Isn’t he pretty in pink?: Billy Squier’s “Rock Me Tonite” video rocked “Radio 1990″ in 1984

By on February 22, 2018

By the time Billy Squier’s video for “Rock Me Tonite” aired during Night Flight’s “Radio 1990″ segment — in this full episode from September 8, 1984 now streaming on Night Flight Plus — his career was likely already in freefall.

Just a few months after it had premiered on MTV, Squier’s image had been changed, against his will, from a virile guitar rocker with a lion’s mane of dark curls to a preening, prancing pop star in a pastel tank top (but, hey, isn’t he pretty in pink?).

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There’s an entire chapter devoted to the unintentionally hilarious video — entitled “A Whopping, Steaming Turd: The Worst Video Ever Made” — in Rob Tannenbaum’s & Craig Marks’ excellent oral history I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution.

The chapter begins with Squier saying he came up with the song while swimming off the Greek island on Santorini, telling his girlfriend, costume designer Fleur Thiemeyer, “I’ve got a hit for the next record.”

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Lyrically, “Rock Me Tonite” — released in June 1984 as the lead-off single from his third solo album, Signs of Life — was mostly a lot of rock clichés strung together:

I’m rockin’ tonite, I’m walkin’ on air
Gonna find me some trouble, gonna grab my share
I want ya tonite, I want ya with me,
Make me guilty of love in the first degree

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Squier’s label, Capitol Records, however, had high hopes for the single, and arranged for its video to premiere on MTV.

At first, Squier thought it should be “based on the ritual of going to a concert,” showing his teenage fans — as well as himself — getting dressed up for a concert.

He also thought the young fans should have to sneak out of their parents house (Night Ranger had already had the same idea a few years earlier).

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Squier tells “Radio 1990″ host Lisa Robinson that he’d looked forward to working with video director Bob Giraldi at first, but they couldn’t agree on conceptual ideas for the video.

Giraldi later backed out of of directing the video, saying what Squier wanted to do “wasn’t something he’d want his kids to see.”

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He then approached director David Mallet, who pitched a treatment with storyboards showing Squier riding a white horse, an idea that was rejected (along with Mallet).

With MTV’s deadline looming in just two weeks, Squier was getting desperate when choreographer Kenny Ortega — who was friends with Squier’s girlfriend — offered his services, and Squier agreed, even though his managers and Capitol hadn’t signed off.

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Ortega’s original concept for the video was to show Squier playing air guitar and prancing around like Tom Cruise in 1982’s Risky Business.

The rocker Squier balked, saying he didn’t want a “pop video,” but Ortega convinced him it would have “grainy textures, somber colors” like the 1980 film American Gigolo.

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When Squier showed up to the set on an L.A. soundstage, he hated what he saw: “pastel colors, a comic book city backdrop, smoke machines,” and, worst of all, “a bed with satin sheets.”

Read more about Billy Squier’s “Rock Me Tonite” video below.

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Squier — who says he was “a good-looking, sexy guy” in ’84 — knew beforehand Ortega was gay, which wasn’t a problem for Squier even though he later acknowledged it may have been a factor.

Ortega filmed Squier rockin’ out with his pink guitar, and playing with his band, but most of the video focused on Squier “dancing,” flailing his arms around like he’d never actually danced in public before.

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Squier was livid, and his managers wanted to cancel the MTV premiere, but Capitol wanted his new single to have “optimal visual support” and they went forward with the video premiere as planned.

Squier’s girlfriend warned him: “This is gonna ruin you.”

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When the video premiered on MTV, viewers saw a Squier they didn’t recognize, looking disturbingly effeminate in a pink tank top, rolling around in satin sheets, and ripping his shirt off, Flashdance-style.

Squier quickly became the poster boy for what could go wrong in your music career if you made the wrong video.

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Squier thought the video undermined his credibility with his young male audience because they were put off by its pop star pretensions and homoerotic tone.

The video was ultimately replaced by a new clip of Squier rockin’ out onstage at Philadelphia’s Spectrum, but it arrived too late to correct the problem.

Squier fired his co-managers — Tom Mohler and Stewart Young  — who’d been with him for three and a half years, and signed with Arnold Stiefel, Rod Stewart’s manager.

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Squier was on his second headlining U.S. tour when the video premiered and within weeks suddenly found himself playing to half-empty venues.

Opening act, Ratt, eventually abandoned the tour (they were replaced by Styx’s Tommy Shaw).

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In late November, Squier told Billboard‘s Paul Grein that his Kenny Ortega-directed video had already become a career killer:

“I think ‘Rock Me Tonite’ is a very demonstrable case where the director let his perception of me overrule what I was about… I’m not perceived as a pop star. I’m not in 16 Magazine, I’m not a teenybopper idol. I’m much grittier than that.”

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“Rock Me Tonite” actually became Squier’s highest-charting U.S. single, peaking at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Signs of Life peaked at #11 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart, although his previous albums — Don’t Say No and Emotions in Motion — had both been platinum-selling Top Ten releases.

Watch the entire “Radio 1990″ segment in our full episode from September 8, 1984, now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.