Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
When I got my first apartment, in 1981, the first thing I did was order a cable-TV package that included MTV. In those days, MTV programmed nothing but music videos -- it was the only way I could hear the Clash and the Jam, let alone the English Beat. Punk and New Wave got little airplay on the local FM stations, so MTV helped me hear some great new bands.
Billy Squier didn’t exactly fit the MTV lineup, but he was photogenic, and his videos ended up in heavy rotation. They helped propel his second album, Don’t Say No (1981), to No.5 on the Billboard chart, and it eventually sold three million copies. Don’t Say No is a solid hard-rock album -- not exactly heavy metal, but with some of that genre’s larger-than-life excess and drive.
Luckily, Squier wrote good rock’n’roll songs that still hold up. When I played the original Capitol vinyl release, the sound of “In the Dark” was bright, exciting rock, Bobby Chouinard’s drums keeping things moving and centered. Intervention’s vinyl reissue, mastered by Kevin Gray from the original analog master tapes, maintains the energy level but lets me hear more of what’s going on in the arrangement. Chouinard’s drums have the same slam, but more tonal accuracy. The guitars are still crunchy, but more structured, and solo lines cut through with more intensity.
The synth lines and backing vocals place “In the Dark” firmly in the 1980s, but Gray has managed to make them sound more balanced and less dated. “The Stroke,” the album’s first hit single, is timeless rock, and on this pressing the guitar chords fill the soundstage more solidly. When Squier and guitarist Cary Sharaf trade riffs in the chorus, each instrument is clearly placed and sharply focused, making it easier to hear picking techniques and individual notes.
“My Kinda Lover” was another hit, and this new pressing brings out the bass more solidly, and gives more dimension and body to the synth lines. The result is funkier than on the original pressing, and more danceable -- the pulse of the bass drum is stronger, and the bass line pushes harder. Gray’s remastering has let Allen St. John’s barrelhouse piano come out more in “Too Daze Gone,” and taken the bright edge off the guitars while still letting them tear it up. It’s the strongest proof on the album that Squier listened to the Rolling Stones as much as to hard rock -- to my ears, it’s the album’s best song.
The CD version of Don’t Say No sounds flat and has very little low-end energy, even compared to the original vinyl pressing. The Intervention reissue has lots of low-end force, and more detail overall than either the CD or the original vinyl. Drums, bass, and low guitar strings come through with more clarity and snap. The acoustic guitars in “Nobody Knows” sound more realistic and warm, and the sound of the nylon-string guitar is more natural.
Returning to an album one fell in love with almost 40 years before can be tricky. I wasn’t sure that Don’t Say No wouldn’t sound dated, and in some ways it’s still very much a 1980s hard-rock production. Kevin Gray’s mastering brings out details that help make the album richer, and returning to it reminded me that Billy Squier was a better-than-average songwriter. “Lonely Is the Night” is the best Led Zep knockoff I’ve ever heard, and “Whadda You Want from Me” is prime blues-rock.
Rap artists have sampled tunes from Don’t Say No, including Nas and Eminem (twice). I don’t know if I’d call the album a neglected ’80s classic, but the more I play it -- especially in this excellently mastered, beautifully packaged edition -- the more I lean in that direction.
. . . Joseph Taylor