Squier by Andy Warhol.
Can a shitty video kill a musician’s career? In the case of Billy Squier, one did. In a poll of over 400 music industry mover and shakers, Squier’s video for “Rock Me Tonite” (terribly mis-directed by choreographer Kenny Ortega) is considered to be the worst video ever made by a major artist and record label. Mike Kelber, who headed the Capitol Records division responsible for making the video, called it “a whopping steaming turd” and was astonished that such crappy looking production may have been the most expensive video Capitol had made up until that time. The resulting fiasco was devastating for Squier.
In the thoroughly entertaining book I Want My MTV (I keep mine next to the toilet), Squier describes the effect the “Rock Me Tonite” video had on his career with a combination of self-pity and dumbfounded disbelief. He still seems dazed by the fact that his life could be so profoundly altered with such irrevocable swiftness :
When I saw the video, my jaw dropped. It was diabolical. I looked at it and went, “What the fuck is this?”
The video misrepresents who I am as an artist. I was a good-looking, sexy guy. That certainly didn’t hurt in promoting my music. But in this video I’m kind of a pretty boy. And I’m preening around a room. People said “He’s gay.” Or, “He’s on drugs.” It was traumatizing to me. I mean, I had nothing against gays. I have a lot of gay friends.”
The video damaged his reputation among rock fans and Squier went from playing to packed arenas to less than 10,000 people a night.
Everything I worked for was crumbling and I couldn’t stop it. How can a four-minute video do that? Ok, it sucked. So?”
Squier eventually quit rock ‘n’ roll and it’s pretty obvious that the video is what compelled him to retire. Whatever regrets he might have are tempered by the fact that he left the music biz a wealthy man.
The wounds have healed and the scars aren’t that deep, because my life has evolved in a good way. I left the music business when I was forty-three. I don’t have to work. Look who’s smiling now! That video is a bad part of a good life.”
I’m sure most first wave MTV fans remember this: the video that killed the rock ‘n’ roll star:
Update: I Want My MTV author Rob Tannebaum wrote us to clarify a point made in my article. Thanks Rob.
There wasn’t an actual poll. My co-author and I interviewed more than 400 people for our oral history, and there was a clear consensus that “Rock Me Tonite” sucked way more than any other sucky video. No other video came close, not even Journey’s “Separate Ways,” which is pretty damn sucky.”