Billy Squier – “Signs Of Life” (1984)

billy-squier1984 was a good year.  I turned seven years old in 1984.  I was at the age where a boy starts to become more aware of what is going on around him in terms of pop culture.  Things started affecting me in a lasting, meaningful way.  I started to form interests that would last all my life.  Before 1984, I was a lump of clay.  During 1984, at age seven, the molding process began.  Seven is a strange age, you know.  Too old to eat paste.  Too young to sniff glue.  Adhesives are not a factor when you are seven.

I remember lots of cool things from 1984.  I remember the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles.  The U.S. cleaned house because the Russians were a no-show.  I remember lots of free Cokes, fries, and Big Macs because of McDonald’s Olympics scratch ticket promotion — a promotion that turned out to be a marketing disaster for McDonald’s, but a major windfall for the rest of us.  I remember both Gremlins and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom came out in the theaters.  I wasn’t allowed to see either.  I remember Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly won the batting title and became my hero.  I also remember really getting interested in music.  I listened to the radio and followed the charts.  I was into Twisted Sister, The Cars, and Weird Al.  We didn’t have MTV in my house in 1984, so the only music videos I saw were from NBC’s Friday Night Videos.  My mother would tape the episodes on VHS because my brothers and I weren’t allowed to stay up late to watch them when they aired.  Music videos were really becoming HUGE!

In 1984, a music video ruined Billy Squier’s life.  (Or so the story goes…)

I remember loving the song Rock Me Tonite in 1984.  It was a great single.  I am pretty sure I saw the video for it at the time, too.  It may have been on one of those Friday Night Videos tapes.  But the video didn’t really affect me.  I was seven.  I thought all videos were cool.

Billy Squier truly believes that his infamous video for Rock Me Tonite derailed his career.  Prior to the video, Billy was doing fabulous.  He was a multi-platinum artist and an arena headliner.  But the video for Rock Me Tonite stopped Squier’s career in its tracks  — at least that’s what Billy says.  Listen to Squier’s side of the story here.  He said he went from playing full houses in arenas to half-empty shows literally overnight (after MTV premiered the video for Rock Me Tonite).  Want to see the video?  Feast your eyes on THIS!  It is a video that is so spectacularly bad that I can’t believe it exists.  In 1984, rock fans were not ready for something quite this gay from Billy Squier.  Apparently they deserted him in droves.  Signs Of Life still ended up going platinum, but it would be the last platinum (or even gold) record of Squier’s career.

Signs Of Life is a fine album.  It’s not as good as Billy Squier’s star-making, triple platinum smash Don’t Say No (1981), but I think it’s better than 1982’s Emotion In Motion.  But be warned all ye hard rockers — Signs Of Life is not really hard rock.  It is more like pop rock.  This was a direct result of the flashy production job by Squier and Jim Steinman (of Meat Loaf fame).  The guitar riffs are there, but they’ve been crowded out by lots and lots of synths.  There’s also a myriad of strange percussion, samples, and sound effects.  This was largely the case with Emotions In Motion, too.  Any hard rock edge the songs may have had got polished down to a shiny nub.  Normally I would be turned off by all the pop tricks used by Billy, but I really don’t mind it so much in this case.  That may be because I have a biased, soft-spot for Billy Squier.  But a case could also be made that the songs are just damn good.  Get past the superfluous pop schmear that coats the songs and I think you’ve got some good material to work with ear-wise.  If nothing else, all the techno-pop bells and whistles make for an interesting headphone listen.

Signs Of Life spawned three singles.  The aforementioned Rock Me Tonite was the biggest hit.  Two other strong choices followed in All Night Long and Eye On You (neither were hits — possibly in part due to the Rock Me Tonite video debacle).  I like all three songs a lot.  The formula worked — big beats, big hooks, ragged guitar riffs, and Billy’s great voice.  And you can dance to ’em!  (Not that I care to — but the option is there.)  Another gem on Signs Of Life is the last song — called Sweet Release.  This is one of the best “deep tracks” in Squier’s catalog.

One last thing.  Just how is it that poor Billy was crucified for his Rock Me Tonite video while these guys got a free pass?  My score: A-



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