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

Few rock stars can claim to have had as much influence on hip-hop as Billy Squier. The drum track to his 1980 song “The Big Beat” has been sampled by megastars like Jay-Z and Kanye West, as well as underground rappers like Dizzee Rascal. On Nightripper, when Girl Talk juxtaposed the vocal track to Squier’s “The Stroke” with Dr. Dre’s “Ain’t Nothin’ But a G Thang,” it felt less like a mash-up and more like a fully formed hip-hop track. And yet, when listening to Don’t Say No, Squier’s bestselling album, it sounds like nothing less than a perfect snapshot of radio-ready arena rock. Though originally released in 1981, Don’t Say No effortlessly distills the hugeness of ’70s rock & roll with none of the excess. Squier may have become an unlikely hip-hop hero, but make no mistake: Don’t Say No is a rocker’s dream come true.

The record kicks off with the colossal “In the Dark.” Though driven by a raunchy intro riff that would pave the way for a million bad hair-metal bands, a melancholy organ line worthy of Fleetwood Mac takes over in the verses. The track culminates in a chorus that re-appropriates the cheesy synth sounds of the ’70s into a jittery, eerie melody. It sounds like the missing link between prog rock and new wave, while rocking harder than either. “The Stroke,” Squier's biggest hit, still stands strong, unmarred by three decades of near-ubiquitous radio play. By the irresistible groove of “My Kinda Lover,” the third single in three tracks, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Don’t Say No was a greatest hits album.

In the tradition of all great pop albums, Don’t Say No is fairly top-heavy, and while “You Know What I Like” and “Two Daze Gone” are pleasant enough, they aren’t terribly unique either. “Lonely Is the Night” picks things back up nicely, balancing blues stomp with majestic guitar wizardry as capable as vintage Zeppelin, and “Whadda You Want From Me” is an unapologetic barnstormer that is way more fun than it has any right to be. The record’s perfunctory ballad, “Nobody Knows,” is the only time when Squier recalls the self-indulgence of the previous decade, but he easily acquits himself with the sweet love song “I Need You” and the frenzied folk of the closing title track.

The 30th anniversary reissue tacks on a couple live tracks, but misses the point by pulling the recordings from 2009 instead of the height of Squier’s popularity. Furthermore, the singer’s age comes through in his slightly weary voice, and the drums have that unmistakable thin echo that always plagues classic rock reunion tours. (That crappy drum sound must be good for the elderly’s bones or something). Nevertheless, the remastered album tracks sound incredible, and the reissue is a great excuse for younger generations to discover one of the most accidentally influential artists of all time.
David Holmes