April 2023

Billy Squier: "Harder on a Woman"

Patrick Walsh | Scene4 Magazine

Patrick Walsh

It's one of the indelible images of American history: 14 year-old Mary Ann Vecchio crying out in anguished disbelief as she kneels over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller, one of four college students gunned down by Ohio National Guardsmen at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

The picture earned the photojournalism student who took it, John Filo, the Pulitzer Prize in 1971. When Neil Young saw that shocking photo, he immediately wrote a song and within weeks he and bandmates David Crosby, Steven Stills, and Graham Nash recorded "Ohio." Atlantic Records expedited production to have it on the radio by June.

Last June, Billy Squier experienced what he described as "a Neil Young moment," his call to musical arms prompted by the Supreme Court's egregious decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, stripping what will mainly be underprivileged American women of their reproductive rights in one giant retrograde leap.

You better believe Squier feels strongly about the issue; while he has performed at select gigs and made guest appearances over the years, he walked away from the ever-increasingly corporate music industry in the 1990s and hasn't recorded any new material since 2008—something you'd never know listening to "Harder on a Woman," the song he wrote last year in response and released just last month.


It's unmistakably Billy Squier. For starters, his voice sounds amazing. The fact that for years now Squier prefers to spend his time gardening or maintaining the green spaces of Manhattan's Central Park speaks to his healthy priorities. You can hear the payoff: he still owns his timbre, still commands the high notes, still delivers those lilting intonations which make his vocals instantly recognizable ever since the big hits of Don't Say No in 1981. In "Harder on A Woman" he often has nowhere to hide with much of his singing a cappella or close to it. That's unmistakably Billy Squier swagger.

Don't know if it's homage or a coincidence, but the opening guitar lick, played twice, sounds a lot like those now iconic closing notes of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" but with a swampy Blues texture. On the chorus, the melody gives more than a nod to the power riff of "Everybody Wants You," another monster hit for Squier on his 1982 Emotions in Motion LP. Either way, Billy's electric guitar hums with its signature metallic menace. Nothing's changed: he knows how to craft a tune with hooks, chops, and punch.

What's different about "Harder On a Woman" is the message, a punch with a different fist. On Billy's perfect album, Don't Say No, all the songs hang together around a kind of young man's introspection: "In the Dark," "Lonely Is the Night," "Too Daze Gone," "I Need You," "Nobody Knows," and the majestic title track. This cut looks outward; like Neil Young's
"Ohio," "Harder On a Woman" is a protest song. It's not in the style of a Bob Dylan full-on finger pointer like "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," "Who Killed Davey Moore?," or "Hurricane." Squier calls out our country's ugliness and ills in more generic terms, making veiled reference to the issue, as well as the names. But it seems pretty clear to me he alludes to Justice Clarence Thomas at the end of the first salvo of lyrics:

    Molly's got a problem —

    What's she gonna do?

    They took away her freedoms,

    Can't believe it's true.

    Black man at the courthouse says "we're comin' after you" —

    He forgets what it's like.

Ouch. Thomas, the court's lone Black Justice, was one of the six Supremes who saw fit to uphold Mississippi's barbaric 2018 law (Chief Justice John Roberts joined that majority but didn't go along with overturning Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey.) Squier justly chastises Clarence Thomas with the line "he forgets what it's like"—abortion is a civil rights issue, a cause for which far better Black men and women than him fought and died.

Squier's open-ended critique continues in a later stanza:

    Freedom takes a holiday,

    It comes as no surprise:

    Justice in America

    Is dust before your eyes.

But in the chorus, which contains the song's title refrain, Billy Squier shifts from righteous indignation to something you won't find much of in our toxic culture of feigned outrage and all-too-real anger: empathy. It's certainly a sensibility sorely lacking in the antediluvian minds who comprise a majority of the bench of America's highest court:

    It's harder on a woman than it is on a man,

    Try to love you, baby, best as I can.

    She don't want to fight, she don't want to scream,

    She just wanna dance, she just wanna sing.


    It's harder on a woman than it is on a man,

    Try to hold you, darling, long as I can.

    She don't want to shout, she don't want to cry

    She don't want to listen to the lie, lie, lies.

You can listen to "Harder on a Woman" on Spotify and YouTube. Send the link to your Senator while you're at it. It's good to hear a vibrant Billy Squier making new music—alas, for the wrong reason. Billy would rather  be in his garden or tending to the trees of Central Park. If he picks up his Gibson Les Paul, he'd prefer to play and sing for the sheer joy of it and the pleasure of his audience. But like the best of them, he couldn't see injustice and hold his tongue. Someone needed to remind America "it's harder on a woman than it is on a man."


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Patrick Walsh | Scene4 Magazine

Patrick Walsh is a writer and poet. After college, he served four years on active duty as an infantry officer in the 25th Infantry Division. He also holds a Master of Philosophy degree in Anglo-Irish literature from Ireland's University of Dublin, Trinity College. His poems and freelance articles have appeared in numerous journals and newspapers in the U.S. and abroad. For more of his columns and other writings, check the Archives.


©2023 Patrick Walsh
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine





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