My freshman year of college my best friend and I controlled the tv lounge in our dorm – at least late at night. There were no physical intimidation involved and no money changed hands. My friend just had such force of personality that others would do her bidding, and I enjoyed the benefits. Monday through Friday, that meant Letterman. This was back before he was a bitter, twisted old man; back when I thought the gap in his teeth was dreamy; back when the show featured Larry “Bud” Melman and Chris Elliott as the Panicky Guy. In other words, back when it was good.
My friend and I always came to the lounge armed with cans of Mountain Dew and contraband crackers. With limited cash for the vending machines, we’d just load up on packets of crackers each time we left the cafeteria. Was this okay? Were we permitted to do this? No, we were not. But we did it anyway. I went to a small, conservative college, so ruling the lounge while eating stolen crackers was our version of thug life. Mom, if you’re reading this, just remember: it’s not really fair to get upset with me now over things I did at 19. I don’t want to drag my siblings into this, but I’m pretty sure that Dad, at least, was misbehaving at 19.
As I said, Monday through Friday we watched Late Night with David Letterman. On Saturday nights, however, it was Night Tracks. I have memories of many videos, of course. I’ve already written about Journey’s “Separate Ways” and I hope to write about other videos in the future. But when I remember my freshman year, my best friend, and those nights in the lounge, one particular video stands out in my mind: Billy Squier’s “Rock Me Tonight”. For us, this video was not a spectator event. When Billy slithered, we slithered. When Billy pranced, we pranced. And slither and prance Billy did, in clothes that were the height of fashion in the early ’80s – if you were a teenage girl. Much is made of the pink tank top, but I find the little white tennies just as puzzling.
This is a video that leaves the viewer with many questions, chief among them being: why? Why did you not get in the elevator the first time, Billy? Did you remember that you needed your guitar? Why did you tear your first tank top? Were you bothered by that one, goofy sleeve hanging off your arm? Also, how? How could Kenny Ortega have thought this was a good idea? How humiliating was it to make this video?
I was never much of a dancer in my youth. Perhaps one of the reason I liked to listen to bands like the Boomtown Rats and Black Flag was because dancing along required so little artfulness. Even so: watch the wide shot that starts at about 1:12. I can say with complete confidence that I was a better dancer than Billy Squier.
The classic riddle attached to this video is whether it destroyed Billy Squier’s career. After a string of successes, things rapidly declined after the release of “Rock Me Tonight”. I need to explain for those of you weren’t children of the ’80s that there is a significant difference between the Journey video I made fun of a few weeks back, and this video. “Separate Ways” certainly looks silly in retrospect. But there was never a time when this “Rock Me Tonight” didn’t look silly. That’s why my friend and I had so much fun with it: It was ridiculous. Which is a shame, I suppose. Billy Squier really deserves to be remembered for his songs. He had monster hits with “My Kinda Lover” and the bawdy but catchy “The Stroke”. “Everybody Wants You” is one of my favorite songs of the decade. For me and many others, though, the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the name Billy Squier is this video – this truly comically awful video.