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Squeeze

Not only the stamping ground for England’s best pop-rock songwriters of the new wave era (Difford and Tilbrook), SQUEEZE included a diamond geezer (Jools Holland) now more in tune with the world of boogie-woogie and TV presenting. But we’ll get to that “Later…”. While being compared to LENNON & McCARTNEY had its own insurmountable pressures for D&T, who would disagree that `Cool For Cats’, `Up The Junction’ and `Labelled With Love’ were not classics of their time.
Formed March 1974 in Deptford, South London, the aforementioned Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook – both lead vocalists and guitarists in the own right – struck up a songwriting partnership whereby the former scribed the lyrics while the latter composed the music. Their genius-in-waiting was subsequently incorporated into a group format as the pair recruited said ace pianist Jools Holland, and, in turn, bassist Harry Kakoulli (a free transfer from ENGLAND’S GLORY) and drummer Paul Gunn. SQUEEZE were officially underway, although Gilson Lavis came in for Gunn when a promising start saw them sign to Miles Copeland III’s fledgling label B.T.M. (home to CARAVAN and The CLIMAX BLUES BAND).
What could’ve turn into a tragedy was averted when B.T.M. shape-shifting into Deptford Fun City Records, leaving behind a shelved acetate of `Take Me, I’m Yours’. Now independent and quite fashionable among the punk-rock/new wave contingent, Miles (brother of STEWART COPELAND) roped in JOHN CALE to produce the band’s debut release, the naughtily-titled `Packet Of Three’ EP; bought no doubt to enhance one’s weekend. Songs `Cat On A Wall’, `Night Ride’ and `Back Track’ went some way to attract the attentions of A&M Records, a major label keen to get in on the new wave frenzy after their abortive signing of the SEX PISTOLS went somewhat awry.
Immediate Top 20 chart success came with the proper release of `Take Me, I’m Yours’, its tales of walking across Egyptian sands and deserts waxing lyrical among the collegiate. Abandoning the title of “Gay Guys” for their debut set, the group were at conflict with the record’s ill-fitting producer JOHN CALE; the eponymous SQUEEZE (1978) {*4} – its US title forced on them as “U.K. Squeeze” – a damp squib. The former VELVET UNDERGROUND Welsh wizard had thrown caution to the wind as well as throwing out the original tapes and, while one can sympathise with the band, their confidence seemed to be lacking on these leftovers, including `Bang Bang’, `Sex Master’ and `Model’.
SQUEEZE narrowly missed the top spot the following spring with the Cockney wide-boy rap of `Cool For Cats’, while a similarly-titled COOL FOR CATS (1979) {*8} album fell short of the Top 40. The record consolidated the growing reputation of the Difford/Tilbrook songwriting axis; their sagely observed, often darkly amusing social commentary drew inevitable comparisons with prime RAY DAVIES, definitely more accurate than the fanciful LENNON & McCARTNEY references. `Up The Junction’ was a perfect example, a compelling, hard-bitten tale of love on the bread-line leading to broken-hearted disillusionment; a swooning, deceptively melancholy keyboard refrain holding the whole thing together. As with opener `Slap & Tickle’ (another Top 30 breaker), the Top 3 song clearly struck a chord in the populace at large, while the gluey vocals of Jools came up for scrutiny on his co-penned `Hop Skip And Jump’.
With the addition of bassist John Bentley as a replacement for the departing Kakoulli, SQUEEZE were once again coming up with the goods on the Top 20, `Another Nail In My Heart’. ARGYBARGY (1980) {*8} gave the group a near Top 40 album, although the comparatively lowly placing afforded SQUEEZE’s long players never really reflected the enduring quality of the songs contained within. Tracks like the Top 50 `Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)’ and others such as `Separate Beds’, `Vicky Verky’ and `If I Didn’t Love You’ were brilliant slices of pop genius, featuring a rollicking piano break courtesy of the illustrious Jools.
The latter bailed soon afterwards to follow his boogie-woogie muse by way of JOOLS HOLLAND And The Millionaires and, more famously, to present Channel 4’s legendary music show The Tube, alongside a young Paula Yates. Finding a replacement in respected vocalist/pianist, Paul Carrack (ex-ACE, ex-FRANKIE MILLER, et al), SQUEEZE cut their most successful album to date, EAST SIDE STORY (1981) {*8}. Co-produced by ELVIS COSTELLO, the album had a rootsier feel; Carrack’s R&B-ish vocals gracing the grittily-soulful `Tempted’ hit, while the poignant `Labelled With Love’ proved Difford & Tilbrook could “do” C&W better than most country artists. The latter Top 5 song marked the end of their reign as a high-flying singles band.
PAUL CARRACK duly left for a solo career, while Don Snow (from The VIBRATORS and The SINCEROS) was brought in for the evocative `Black Coffee In Bed’ and a farewell Top 20 parent album, SWEETS FROM A STRANGER (1982) {*5}. Suddenly, the Difford/Tilbrook Midas touch had all but disappeared when the cannily-titled, Frank Sinatra-inspired `When The Hangover Strikes’ bombed.
Though SQUEEZE were still worthy of their popularity, creatively they were beginning to stall. Wisely, they decided to quit while the going was good to soft. Later that year, one hell of a compilation, SINGLES – 45’S AND UNDER {*9} – featuring attendant hit `Annie Get Your Gun’ – brought the era neatly to a close; a seminal record (no household is complete without a copy!) illustrating why SQUEEZE aged better than many “new wave” bands of the era.
This wasn’t the end though, and after a solo DIFFORD & TILBROOK album in ‘84, the pair reunited with Holland and Lavis; recruiting Keith Wilkinson on bass. A freshly-SQUEEZE’d near Top 30 album, COSI FAN TUTTI FRUTTI (1985) {*5} – a play on words incorporating a Mozart opera and a LITTLE RICHARD song – did little to embellish the band’s high ambitions, although `Last Time Forever’ did slide into the Top 50; good though they were, pop singles `No Place Like Home’, `Heartbreaking World’ and `King George Street’, all failed in their quest to chart.
While the band – now a sextet with the addition of Andy Metcalfe (ex-SOFT BOYS on keyboards/horns) – didn’t quite recapture anything resembling the old magic, the similarly sales-worthy BABYLON AND ON (1987) {*6} gave SQUEEZE their first Top 20 hit in years by way of `Hourglass’, as well as some long-time-coming major US chart action; `853-5937’ also cracked the once-elusive Top 40.
Without the need for Metcalfe, eighth album proper FRANK (1989) {*4} failed to capitalise on their momentum. A&M finally had to let the band go. After a pick-me-up live album reuniting them with their old label of love (Deptford Fun City), A ROUND AND A BOUT (1990) {*3} was hardly a tonic for the troops, who’d, in the meantime, found a temporary place for MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND’s former keyboard player Matt Irving.
SQUEEZE were subsequently dealt a double blow when JOOLS HOLLAND left once again to concentrate on TV work, but the main core of the quartet soldiered on, releasing an album, the acclaimed PLAY (1991) {*7}, for Reprise Records. Produced by auxiliary Tony Berg, and also highlighting performances by BRUCE HORNSBY and ex-ATTRACTIONS keyboardist Steve Nieve, it was indeed a shame that `Sunday Street’ and `Satisfied’ couldn’t muster up airplay to become hits.
Difford, Tilbrook, Wilkinson and the returning Paul Carrack introduced a second COSTELLO/Attractions refugee in drummer Pete Thomas, which led to a kow-tow of indifferences as the quintet re-signed to A&M for 1993’s SOME FANTASTIC PLACE {*5}. When CARRACK returned to his solo day-job or his place in the sunny-side-up MIKE + THE MECHANICS, the eleventh SQUEEZE album was, in fact, RIDICULOUS (1995) {*6}. While the latter set was not as clumsily-named as the title suggested, the record featured at least a handful of bona fide Difford/Tilbrook gems in minor hits, `This Summer’, `Electric Trains’ and `Heaven Knows’. However, DOMINO (1998) {*4} was something of a career low, leading to the inevitable break-up of CHRIS DIFFORD and GLENN TILBROOK.
Each with several solo albums down the line, the 00s had proved a barren decade for SQUEEZE fans, or a great one if the thought was two for the price of one. But then out of the blue, both parties buried the hatchet and re-grouped, roping in Stephen Large (keyboards), Simon Hanson (drums) and the returning John Bentley (bass) to complement the band’s comeback set, SPOT THE DIFFERENCE (2010) {*5}. Pulling mussels from every shell possible, SQUEEZE invited their listeners to tell apart the originals from these similarly-arranged re-workings. Duh!
Seventeen years on from their last studio set proper, the re-invigorated British institution SQUEEZE were back in fine fettle and the Top 20 with CRADLE TO THE GRAVE (2015) {*7}. Sharp melodies, literate, lifecycle lyrics and a knowledge of the pop-rock formula, Difford, Tilbrook and Co pieced together a curveball concept set of bright and breezy tunes, that were as always sprinkled with kitchen-sink melodrama. From its morality-shaped title track to the sing-a-long finale `Snap, Crackle And Pop’ (with `Happy Days’ and `Nirvana’ also choice cuts), SQUEEZE, here, make time stand still while opening new chapters from their majestic hearts.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar-Nov2015

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