Rock Me Tonite

Album: Signs of Life (1984)
Charted: 15

Songfacts®:

  • Billy Squier's highest-charting song, he wrote "Rock Me Tonite" when he was on vacation in Greece, swimming in the waters off the island of Santorini. Said Squier: "I came out of the water and said to my girlfriend, 'I've got a hit for the next record."

    The lyrics are full of young lust, with Billy asking his girl to "Make me guilty of love in the first degree." The title is so cliché that even Spinal Tap had a song with a similar name that year: "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight."
  • The video for this song was a disaster, and is often cited as having caused irreversible damage to Squier's career. We find that a little suspect, since MTV didn't play the clip very often, but it certainly blew a big budget for a negative return and caused Squier enough anguish to fire his managers. Thanks to YouTube and various VH1 specials, the video has gained notoriety retroactively, and it even earned an entire chapter in the book I Want My MTV.

    In 1981, Squier did well on MTV with gritty videos directed by Derek Burbidge for his songs "Lonely Is The Night," "The Stroke," and "In the Dark" (he was one of the few American Rock artists to make videos when MTV launched). "Rock Me Tonite" was the first single from his third album, and MTV held a coveted "World Premiere" slot for it, which would deliver lots of eyeballs. Squier had a very sensible idea for the video: scenes of both he and his fans getting ready for his concert and meeting up at the show. Bob Giraldi, who did Michael Jackson's video for "Beat It," was the first choice for director, but they couldn't come to an agreement. They ended up using Kenny Ortega, who was a friend of Squier's girlfriend, a costume designer named Fleur Thiemeyer. Ortega would go on to fame as a choreographer (Dirty Dancing, Newsies) and tour director (Michael Jackson, High School Musical), and was a reasonable choice to direct: his videos for The Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited" and The Tubes' "She's A Beauty" both did well on MTV. Ortega, however, is gay and has a flamboyant taste that didn't suit Squier's Rock Star persona.

    The video goes awry quickly, which Squier rolling out of a pastel, satin-sheeted bed and putting on a ripped T-shirt. It becomes a complete disaster when he starts dancing, which is not a pretty sight - he's clearly more comfortable holding a guitar. Even the most charismatic singers were rarely seen alone for long in videos, but no other creature comes into frame for the first three excruciating minutes of this one, making it impossible to hide his terpsichorean shortcomings and absurd costume. Making matters worse is that Ortega didn't do a cover shot with the band, so there was no way to edit around it.

    Squier went ahead with the shoot (at an LA soundstage) because he trusted Ortega to make it more gritty in post production, which didn't happen. "He abused my trust, I really feel that," Squier said in I Want My MTV. "He did not do what he said he would do."

    The video made its scheduled debut on MTV, getting reluctant approval from both Squier and Capitol Records. It was quickly pulled, but according to Squier, the damage was done. He said: "The video had a deleterious effect on my career. The tour before, I was selling out arenas faster than Sinatra, and as soon as that video came out I was playing to half houses."

Comments: 1

  • Dave Jacobs from Fargo, North DakotaYup. This video was as dumb as a bag of hammers.
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