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.