“Favourite line? Difficult, but “the cab took us home through a night I’d not noticed, the neon club lights of Adult Films and Trini Lopez” has to take the biscuit”
I forget just who it was came up with the line “songs you know are true because they happened in your living room last week”. All I can say is, must have been one hell of a living room, because Squeeze became my favourite band when I was fourteen and they’ve remained so ever since. They occasionally share headspace with other suspects but it always – always – comes back to Squeeze in the end. I can go months without listening to them and then I hear one song and it all comes flooding back. BBC4 have just aired Squeeze – Take Me I’m Yours which played rather a lot of them in a row and my head’s whirling with love, sentiment and memories.
Why do I love them so much? God, where do I start? They’re so inextricably sewn into my life it’s hard to separate them from me. Soundtrack of your life? Oh my goodness, yes. Here are a few random thoughts, observations and ruminations. They mean a lot to me. Maybe they do to you too.
1993 – or was it 1994? I’m at Glasgow Barrowlands. Squeeze are having one of their better nights on stage. Bands frequently do, at Barrowlands. Paul Carrack’s on keyboards. Pete Thomas on drums. Smiles all round on stage. Chris Difford wanders over to the mike and says a few kind words about Glenn Tilbrook. There’s an enormous “clang” and howl of feedback as Glenn rushes over and enfolds him in a bear-hug and two guitars smack into each other. For all their much stated distance and strained relationship, there’s a glimpse of a friendship that – somehow – endures despite everything that either man can throw at it. They crack into Black Coffee In Bed. Glenn does his traditional “divide the audience up and get them to sing the backing vocal” routine. It works a treat. The band walks off. The audience file out. Doesn’t stop singing. About two hundred or so of us walk back to Glasgow town centre singing Squeeze songs, and it lasts all the way to Buchanan Street.
From “Bonkers” – “the swell of her breasts / like woodpecker’s nests / would keep me warm on winter nights”. Possibly the most Chris Diffordy lyric there’s ever been. When it’s delivered with the traditional octave-apart Difford/Tilbrook vocal accompanied by a woodpecker sound effect it becomes so gloriously silly that you have to smile.
Labelled With Love drips empathy from every line. It’s one of the saddest, loving, beautiful songs I know. It may be cast as a traditional country-tragedy song, but it’s so warm, kind, redolent of missed opportunities and lost chances. “He like a cowboy died drunk in a slumber / out on the porch, in the middle of summer”. Delivered by Glenn in his best angelic plaint, while Gilson Lavis taps out the simplest of rhythms in the background. Nobody – although Pete Thomas, Kevin Wilkinson, Ash Soan et al came close – can drum like Gilson Lavis on a Squeeze song.
Oh, what the hell. Astonishing Gilson Lavis moments? Where to start? Sunday Street is probably his defining moment – he manages to be Charlie Watts, Keith Moon and Ringo Starr all in the same song. The trademark rattle-round-every-piece-of-kit thing that he does in so many of the earliest songs is something that always makes me smile. Up The Junction is driven by him as well. Hard to imagine it without that stop-start rhythm that punctuates it.
Labelled With Love is incredibly sad, loving and sympathetic. So’s Vicky Verky, from Argy Bargy. Except, it’s taken at a brisk beat-club rattle with Gilson machine-gunning it into life and then delivering a demon shuffle that keeps it moving. How the hell you can produce an upbeat, sprightly pop song with lyrics like “She received a letter, and a bit in it / said there was nothing else to do but get rid of it” and make the damn thing work, I will never know.
I mentioned the octave-apart vocal thing earlier. This reaches ridiculous heights on Black Coffee in Bed, when Elvis Costello and Paul Young join in on backing vocals. They’re singing harmony rather than the Difford/Tilbrook “same notes in different registers” thing, but they’ve both got such distinctive voices – one high, one low – that they complement Tilbrook’s vocals perfectly.
Glenn Tilbrook guitar solos. He’s not usually cited as a guitar hero, because he very rarely solos as such – when he does strike out it’s as an integral part of the song, one that actually plays much more like a vocal counterpoint rather than a solo. He’s impeccable, but he can shred with the best of them. I’ve heard him do stuff live with echo-boxes and feedback that would astonish people who think he just sings and plays guitar in a pop band.
Harry Kakoulli’s grumbling bass. John Bentley’s chatty, McCartney-esque bass. Keith Wilkinson’s incredibly expensive, fat sounding bass. Somehow – despite sounding completely different from each other, they all fit perfectly.
Frank. Coming off the back of a brace of albums that suffer slightly from being – ahem – slightly overproduced (and in the case of Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti, definitely overproduced) Squeeze wandered into the studio on an incredibly tight budget – there was no money for catering so friends and family brought in sandwiches – and knocked this out. A finer example of grace under pressure you’re unlikely to find. Jools Holland was getting itchy feet again by this stage (as noted – tersely – on the album cover where he’s represented by an empty passport photo strip and the words “Julian Was On Holiday”) but you wouldn’t know it because the little feller plays his heart out here. Indeed, he starts the whole thing by insulting Gilson Lavis off-mic before If It’s Love, then settling down to doing what he’s absolutely best at – playing piano and adding immeasurably to fantastic pop music. Peyton Place captures the heady rush of finally getting together with someone you’ve lusted after from afar after weeks of dancing around each other. Rose I Said – Difford in excelis. “Yes, I cried the moment that her hand slapped my face, a mouthful of sandwich went all over the place / She left like a tornado, the door of course slammed, I stood in the kitchen a very confused man”. To every man who’s ever found himself standing going “Whaaaa….?” having come out with something so utterly crass and insensitive they don’t actually realise they’ve done it… this is for you. Hang your head in recognition. I know I do.
She Doesn’t Have To Shave tackles the subject of what women have to go through that men don’t on a regular basis – oh, I’m so delicate, aren’t I? Melody Motel dispassionately tells the tale of ‘orrible murder at a local brothel when the killer lives within driving distance and is able to get home to his wife and watch the news breaking live on telly. It’s hard to find, this one – or was until a luxuriant double cd reissue fairly recently. Snap it up. This is the start of a run of albums where they don’t put a foot wrong.
Which brings us to Play . Ignore the conceit – the lyrics are printed in the booklet like a play script, with stage directions – wallow in the sound of a band playing out of their skins, even as they begin to fall apart. The Truth is Chris saying to Glenn the things that he’s far too English and repressed to come out with to his bandmate’s face. House of Love features ridiculous key-changes that will make you grin (and varispeed vocal effects that won’t). The Day I Get Home has Michael McKean and Christopher Guest on it. They even chucked out a blissful b’side with Maidstone, rightly treasured. I keep quoting Difford lyrics, but you really need to hear Glenn singing stuff like “I pull the pillow to my side / and I imagine that it’s her” to get the full effect.
It all leads up to Some Fantastic Place which is the one I throw at people who ask why the hell I love this raggedy-arsed, occasionally shambolic bunch so much. Gilson’s gone but Pete Thomas pops in for an album, bringing a returning Paul Carrack with him and between them they push Difford and Tilbrook to a career high. Everything works. It’s paced perfectly, kicking off with a beat-group white-boy-soul special (Everything in the World) and ending with the dreamy rush of Pinocchio. In between they pretty much cover everything you might want or expect them to. Pop singles that really should have sold more than they did – I can’t believe Third Rail isn’t more familiar to the world at large than it is. Another Paul Carrack special (Loving You Tonight, which doesn’t quite have the nervy, frightened edge that Tempted does, but – it’s Paul Carrack singing with Squeeze and therefore works just fine). Laments for love lost (Images of Loving – which features what might be my favourite Difford moment of all – “Your initials on the singles that you chose to leave behind / sit in my collection, they get played. From time to time.”). To the best of my knowledge, no-one except Squeeze has ever produced a country song about a drunk man trying to get back into his girlfriend’s house after a fight via the catflap and getting stuck halfway. No-one else would ever try, and certainly no-one else would ever use the lines “Like a slaughtered cow in a butcher’s fridge” as part of the chorus. But that’s them. Somehow, Cold Shoulder works, especially when you reach the tag line, when the girlfriend knocks him arse over tit backwards out of the catflap and Glenn sings “Then I fell over / Into a bush-sssssssshhhhhhh.” How the hell do they come up with such ridiculous stuff and make it work anyway?
The whole thing is almost dwarfed – almost – by the title track itself. Glenn’s favourite Squeeze song – and mine – this tribute to Maxine (Glenn’s first girlfriend, and the one who forced him to answer the advert Chris placed in the local sweetshop window) is… well, if you’ve heard it, you know already. If you haven’t, all I will say is that the moment the churchy interlude comes in about halfway through, you’ll realise you’re in the presence of greatness. Rather neatly, Glenn sneaks in one of the first solos he ever wrote, back in ’73. He never used it. Almost as if it was biding its time, waiting for this.
There’s so many other things I could talk about. The fact that Ridiculous is almost as good as SFP – the only thing that stops it is a rather shonky duet with Cathy Dennis on side two that I suspect Glenn just had to get out of his system.
The tumbling sequencer of Slap and Tickle (single version only, please – the album version pales into nothing compared to it). Their frightening ability to knock out fantastic pop songs even when they’re absolutely shattered (Sweets From A Stranger not only has Black Coffee In Bed on it, but also Points of View, I Can’t Hold On (glorious Don Snow / John Savannah keyboard solo), When The Hangover Strikes and The Elephant Ride. That’s them at half strength.
Same goes for Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti – the production smothers it but Last Time Forever, King George Street, No Place Like Home are knocked out with the sort of effortless ease that you know took months to appear that way.
There’s lots of other things, but this’ll do for now. I love them. I’ve loved them most of my life, I don’t see any reason to stop now. I wish more people loved them too, but as it is that almost makes them more precious to me. They’re mine. But if you love them as well, you feel exactly the same way. They’re personal. To you, and to everyone.
Thank you BBC4, for reminding me.