You may not know Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook by name, but you certainly know Squeeze, the prolific band responsible for some of the most melodic, new wave influenced pop of the 1980s. While the band’s lineup has been somewhat fluid over the years, the core has always been guitarists Difford and Tilbrook, frequently with pianist Jools Holland. Drummers and bassists changed positions, horns came and went, but at the heart of Squeeze was always the trademark Difford and Tilbrook sound: beautiful hooks, undistorted guitars, and lyrics that really made you pay attention, all packaged in perfect three and a half minute tracks.
Since 1978, the band has released 14 studio albums, all of which are loaded with great songs. Plus, their compilation Singles — 45’s and Under is considered one of the best greatest hits-type albums around, even though it was released in 1982, long before they were done releasing great material. The band is still going strong today; their most recent effort, Cradle to the Grave, was just released in 2015. Culling their catalog down to the ten best feels like an injustice, as this could easily be a top 25 list, but still: here are our picks for the top ten Squeeze songs.
# 10 – Cool for Cats
It’s unusual when one of a band’s signature songs has a sound that’s so different from what they usually create, but that’s the case with 1979’s “Cool for Cats.” Sort of a precursor to the rap music that would become so popular in the upcoming decade, the song features a driving bassline, a kick drum on every downbeat, and Chris Difford’s deep baritone on lead vocals. That last detail is especially noteworthy, both for Difford’s exaggerated cockney accent and the fact that Glenn Tilbrook was the band’s more frequent frontman. Still, this is definitely a Squeeze track, with its uncomplicated guitar riffs, tinkling piano break, and storytelling lyrics.
# 9 – 853-5937
By the end of the 1980s, everyone was sort of sick of that “867-5309/Jenny” song, but that didn’t stop Squeeze from coming out with this phone number-titled single in 1988, off their Babylon and On record. It sounds like a gimmick, with Glenn Tilbrook reciting the number and a few simple lyrics in a sing-songy melody, but then the break hits, with layered vocals and a brief but blistering guitar solo, and then the seriousness of the lyrics start to come through over the drum beat as the guitars drop out. By the end, you’re convinced: he really needs to talk to Angela, because there is no way he describe his feelings to her answering machine. Bonus points on this one for a fun video, too.
# 8 – Labelled With Love
Squeeze doesn’t do many waltzes, but they really nail the triplets on “Labelled With Love.” Another story in song form, there are several standouts on this song from 1981’s East Side Story album. Glenn Tilbrook’s longing vocals rarely sound better, and the drums are kept spare so that the accordion and jangly guitars are more present. It’s as good a song for sulking over past mistakes as it is for drinking with old friends, and the refrain is relatable by anyone who’s still feeling those twinges of sadness over a long-ago heartbreak: “The past has been bottled and labelled with love.”
# 7 – Another Nail in My Heart
Squeeze has always been known for writing great hooks, but “Another Nail in My Heart” has more hooks than a tackle box. Tilbrook’s treble-y guitar solo is brilliant, and Jools Holland’s keyboard chords throughout provide a solid foundation. Off their 1980 effort Argybargy, its lyrics tell of love gone wrong and drinking away the feelings (a familiar story in many of the band’s songs), even if the words in the chorus are frequently misheard. For the record, they’re, “And here in the bar, the piano man’s found, another nail for my heart.”
# 6 – Sunday Street
Squeeze may have had their heyday in the 1980s, but their 1991 album Play proved that they weren’t quite done yet. “Sunday Street” is one of those days of the week songs, and while its lyrics aren’t as interesting as some of their other efforts, the sing along chorus is glorious. The 1990’s production may sound a bit too slick, especially after the band’s more bass-heavy tracks of the previous decade, but the horns on the track are a great addition, and Tilbrook’s guitar solo sizzles.
# 5 – Up the Junction
You know this song. Even if you don’t know Squeeze, you know this one. From 1979’s Cool for Cats album, “Up the Junction” is one of the band’s more popular tracks, which is interesting considering there’s no actual chorus. The title doesn’t get sung until the very last line, when the song of working class love gone all wrong comes to its sorry conclusion and we’re just as exasperated as Glenn Tilbrook seems to be. The happy beat and fun keyboard riff really do belie the utter bummer of a tale that we’re listening to, but that’s what makes this one so fun.
# 4 – Pulling Mussels (from the Shell)
You know you’ve got a band of great musicians when you have room for both a guitar solo and a piano solo in one of your most well-regarded singles. “Pulling Mussels (from the Shell)” is a killer 4/4 pop tune full of upbeat melodies, with a theme that got past all the censors, because who really uses the phrase “pulling mussels” to describe having sex? Yet the song is, for all intents and purposes, a summer vacation with a, shall we say, happy outcome. You’ll want to sing along, and you can do so safely because no one will have any idea what you’re talking about.
# 3 – Hourglass
Sax on a Squeeze song? That’s new, but on their 1987 single “Hourglass,” it totally fit. And even if you’re not sure if you remember a Squeeze tune named “Hourglass,” you’ll surely remember its catchy chorus: a monotone repetition of, “Take it to the bridge, throw it overboard, see if it can swim, back up to the shore.” It was their biggest hit in the US, reaching 15 on Billboard’s singles chart, thanks to the signature Squeeze hooks, great guitar riff, and the aforementioned saxophone so prominent in the mix.
# 2 – Tempted
Here’s another Squeeze anomaly: “Tempted,” one of their best known songs, features legendary British singer-songwriter Paul Carrack on lead vocals. Even though it’s a standard Difford-Tilbrook collaboration, Carrack handles the majority of the singing, with other band members coming in on the second verse with a line or two, and then relegated to back up “oooh oooh” vocals. Even though the music is classic Squeeze, as are the lyrics about cheating on your partner and knowing you screwed it all up, the sound with Carrack at the helm is new. Still, the song has only grown in popularity since its 1981 release, and now, if you ask the average music fan to name a Squeeze song, this is the one they’ll remember.
# 1 – Black Coffee in Bed
Off 1982’s Sweets from a Stranger, “Black Coffee in Bed” makes the top of our list because it epitomizes everything great about squeeze and their music. A great story about a disintegrated relationship? Check. Strong melody? Check. Soaring Tilbrook vocals, groovy keyboard, solid guitar lines? Check, check, and check. True, it’s less pop-oriented than some of their other singles, but when it comes to maturity of sound and songwriting at its zenith, “Black Coffee in Bed” never gets old. You can’t say that about many songs.