of the song come through with authority.
If you assume Don’t Say No is an early 80s precursor to the resurgence of commercial metal, you’re about half right. The reissue proves Squier made classic rock n’ roll. In the past, I played the record to relive the days when I moved into my first apartment. Now, I spin it to hear some great music.
*VinylReviews.com is owned and operated by Intervention Records’ Founder Shane Buettner.
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