Released in the summer of 1984, “Rock Me Tonite,” the biggest charting hit single by esteemed rock musician Billy Squier, had its accompanying video premiere on MTV. When Squier's fans saw what was depicted in the video, it left many of them flabbergasted, embarrassed and ashamed of their rock hero, others saw it as ridiculous and bizarre. The video has since acquired the reputation as being the “worst music video ever made,” gaining an entire chapter in the 2011 volume, I Want My MTV, and with Squier himself disowning it and claiming it killed his career. I happen to disagree with the common opinion [what else is new] and with this article, hopefully fans will see the video in a new light.
The music video features Squier waking up in a bed with shiny satin sheets, going about his day putting on sweatpants and a halfshirt with torn sleeves. Squier crawls suggestively on the floor, grinds his lower body, with crotch prominently in view and prances about his bedroom, flailing his arms and skipping to the beat. His bedroom is bathed in pastel colors, orange, pink and blue. He swings down a stripper pole, puts on a pink tank top, before grabbing a pink guitar and joining his band in an adjacent room, which is filled with poster-sized images of the album cover to Signs of Life, which “Rock Me Tonite,” comes from.
Up until the release of the video, Squier had always presented himself as a t-shirt and jeans rocker, never without his guitar. His previous material, such as 1981's “The Stroke,” had a much harder sound, then the synth-laden glam tune visualized here. By the mid 1980s, rock music was changing to a more pop vibe, with emphasis on keyboards, hooky choruses and thundering drums. Squier, like many groups and performers needed to remain relevant so his 1984 album, Signs of Life, presented a more poppy sound than his fanbase was used to.
When the video dropped, his fans were alienated, their macho hard-rocking hero, was now a glammy pretty boy prancing about a satin bed, wearing a pink tank top. As a result, his fans who were primarily teenage boys, shunned Squier and his resulting albums sold poorly and his concerts no longer had the attendance they once did. The reason for this, in my opinion, is the homophobic 1980s, a decade remembered for sending the nation in to a tizzy over the AIDS epidemic and fears of contacting homosexual people reached its crescendo. It was not uncommon for a man to be labeled a “faggot” for having feminine tendencies, wearing feminine colors and clothing and overall being a more sensitive individual. Many closeted men chose to remain introverted and some committed suicide over harassment they received from their peers. Whole television programs, mostly driven by religion and trash TV hosts, were based around warning the public about “the dangers of homosexuality.”
Understandably, given the detestable environment of the time, a video like Squier's would be totally unacceptable. While I agree with Squier's assessment that the video killed his career, I vehemently disagree with the popular opinion that the video is the worst of all time. As a matter of fact, I don't even think its a bad video, certainly no worse than anything else released at the time.
As a bisexual man, I have always taken issue with the stereotypical role of men that society has created. I question why men must be emotionless, gruff and tough, with a rabid appreciation for sports, drink and big wheels. Why is it the “in-thing” for men, insecure with their own masculinity, and women with antiquated minds, to judge men for displaying sensitivity and how they present themselves and their homes? Why is it unacceptable for men to have satin sheets, the color pink in their wardrobe and behavioral and emotional attributes typically identified with women? My philosophy is, as long as your lifestyle doesn't harm others, why should anyone pass judgment or care? I say express yourself, be true to yourself and don't hide who you are because of society's prehistoric perspective. I am proud of who I am, and if my way of life alienates my family or my friends, to the extent where they decide to disown me, then our relationships never truly mattered.
With all of this being said, I absolutely love the “Rock Me Tonite” video, it displays a raw sexual energy in men, that had never been adequately displayed before in mainstream media. Squier is obviously turned on by his own song, as it starts he is simply snapping his fingers, but once the beat kicks in he gets a lot more excited and his dancing and prancing about his room becomes more wild and gets him so excited that he must have an orgasm, which is represented by his tearing off his shirt. Once the pink tank top is placed on his body, the cycle begins again, he starts out slow, but before you know it, hes sliding down the stripper pole. The only way he can calm down is by faceplanting onto his bed. He takes the time to meditate as the beat slows, but sure enough he builds up the energy again and this time, he must go out and play, that is the only way he will sexually satisfy himself, so he picks up a guitar and joins his band.
I feel this video is a marvelous “up yours” statement to conformism toxic masculinity and homophobia, it directly attacks the society-mandated gender roles and finally lets men have all the fun the ladies have been having for years. If any video symbolized the counter-culture, counter-society bent to rock music, this would be it. There are no scantily clad women in this to mask men's sexual desires, he doesn't need women to have fun, Squier does a great job of stimulating himself.
I applaud Squier for making this video, even though he is not too fond of it nowadays. This was a very ambitious video to make in the era it was produced, he ran a great risk, and though his career took a nosedive, it presented an image of man far beyond what society had ever seen before. As bisexual and even gay men, we get turned on by Squier getting turned on, we cheer for him as he releases his inhibitions, he doesn't care what you think, hes comfortable enough in his own skin and masculinity to not restrain his energy, as I watch I find myself saying, “Go Billy, Go!”
This video was made for those of us not afraid to question our sexuality nor our acceptance of it. I'm sure a lot of gay fellows in 1984 secretly admired Squier for finally creating something they could identify with, I certainly do. A video like this challenges ignorance, hatred and hostility to alternate lifestyles and does so with such reckless abandon that it is to be celebrated instead of censured.