Squeeze

Who doesn’t love Squeeze? Nobody I think. Infectious pop earworm stuff. 

Spawned in Deptford, an area of SE London, Squeeze’ original members were Chris Difford (guitar/vocals), Paul Gunn (drums), Julian “Jools” Holland (keyboard/vocals), Harry Kakoulli (bass), Glenn Tilbrook (guitar, vocals).

Difford and Tilbrook formed the band and became its primary songwriters. In their heyday of the late 1970’s, they were often compared to Lennon and McCartney (even their web site says it under ‘History’), due not only to their songwriting skills but also their harmony singing.

The band was originally called UK Squeeze but eventually dropped the ‘UK.’ There were some legal issues with another band that had a similar name. (I had no fucking idea they were named after a 1973 Velvet Underground album till I researched this. Could any two bands be less similar?)

Interestingly, the Velvet Underground’s John Cale produced their first EP (1977), Packet of Three. (Standard packet of condoms if you absolutely must know.) This EP was punkier (is that a word?) than their subsequent output as if they were trying to fit into the current scene. But you know, go listen to it. It’s pretty good. To me they sound very much like early Police, especially the third song.

This recording was good enough to get them a contract with A&M records. Their debut album called, what else, Squeeze (alternatively UK Squeeze), was released in March 1978. It was also produced by Cale.

I will now let AllMusic tell the tale: “Cale terrorized Squeeze, throwing out all of their existing material and insisting that they write new music on the spot, preferably songs that followed his half-baked idea of positioning the group as a bunch of “Gay Guys,” after his suggested title for the album.” (??)

As it happens, the label liked only two songs which were the ones the band themselves produced. One was called “Bang Bang” and the other was a little, wonderful, melodic ditty with a great chorus called “Take Me I’m Yours.” This song made it into the UK Top Twenty and got – and still gets – a lot of FM play in the States:

Squeeze’ second album Cool for Cats, released in early 1979, has so much good stuff I don’t know where to begin. Terrific rock songs that have a very strong pop sensibility, great harmonies, and cool lyrics. Consider: “Goodbye Girl,” “Up the Junction,” (a tidy little tale of completely fucking up one’s life), “Slap and Tickle,” and the Cockney-inspired title song. I’m tossing a coin here and going with “Goodbye Girl:”

I met her in a poolroom
Her name I didn’t catch
She looks like something special
The kind who’d understand

This album was another UK hit and was definitely being heard by anyone in the States who liked good British pop. The band made a couple more albums (Argybargy and East Side Story) which kept them popular through the early ’80’s. (East Side Story was co-produced by Elvis Costello who, I think, knows a good pop song married to smart lyrics when he hears one.)

There are two songs you must hear, both from Argybargy. The first is “Another Nail in My Heart,” which, when I heard it on the radio the other day, made me say to myself, “Why have you not yet written about Squeeze you dumb ass?”

The other song with greatly quotable lyrics is “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell.”) According to Wikipedia, “the phrase “pulling mussels” is British slang for sexual intercourse mainly used in England.” Seriously? Man, am I thick. I thought it was something you had with fish and chips. (I should note here that I love the crisp, concise guitar solos that Tilbrook plays. Jools nails a nifty keyboard solo on this tune):

But behind the chalet
My holiday’s complete
And I feel like William Tell
Maid Marian on her tiptoed feet
Pulling mussels from a shell

Jools Holland left the band in 1980 for a successful solo career and was replaced by Paul Carrack who had been a member of Roxy Music. Carrack sang their later hit “Tempted.” They also had a hit with “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Breakfast in Bed.” (I don’t know nor much care how many of these were really hits. It’s only the record companies and Wikipedia that seem to care.)

And while I had completely lost touch with the comings and goings of the band, it turns out they are very much still around (after the usual break-ups and reformings.) According to their web site, I just missed them in Boston a couple months ago. It looks they’re touring the UK in late 2017.

In late 2015, the band released an album called Cradle to the Grave which was well-received. I listened to it and it’s good! The title song is on pat with some of their best. And the song “Open,” apparently about a wedding, is very upbeat and life-affirming.

Difford and Tilbrook are still very much the driving force behind the band. Paul Carrack hasn’t been a regular band member for ages but has a thriving solo career and has worked with everybody. And of course you can watch Jools on Later … with Jools Holland, a wildly popular music variety show that’s been going strong for 25 years.

17 thoughts on “Squeeze

  1. Yeah, some top notch rocking pop songs from the late seventies. Don’t really know their later stuff. The band was on the local news here about six months ago. They seemed a bit jaded (they’re all getting on a bit now) but there was still that joie de vivre in the music.

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    1. Yeah, I did not expect much from their latest album, simply because bands’ energy tends to fade. But that new album and those two songs in particular are pretty damn worthy of their oeuvre.

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  2. The most successful element of Jools Holland’s solo career has got to be his Later… show. The sheer amount of quality music he’s introduced this country to via that show and the regard in which his show is held is something important and very special here. Though his interviewing style is a little…. interesting. I’ve lost count of the acts I’ve discovered via that show. In all honesty I doubt his solo career music-wise would’ve had much of an audience.
    Up The Junction is an out-and-out classic.

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    1. Yeah, and I confess I don’t watch the show as much as I might like. I’ll have to remind myself to seek it out. Between trying to keep up with music, books and the plethora of great TV – not to mention living one’s life and keeping an eye on our newly elected autocrat – not much time left I’m afraid.

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      1. Yeah, I agree. To still be putting out material of this quality after all these years is quite an achievement. I must say, I’m surprised they have lasted this long. I would never have thought they’d have this kind of staying power back in the Cool for Cats days but they seem to have gone from strength to strength. I always loved ‘Up the Junction’ and the song ‘Some Fantastic Place’ (written for one of the band member’s girlfriend who passed away).

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        1. If you look at their history, I don’t believe it was one long, uninterrupted thing (as witness your seeing Tilbrook sol0). I think they kinda went their separate ways, weaved in and out, then regrouped. Seems to me the key is that the two main guys get along and so they don’t have the usual acrimony so many bands are saddled with.

          But yeah, to continue putting out good stuff. That’s pretty rare. We know that Bruce does it. But what was the last really good thing McCartney did for just one example?

          Did not know “Some Fantastic Place” so thanks for the tip. Nice tune. Did not expect that guitar solo. Sounds like it came in from some other song.

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        2. Yeah, it’s a good one. I like those power pop solos. I’m more of a blues guy so I don’t hear those types of solos in my head. Just surprised me as it didn’t seem like the song was going that way. I’ll check out that solo Tilbrook version, too. Thanks.

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  3. Very good piece Doctor. I hooked up with these guys from the start. Yeah, the second album cooked (I think the first album is colored vinyl, too lazy to check). When i hear things like the Cale stuff it makes me shake my head (I have all his records. If i bought on personality my record pile would be smaller). Squeeze are just good. I seen them on PBS a while back. I think it was a live concert in a NY park. Very good. here’s something for you. I went to see Clapton years ago and Ace were the back up band. Carrack was the singer/keyboard guy, they had that song ‘How Long’. I think Carrack is in EC’s band now.

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    1. Squeeze still have the magic touch if the latest album is any testimony. Yeah, I remember ‘How Long.’ Big ’70’s hit. Carrack sounds like one of those guys that gets around, one of those musical sidemen that knows how to survive. Good for him.

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