A few years ago, I read the articles in English "Record
Collector" magazine concerning Queen's collaboration work, which naturally
referred to Billy Squier. That made me start writing this story about the
relationship between Billy and Queen as I wanted Queen fans to know more
detailed story. I wrote this referring to all materials I could get and
asked a few questions to Billy, to which he kindly replied, so I am almost
satisfied with its contents. But, if you know other episodes or behind-the-scene
stories, please e-mail me.
I wrote a story in English for the first time in my life. So, probably, there are lots of grammatical errors, but what I wanted to convey to you are expressed here. I hope you like it.
Send all corrections, additions, and comments
THE FIRST MEETING
I HAVE WATCHED YOU FLY
Born on 12 May 1950, Billy Squier grew up in the suburb
of Boston, showing keen enthusiasm for rock'n'roll, which was caused by
the British Invasion in 1964. In his high school days, he played guitar
with a group called Tom Swift Electric Band and had good opportunities to
open for legendary groups like Cream, the Grateful Dead and Blue Cheer at
the Psychedelic Supermarket.
At the beginning of 1969, Billy headed for New York to look for what he wanted --- rock'n'roll. There he formed a band called Magic Terry and the Universe and played hip places like Steve Paul's Scene and Max's Kansas city. "We were part of the 60s movement," recalls Billy. Moreover, he must have realized the meaning of that phrase clearly and vividly, when he had the fortune to jam with his long-time hero, Jimi Hendrix in a rehearsal studio, where he worked as a living-in employee.
After many twists and turns with the bands like Kicks (the drummer was Jerry Nolan, later a New York Doll) and the Sidewinders (the singer was Andy Paley who nowadays works with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys), Billy, now back in Boston, attained the crucial year of 1974.
Around this year, acts from his generation who were influenced by the 60s' rock, started appearing in the music scene. In Boston area, there were also some promising acts to be giants in the world. Billy, then, worked with, or developed associations with some of them including Tom Scholz (who later formed the group Boston), Ric Ocasek (who subsequently became the leader of the Cars), and the members of Aerosmith as well as J. Geils Band. And this year, into this particular circle of his associations came one British act --- Queen.
Queen just released their second album "Queen II"
in the States and started their first American tour as a support act for
Mott The Hoople from 16 April 1974. 10 days later from their landing, they
came to Boston to play at Orpheum Theatre and hold a reception for the launch
of "Queen II".
Being a boyfriend of the local No.1 DJ, through whom Billy had already known the existence of Queen, listened to their first album and been impressed musically and visually, he was also invited to the album launch. There they, Billy and Queen, found themselves kindred spirits, presumably sharing the time speaking each other's musical roots and anecdotes, with Billy boasting of having jammed with Jimi Hendrix causing much envy from the members of Queen and Brian May boasting back of having been asked by Jimi "Which way's the stage, man?" at the dressing room of Imperial College. So afterwards Billy was invited out to dinner. "It was just us, the guys from Queen and a couple of people from the record company," recalls Billy. "I can't even remember them drinking at all in those days. They were really quiet and low-key, not at all how their music might have led me to perceive them. Freddie struck me as being very composed and rather an enigmatic sort of presence. I found it hard to believe that the music I'd just listened to had emanated from the same band I was having dinner with. Their demeanor, especially Freddie's, was so totally different to how they performed on stage."
In 1976, Billy formed his first leading band called Piper
in New York. Like Queen and Brian & Roger's Smile, Piper designated John
Anthony (an acquaintance through Queen) as the producer for their debut
record "Piper", which was released in early 1977. The self-titled
album was quickly followed by their second album "Can't Wait"
in September 1977. Both albums from A&M ended with no chart success, and
Billy disbanded Piper in early 1978 and went for a solo artist. When Billy
got the longing solo deal with Capitol Records in the mid 1979, he originally
approached Brian May, intending him to be a suitable co-producer. For over
the years, he had kept up correspondence with the members of Queen. And
by the late 70s, the relationship, especially between he and the guitar
ace, had become so close as they discussed some collaboration work, which
would expand into a full collaboration album in the early 80s and it would
remain a mutual dream of both acts throughout the first half of the decade.
But this time, their schedules didn't mesh as Brian and the mates had just
begun a new project, "The Game", with a new German producer, Mack.
Although Brian was unavailable, Billy invited the notable ex-Yes producer, Eddie Offord for the duty. Accompanied with the first single "You Should Be High Love", his solo debut album "The Tale Of The Tape" was released in April 1980. It only reached No. 169 on the charts, but, of those who liked the album, there was a street DJ. That's Jam Master Jay of Run DMC, the pioneer and founder of today's hip-hop. He kept his ears upon the album's opening track "The Big Beat". The song gave him a so precious clue that, later in his own stardom, he mentioned the song as "a crucial hip-hop sample." His remark, ever since, has given an impetus to the reevaluation of this album and Billy as an important contributor to hip-hop.
Although his solo debut album was never successful enough Billy had expected, this defeat on the charts might give a large audience sudden impact of this self-described "slow horse out of the gate," when the seeming newcomer came back with the big breakthrough album "Don't Say No". Recorded with Brian May recommended co-producer Mack, the "culmination of everything I'd ever worked for" was released in April 1981. The first single from the album was Billy's own choice, "The Stroke". This number had the same feel as "The Big Beat" to it. Listeners directly responded to his new sound this time, and it peaked at No. 17 on the single chart. The fanatic response to the song and "Don't Say No" never confined to the States, which prompted Billy to start the first European tour to satisfy the West European audience in the summer of 1981. In U.K., he toured with Whitesnake, including an impressive guest appearance at the Reading Festival.
"Don't Say No", which went all the way to No.
5 on the charts and got triple platinum, brought Billy a resounding success,
and it changed his life in many ways. Even so, the relationships between
he and his close friends were never swayed. "Nothing's changed me drastically,
certainly not in terms of relationships," argues Billy. "The people
who I'm close to, and there aren't that many of them, have been close for
a long time, and we know each other well enough. There's understanding I
think we're mutually aware that it isn't the quantity of time you spend
together, it's the quality of time you spend." One of those relationships,
which properly survived according to his philosophy was that between he
Since Billy became a solo act, each album-making had foreshadowed the possibility of Squier/Queen collaboration. Through the first album, although Brian May was unavailable, Billy knew Mack through him. On the second, Billy appointed Mack to the co-producer, which meant that he and Queen had the mutual producer. Then the necessity of the mutual producer for both acts' coincident new albums enabled both parties to visit the producer's hometown studio (Musicland Studios) in Munich.
When Billy visited there in January 1982, Queen had already begun working on their new album. Surrounded intimate atmosphere, guest appearance on each other's albums took place naturally. Freddie and Roger gave some "emotional support" to the title track of Billy's next album, "Emotions In Motion", singing backing vocals behind Billy's lead voice. "That combination sounds fantastic," boasts Billy. In return, Billy covered a deficit, which had been caused by the sudden cancellation by David Bowie, with a chorus to "Cool Cat" on Queen's "Hot Space" album. Although their mutual dream to collaborate a full album became much harder to materialize due to each other's crowded schedules, they agreed to do North American tour together next summer. "I thought it was a real honor being able to work with them and it was kinda natural cause we were friends," remarks Billy.
"Emotions in Motion", his third solo LP, came out in July, with the Roger and Freddie featured title track single. Then, much expected joint tour with Queen started off at the Forum in Montreal, Canada, on 21 July.
Throughout the tour, Billy went first on stage, and gave a famed dynamic performance at each venue, bringing down the whole house including Queen-minded fans, and of course, so did the main act when they appeared on the stage. Those who were impressed by Queen's performance included some celebrities like Andy Warhol (the artist responsible for Billy's "Emotions" album art) and none other than Billy Squier. He was fascinated by Freddie's performance in particular. "He (Freddie) loved to perform," recalls Billy. "I think all the words about how great a performer he was have been used up. I just used to stand and watch him every night thinking, 'how do you do that? Just how do you get away with it?' It was the onstage Freddie that was most fearless. He believed in what he and the band were doing so much, he never projected the slightest fear or self-doubt and that just swept the audience along with him. He just knew that the show was going to work. He was made for the stage. His sense of theatricality was the key, and it was a key which so very few other rock performers have at their disposal."
While the two-month memorable tour, taking their reciprocal affection into consideration, costarring onstage could have happened at any time as long as Billy and Queen were on the same bill. But the very special occasion never happened till the tour reached its final. The last concert of the tour, which, no one imagined then, to be the Queen's last stage in America, was held at the Inglewood Forum in Los Angeles on 15 September. As usual, Billy played first, then Queen did theirs. But the encore performance of the latter act was far much from usual. Billy was called up onstage for their unusual rendition of an old Presley number, "Jailhouse Rock". This only coacting in public --- Billy and Freddie on vocals, Brian on guitar, Roger on drums and John on bass --- remains with Billy one of the strongest memories to this day.
While the yearlong "Emotions" tour, the album remained on the charts nearly a year after the initial release, reaching No. 5 at its height, and recorded double-platinum sales.
After two consecutive platinum albums, Billy released his fourth solo effort "Signs Of Life" in July 1984, which eventually reached No. 11 and, again, got a platinum. "Rock Me Tonite", the first single from the album, was also successful and climbed to No. 15 on the single chart (his highest chart position to date). This time, Brian May made a contribution to the album and added a brilliant guitar solo on a track entitled "(Another) 1984", which was recorded at Battery Studio in late April while Billy was doing mixes and overdubs in London.
For his next album
"Enough Is Enough", Billy began recording at his favorite studio,
the Power Station, leaving its full authority to new producer Peter Collins
for the first time since he became a solo artist. Afterwards, They moved
to England for further recording sessions at Sarm East in the spring of
During the exhausting recording work in London, Billy, one night, decided to take a rest and phoned Freddie Mercury as he, a keen architecture fanatic, wanted to see Freddie's fantastic dwelling, Logan Place, of which the owner had boasted so much to him, just for pleasure. When he visited there, however, the pleasure turned to the intensive work of writing songs --- much pleasure no doubt. Billy recalls: "It was great to see him again and he lost no time in asking to hear what I'd been working on after several years of moving in different directions. I started playing him some roughs and he got incredibly enthused. He would make me play songs over and over again, always interjecting ideas, playing 'air guitar'. We eventually managed to stay up the entire night."
The following morning, Freddie suddenly came up with "the most perfect introduction to my song ("Love Is The Hero")." Later in the afternoon, the splendid introduction was properly recorded by Freddie himself singing to his piano, which was subsequently mixed to the finished take of "Love Is The Hero", and was exclusively released in U.K. included on Billy's only 12" single (Capitol 12CL 433).
Although the song was never given the "Squier-Mercury" credit when released in September 1986 (the U.K. 12" had a line above the song title, which boasted "Introduction: Freddie Mercury" on the back sleeve), they worked on one more song to be suitably credited so. "We later started working on another song he had taken a fancy to," remembers Billy. "He'd said that he didn't think the lyrics I had were interesting enough and didn't like the title. Again, from out of nowhere, he suddenly suggested it should be called "Lady With A Tenor Sax". I had no idea what he had in mind but I'd learned by now that when Freddie had an idea it was generally best to go with it. 'Okay,' I said, 'but you'll have to write some lyrics 'cause at the moment I don't know where you're coming from.' At the studio, without any hesitation, he began singing and the words came, like they were coming out of the ether --- no preparation and very apt."
When the song was finished off with lots of contributions from Freddie, Billy thought it should be sung by the voice of Queen. But, Freddie went against it, being in favour of the voice of non-group. The finished take would be the best evidence that which opinion had won out. In contrast, to non-co-credited "Love Is The Hero", which featured distinctive Freddie's voice to and fro throughout the song, Billy's voice solely blasted on the co-credited track, "Lady With A Tenor Sax". Billy says: "I somehow rose to the occasion and upon listening back we both agreed that my performance was 'the one'. I couldn't believe that I was actually up on this guy's level. That experience forced me to reevaluate my perception of myself, made me realize that I should not be as reticent in taking up personal challenges and could be what I wanted to be if only I believe."
The Squier/Mercury collaboration went tremendously well, and Billy, as a songwriter, learnt a lot from Freddie, seeing him write spontaneously. "I later tried to develop this faculty in myself after seeing Freddie do it so successfully," confesses Billy. "He believed entirely where he was going, even if he didn't always know just where he was going and that's the key to writing spontaneously. You have to believe implicitly in what comes out."
After the event, the collaboration of the two talented artists never happened again, but Billy hoped to write with Freddie again, mentioning his name as a collaborator he wanted to work with, in subsequent interviews, and kept in touch with him until shortly before his death.
"Enough Is Enough" went on sale in September 1986. But, it only got to No. 62 on the charts, which was largely owing to one-person's production work. Billy, now, agrees that playing and the song were strong, but argues "the production was soulless, and things just didn't swing."
On his next two albums, "Hear & Now" (June 1989) and "Creatures Of Habit" (April 1991), Billy revived his sound, and that in more developed style, returning his post as producer. Although both albums didn't equal "Don't Say No" and "Emotions In Motion" in term of sales and charts (both marked unsatisfying No. 59), they were finished, musically, faultlessly and have been counted among the best work of his.
After the summer tour of 1991, when Billy was about to
begin working on an idea for his next album in the late autumn, the shocking
news was received that his longtime friend Freddie Mercury had AIDS. And
the following day, on 24 November, the friend passed away all too soon.
"I was shattered," remarks Billy. "I didn't want to say good-bye
to him. I wanted to hold on to his spirit. So I wrote what for me was a
very emotional, confessional song called 'I Have Watched You Fly'".
The song was written the day after Freddie died. "It came out pretty
quickly, over the course of the afternoon. It was not a laborious process.
Perhaps his famous spontaneity was with me at last."
That started Billy writing songs for his new album. "Afterwards I remember saying, 'I want to write more songs with this sort of urgency and truthfulness'," recalls Billy. The twelve songs written by the author in such emotion were appropriately reflected on his next album's title --- "Tell The Truth". The album was brought out in April 1993.
"I Have Watched You Fly", the origin of the album, was not included on the album, but its lyrics first appeared in the book entitled "This is the Real Life... FREDDIE MERCURY"
The performance was recorded live and is available for free at a2bmusic or J-Bird Records website, which is the Billy's current record label and released his latest album "Happy Blue" in September 1998.
After "Tell The Truth", Billy parted with Capitol
and released 2CDs compilation "Reach For The Sky - The Anthology"
from Polygram in late February 1996. With the extensive detailed liner notes
by himself, the album boasts 34 songs culled from all his albums including
Piper days. Although the compilation does not carry any previously unreleased
tracks, it includes digitally remastered crucial numbers like "The
Big Beat" and "The Stroke" as well as currently unavailable
songs from "Signs Of Life" and "Enough Is Enough". That
will mean a lot to Queen fanatics. For, with this anthology album, you can
enjoy most of the collaboration work by Billy and Queen members --- Roger
and Freddie featured "Emotions In Motion", Brian's distinctive
guitar solo added "(Another) 1984", Squier-Mercury penned "Lady
With A Tenor Sax" and Freddie's voice spread "Love Is The Hero",
with, at last for the first time on CD, introduction by Freddie!
Thank you for reading. Send all corrections, additions,
and comments to exo!.