My Forty-Year-Old Squeeze
IN THIS IMAGE: The single art for Cool for Cats (1979)/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
Looking Back at a Remarkable Band: The Ultimate Squeeze Playlist
MY first exposure to Squeeze would have been…
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the incredible single, Cool for Cats. That song was taken from their sophomore album of the same name and marked a big leap for Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook. Although the band – in various incarnations – have been around for over forty years; the debut album, Squeeze, was unleashed in March 1978 and, a little late to the party, I wanted to look back at the band and the incredible work they have put out. I didn’t experience Cool for Cats until the late-1980s – the album it is from came out in 1979 – and marvelled, even at such a young age, at the wit and imagery being put forward. I was exposed to some great music as a youngster but there was nothing as witty and ‘human’ as Squeeze. Maybe it was the accent of Difford and the way he could bring this extraordinary and wild song to the ground and make it seem somewhat normal. Lyrics about corporals and violence; flashing cash and being, as the title/chorus goes, cool for cats – this was a new type of music and one that made a big impact. I grew up around a lot of Pop and mainstream music, so to have Squeeze muscling in and presenting something a bit different; this was a big deal and led me to look back at their debut.
IN THIS PHOTO: Glenn Tilbrook in 2018/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The eponymous introduction was not a world-beater as such – there were problems and the album seems quite troubled and inconsistent – but did introduce this incredible band. John Cale produced everything except for Take Me I’m Yours and Bang Bang and, as Tilbrook explained some years later; it was a bit maddening working with a producer who threw out most of their songs and took a very different approach. Difford and Tilbrook wanted to be assertive and have their material resonate but they were in awe of this masterful songwriter and figure that was producing for them. As such, there were some fine moments but it was not until Cool for Cats that you got a more expressive and natural Squeeze sound. Up the Junction is a story of meeting a girl, falling in love and having a baby told through a very ordinary and, as such, unique lens. Our hero talks about the mundane aspects – paying bills and being responsible – and it is such a captivating and exceptional song. With Tilbrook’s exceptional ear for composition and feel and Difford’s incredible lyrics driving the songs; it was no surprise critics went made for Squeeze. This is how AllMusic views Cool for Cats:
“...Chief among those is "Up the Junction," a marvelous short story chronicling a doomed relationship, but there's also the sly kinky jokes married to deft characterizations on "Slap and Tickle," the heartbroken tale of "Goodbye Girl," and the daft surrealism of "Cool for Cats." These are subtle, sophisticated songs that are balanced by a lot of direct, unsophisticated songs, as Difford picks up on the sexually charged vibe of John Cale and gets even kinkier, throwing out songs about masturbation and cross-dressing, occasionally dipping into how he's feeling slightly drunk. Tilbrook pairs these ribald tales to frenzied rock & roll, equal parts big hooks and rollicking rhythms, including a couple of showcases for Holland's boogie-woogie piano. It's all a bit scattered but in a purposeful way, as the impish wit lends the pub rockers a kinky kick while Tilbrook's tunefulness gives it all an identity. Cool for Cats winds up being wild and weird, angular and odd in a way only a new wave album from 1979 could possibly be, but this is a high watermark for its era with the best moments effortless transcending its time”.
I have not yet mentioned Jools Holland: his distinct piano style and personality helped elevate the music and brought something fantastic to the band. Squeeze would continue this momentum and brilliance with 1980’s Argybargy. There are some underrated gems like Misadventure and There at the Top but it is those big hits that stand out. The masterful Another Nail in My Heart is a nervy breakup song that was critically acclaimed and talks of heavy drinking, lost love and, at the death, the piano man at the bar putting another nail into the heart of the hero. Pulling Mussels (from the Shell) is one of my favourite Squeeze songs – not least the incredible riffs and nuanced composition – and talks of Difford’s observations of the working-class and him spending time, as a youngster, at holiday camps; all the basic accommodation, humble pleasures and rather unspectacular views. Squeeze’s regency and brilliant run would continue the following year with 1981’s East Side Story. It is a double-album with one half produced by Elvis Costello and another by Roger Bechirian. There were rumours Paul McCartney and Dave Edmunds produced sides of the record but that has not been substantiated. The fourteen-track record is a veritable feast of diamonds but, again, there are those two standout cuts. Tempted, released as a single on 10th July, 1981, was written by Chris Difford as he was taking a taxi to Heathrow Airport and was ruminating on a relationship that was falling apart due to his infidelities. Difford considers it one of the band’s best songs and a moment when they were maturing and coming into their own.
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Labelled with Love, peaking at number-four in the charts in 1981, shows that maturity and softer sound. The next few albums would see a slight dent in the critical stride – not as confident as their previous two – but 1982’s Sweets from a Stranger gave us Black Coffee in Bed; Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (1985) spawned Last Time Forever and Hits of the Year whilst Babylon and On gave us Footprints. One of my early Squeeze memories is having Hourglass, the album’s opener, played in the car as a child. I was addicted to the fast-paced singalong of the chorus and the big brass working funkily throughout. It is a catchy song but not one that resonated with the critics. The song reached number-fifteen in the U.S. and was their biggest hit there. The song’s video, directed by Ade Edmondson, was played a load on MTV and gained them new popularity. If It’s Love and Love Circles made 1989’s Frank a more popular (among critics rather than fans) and complete album and showed, at the end of the 1980s, how much the band had changed. The core was still there – Difford and Tilbrook at the centre; Jools Holland was still part of the fray – but, whilst a solid album, Frank sold poorly and it meant Squeeze were released by A&M Records – they had not long been taken under their wing. The band signed with Reprise Records soon after and released the satisfying Play in 1991.
Maybe 1993’s Some Fantastic Place did not have the same calibre of hits as their work in the late-1970s and 1980s but there was that incredible songcraft and, at this stage, another change for the band. Reprise Records dropped Squeeze when Play did not fare too well and they were resigned by A&M Records for Some Fantastic Place. Drummer Gilson Lavis left the band and Paul Carrack returned to the group. He has worked with them on East Side Story – he played keyboard and sung the lead on Tempted – and the reconnection worked out brilliantly. Whilst there have been mixed fortunes regarding their ‘recent’ output (1998-) – 1998’s Domino was rushed and negatively reviewed; 2010’s Spot the Difference is a mix of new and old Squeeze songs; 2015’s Cradle to the Grave marked a new lease and was received very well – it is great to see the band are still going and, who knows, maybe there will be new material next year. Here is a sample review for Cradle to the Grave:
“Neither Tilbrook nor his co-songsmith Chris Difford envisaged Squeeze would reform for a third term, yet, after a successful 2007 reunion and 2010’s Spot The Difference (a collection of reworked older songs), they’ve finally fashioned an all-new studio LP, From The Cradle To The Grave.
Most of the tracks are scheduled to feature in the forthcoming Danny Baker/Jeff Pope-penned BBC sitcom of the same name (which has been adapted from Baker’s autobiography, Going To Sea In A Sieve), but From The Cradle… also reveals itself to be an accomplished comeback in its own right – not to mention Squeeze’s most essential set since 1993’s Some Fantastic Place.
With its best songs vividly referencing the 70s South London landscape of Difford and Tilbrook’s youth, FTCTTG is frequently nostalgic, yet it’s largely upbeat and mostly eminently radio-friendly. The balmy, country-flavoured Happy Days and stomping, soul-tinged titular song are surely destined to become live favourites, while affecting teenage rites of passage tales such as Honeytrap and the brilliant, porn-mag-related Haywire eloquently demonstrate why Difford still hits the spots lesser lyricists can’t reach”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Chris Difford/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Squeeze followed up Cradle to the Grave pretty quickly with 2017’s The Knowledge. It saw Yolanda Charles replace Lucy Shaw on bass but, essentially, it is another tight and memorable Squeeze album. I am sure there will be other albums very soon but I am amazed the band have survived through the decades – considering they have been dripped by labels and personal problems threatened to split the band at very points – and are looking ahead. To me, Tilbook and Difford are one of the most underrated songwriting partnerships ever and can rank alongside the very best. Like Paul Heaton (lyrics) and Dave Rotheray (music) of The Beautiful South; there is that humour and sparkling wit but, at the core, kitchen sink drama and subjects we can all relate to. This interview from last year featured Glenn Tilbrook as he spoke about influences and songwriting comparisons:
“As a musician, Tilbrook has influenced many new bands, but his influences were many.
“I grew up loving music. I had an older brother who used to buy records by The Beatles, The Who, The Stones and The Kinks and they had a big influence on me, the music of the 60s is just embedded in me.”
With their songwriting, Difford and Tilbrook became known as ‘the Lennon and McCartney of New Wave’, but this had an adverse affect on them. “I think it went to both our heads but we soon drifted back to earth”.
I recall discovering Squeeze and being amazed by this very new and fresh band that sounded like no other. The chemistry between Tilbrook and Difford has sustained them and, although there were break-ups – the first in 1982; they reformed in 1985 and disbanded again in 1999 – there is that love and mutual respect. Maybe the comparisons to Lennon and McCartney at their peak (around the late-1970s and early-1980s) was hyperbole but you cannot argue against the brilliance of their songwriting. It is forty years since their eponymous debut and there have been definite highs and lows. The classic tracks speak for themselves. There are few groups who can boast songs as memorable and uplifting as Cool for Cats, Up the Junction and Black Coffee in Bed. Long may the fortunes of Squeeze continue but I was interested featuring them because of that longevity and survival. Maybe there as a distinct golden period for the band (their second album through to the middle of the 1980s) but, at every stage, there have been these incredible moments and developments. At a time when music has lost its fun, humour and beguile; I listen back to Squeeze and wonder whether they can provide modern guidance. There are artists talking of real life but you still get a lot of misery, anger and, for the most part, lack of spark. I feel those classic and unique bands have disappeared – Squeeze, in many ways, cannot be repeated and were from a very different time. Their incredible back catalogue needs to be heard and discovered by the new generation and taken to heart. The band might have made their mark a long time ago but I feel their influence and brilliance can...
IN THIS PHOTO: Squeeze as they are today/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press
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