Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wire choir for Squier?

If you grew up in the early 80s you’ll no doubt remember this Billy Squier album from 1981. It featured his biggest hit, The Stroke, as well as a string of other solid tunes including In the Dark, Lonely Is the Night, and My Kinda Lover.

It also contained a gem of a ballad called Nobody Knows that I recently burned onto a mix CD and have been playing in the car. After listening to it countless times, I find it suspiciously Queen-sounding, both lyrically and stylistically. I could even imagine Brian playing the guitar solo on it as there’s a hint of multi-tracking on it. 

There was definitely a convergence between Queen and Squier in the early 80s. Reinhold Mack (right) —  producer of The Game and co-producer of Hot Space, The Works, and A Kind of Magic — is also the producer on this Squier album. As a matter of fact, The Stroke sounds a lot like Tear It Up, in my opinion, so Mack’s fingerprints are all over their early 80s work.

The two artists also crossed paths, both on the road and in the studio. Squier was the opening act during the Hot Space tour in 1982 after his Emotions in Motion album was released that same year . . . by the same record company, no less. Freddie and Roger are even guest vocalists on the EIM title track. Two years later, Brian also played lead guitar on (Another) 1984, a track from Squier’s next album, Signs of Life.

My suspicion that Nobody Knows sounds very Queen-like in its writing and production is also shared by a few others that viewed the YouTube video for it. Mistermojo1969 was the first to bring up this similarity in the video’s comments section:

“I’m probably going to be regarded as a conspiracy theorist, but here goes. I realize this song is credited to Billy, but there’s no way he wrote this. Listen to how high in his range it is; no focus. Notice the “balls out” section. No balls. Listen to the lyrics; they don’t match anything else on the album. Who sang in this range? What musical style is it? Whose lyrical style is this? I’m talking to the point where it’s formulaic. Freddie Mercury. A secret collaboration?”
I get the impression that this guy isn’t a huge Queen fan from the way he presents his conspiracy theory. He would rather the song be left off the album and replaced by a “true” rock-and-roll Squier tune instead. The next comment, from unktantor, is in agreement with the Freddie influence but seems much more excited about the possible fantasy collaboration than mojo is:

“mistermojo...I have always loved this song, but I am struck by the fact that you are dead-on with the Freddie thing... If memory serves me, Mack, Billy’s co-producer on this album, also worked with Queen... Freddie singing this would be AWESOME!!! (and everyone would know this song!)
How much interaction did Queen and Squier have prior to their touring together in 1982? I think the Queen sound on Nobody Knows is probably coincidence more than anything else. That’s not to say Billy didn’t write it in an attempt to emulate Queen’s formula song structure, as mistermojo contends. If anything, I think Freddie might have taken Billy’s lead in recording an homage to the late John Lennon and wrote Life is Real as his tribute to the ex-Beatle. 


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