Why and How Did Billy Squier’s “Rock Me Tonite” Music Video Ruin His Career?

Two multi-platinum Top 5 albums by Billy Squier were released in a two-year period in the early 1980s—”Don’t Say No” in 1981 and “Emotions in Motion” in 1982.

For a brief period, it appeared like he would become one of the biggest rock performers of the 1980s, but in the summer of 1984, everything fell apart when he released one of the worst music videos ever.

But in 1984, when the music video for his single “Rock Me Tonite” was released, his career suffered a significant, almost legendary nosedive.

In it, Squier dances in a way that many at the time thought were “effeminate” or “gay,” occasionally donning a pink tank top and frolicking on a bed covered in satin.

Why Did the “Rock Me Tonite” Music Video for Billy Squier Ruin His Career?

rock me tonight video controversy

Result in the fact that the majority of Billy Squier‘s following consisted of teenagers and young adults in their 20s who were drawn to him because they thought he was a badass hard rocker

Up until he filmed a music video for it, in which he crawled suggestively over the floor while wrapped in pastel-colored satin sheets, mimed in a pink tank top while shaking his tush, and writhed around in such a manner.

For the most part, artists can ignore conventional gender roles. It simply didn’t go down well in 1984, particularly for a traditionally male guy who was well-known for performing what was seen to be traditionally masculine music.

Squier’s biggest chart hit, “Rock Me Tonite,” performed well on the radio and peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100.

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Without Music, the “Rock Me Tonite” Video Is Even More Stupid

rock me tonight video controversy

In the annals of rock history, Billy Squier’s “Rock Me Tonite” is notorious for having a music video that was so abjectly bad that it effectively ended the artist’s career a feat that has arguably never been duplicated.

At the start of the 1980s, Squier became a freakin’ HUGE rock star when his second album Don’t Say No went platinum and produced four top 40 hits. When everyone copied his early hit “The Big Beat,” which has 16 pages of citations, he even became an unusual figure in hip-hop.

His popularity increased to the point where he was able to commission Andy Warhol to create the album cover for the follow-up, which also garnered around a billion sales. He appeared to be all set.

Although Squier had some crossover appeal with But Then Came to the Damn Video, the majority of his fans were unreconstructed classic rockers who were bulleted admirers of Foreigner, Journey, and other artists.

So it’s unclear why the video’s director decided to have the artist dress up like he’d been expelled from Kajagoogoo for having out-of-date hair and film him prance around a bedroom, preening at his own reflection, playing air guitar, and ripping off his shirt.

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Billy Squier’s Career May Have Been Wrecked with Rock Me Tonite.

rock me tonight video controversy

You only need to take a brief look through the most popular rock songs of 1983 and 1984 to see that Squier was far from the only artist to produce stupid, cheap, or gender-bending music videos.

No one can argue that Squier looks silly for the entirety of “Rock Me Tonite,” but his flailing is no less respectable than Billy Idol’s in “Eyes Without a Face” or Paul Stanley’s in Kiss’ video for “Heaven’s on Fire.”

Perhaps nothing more than ordinary audience weariness, which has ended the careers of the vast majority of musicians for just about as long as we have had recorded sound, was to blame for Squier’s demise.

Although it’s likely true that video killed a particular type of radio star (Christopher Cross, we barely knew ye), it would be unjust to blame Squier’s quick decline on rock fans who abruptly turned against him after learning he was gay.

Pop fans have always been erratic, and only a select few artists have the good fortune to have long-term widespread success. Even though “Rock Me Tonite” may not have improved his chances, Squier most certainly lost because of the shifting tastes of his audience.

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Final Words

Billy Squier’s fans were teenage lads and young men in their 20s who thought he was a tough hard rocker, yet the “Rock Me Tonite” video has complicated sexuality. Partly because the video’s past is now part of the text, and partly because Squier looks and moves like a woman. It delivered him a No. 1 rock smash and a No. 15 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100. Billy Squier sued himself. Squier says his 1984 music video for “Rock Me Tonite” damaged his career. Squier wants $70 million. His previous managers, MTV, and Richard Simmons are all named.

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