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As one of the most traditional pop bands of the new wave, Squeeze provided one of the links between classic British guitar pop and post-punk. Inspired heavily by the Beatles and the Kinks, Squeeze were the vehicle for the songwriting of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, who were hailed as the heirs to Lennon and McCartney's throne during their heyday in the early '80s. Unlike Lennon and McCartney, the partnership between Difford and Tilbrook was a genuine collaboration, with the former writing the lyrics and the latter providing the music. Squeeze never came close to matching the popularity of the Beatles, but the reason for that is part of their charm. Difford and Tilbrook were wry, subtle songwriters that subscribed to traditional pop songwriting values, but subverted them with literate lyrics and clever musical references. While their native Britain warmed to Squeeze immediately, sending singles like "Take Me I'm Yours" and "Up the Junction" into the Top Ten, the band had a difficult time gaining a foothold in the States; they didn't have a U.S. Top 40 hit until 1987, nearly a decade after their debut album. Even if the group never had a hit in the U.S., Squeeze built a dedicated following that stayed with them into the late '90s, and many of their songs -- "Another Nail in My Heart," "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)," "Tempted," "Black Coffee in Bed" -- became pop classics of the new wave era, as the platinum status of their compilation Singles 45's and Under indicates.
Chris Difford (b. April 11, 1954; guitar, vocals) and Glenn Tilbrook (b. August 31, 1957; vocals, guitar) formed Squeeze in 1974. Tilbrook answered an advertisement Difford had placed in a store window, and the pair began writing songs. By the spring of 1974, the duo had recruited pianist Jools Holland (b. Julian Holland, January 24, 1958) and drummer Paul Gunn, and had named themselves Squeeze, after the disowned Velvet Underground album that featured none of the group's original members. Squeeze began playing the thriving pub rock circuit, although their songs were quirkier and more pop-oriented than many of their peers. By 1976, the band had added bassist Harry Kakoulli and replaced Gunn with Gilson Lavis (b. June 27, 1951), a former tour manager and drummer for Chuck Berry. They had also signed a contract with Miles Copeland's burgeoning BTM record label and management company. Squeeze had already recorded several tracks for RCA, including two cuts with Muff Winwood, that the label rejected. BTM went bankrupt before it could release the band's debut single, "Take Me I'm Yours" in early 1977, but Squeeze were able to work with John Cale on their debut EP, due to a contract Copeland had arranged with Cale.
Squeeze released their debut EP, Packet of Three, on Deptford Fun City Records, in the summer of 1977 and soon arranged an international contract with A&M Records, becoming the label's first new wave act since their disastrous signing of the Sex Pistols. The band entered the studio with producer Cale later that year to work on their debut album, provisionally titled Gay Guys by the group's producer. Cale had the group throw out most of their standard material, forcing them to write new material; consequently, the record wasn't necessarily a good representation of the band's early sound. By the time the album was released in the spring of 1978, the group and A&M had abandoned the record's working title, and it was released as Squeeze. In America, the band and album had to change their name to UK Squeeze in order to avoid confusion with an American band called Tight Squeeze; by the end of the year, they had reverted back to Squeeze in the U.S.. Preceded by the hit single "Take Me I'm Yours," the album became a moderate success, but the group's true British breakthrough arrived in 1979, when they released their second album, Cool for Cats. More representative of the band's sound than their debut, Cool for Cats generated two number two singles in the title track and "Up the Junction." Later in 1978, the EP 6 Squeeze Songs Crammed Into One Ten-Inch Record EP was released. Squeeze tried for a seasonal hit that year with "Christmas Day," but the single failed to chart. Kakoulli was fired from the band after the release of Cool for Cats and was replaced by John Bentley.
Released in the spring of 1980, Argybargy received the strongest reviews of any Squeeze album to date, and produced moderate U.K. hits with "Another Nail in My Heart" and "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)." Both songs, plus "If I Didn't Love You," became hits on college radio and new wave clubs in America, increasing the band's profile considerably; it was the first Squeeze album to chart in America, reaching number 71. Jools Holland, whose fascination with boogie-woogie piano was beginning to sit uncomfortably with Difford and Tilbrook's increasingly sophisticated compositions, left the band in late 1980 to form the Millionaires; he was replaced by Paul Carrack, formerly of the pub rock band Ace. Following Argybargy, critics in both the U.K. and U.S. were calling Difford and Tilbrook "the new Lennon and McCartney," and in order to consolidate their growing reputation, Squeeze made an attempt at their own Sgt. Pepper's with 1981's East Side Story. Initially, the album was to be produced by Dave Edmunds, but the group scrapped those sessions to work with Elvis Costello and Roger Bechirian. Upon its summer release, East Side Story was hailed with excellent reviews, but it didn't become a huge hit as expected. Nevertheless, it found an audience, peaking at number 19 in the U.K. and number 44 on the U.S. charts. The soulful, Carrack-sung "Tempted" failed to reach the U.K. Top 40, but it did become the group's first charting U.S. single, reaching the Top 50. The country-tinged "Labeled with Love" became the group's third, and last, British Top Ten hit that fall. Carrack left at the end of 1981 to join Carlene Carter's backing band; he was replaced with Don Snow, a classically trained pianist who formerly played with the Sinceros.
Ever since the release of their debut, Squeeze had been touring and recording without break, and signs of weariness were evident on Sweets from a Stranger. Though it was the group's highest-charting U.S. album, reaching number 32 shortly after its spring release, Sweets from a Stranger was uneven. In the U.K., it was a considerable disappointment, reaching number 37, with its single "Black Coffee in Bed" stalling at number 51. Nevertheless, the band had earned a considerable fan base, and were able to play Madison Square Garden that summer. Tired of touring and its frustrating commercial fortunes, Difford and Tilbrook decided to disband Squeeze late in 1982, releasing the compilation Singles 45's and Under, shortly after its announcement. Ironically, Singles peaked at number three on the British charts; it would later go platinum in the U.S.
Though they had disbanded Squeeze, Difford and Tilbrook had no intention of ending their collaboration -- they simply wanted to pursue other projects. In particular, they saw themselves as songwriters in the classic tradition of Tin Pan Alley or the Brill Building, and began writing for Helen Shapiro, Paul Young, Billy Bremner and Jools Holland. They also worked on Labelled with Love, a musical based on their songs, which played briefly in Deptford, England early in 1983. The duo released an eponymous album in the summer of 1984, showcasing a sophisticated new sound, as well as long, flowing haircuts and coats. The record was a moderate success, but the duo were already thinking of re-forming Squeeze. Early in 1985, the band reunited to play a charity gig, which prompted Difford, Tilbrook, Holland, and Lavis (who had been driving a cab) to permanently re-form, adding bassist Keith Wilkinson. Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti was released in the fall of 1985 to positive reviews and moderately successful sales. During 1986, Andy Metcalfe, a member of Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians, joined the band as a second keyboardist. Babylon and On followed in the fall of 1987, and the album became a surprise hit, reaching number 14 in the U.K. and generating their biggest American hits -- "Hourglass," which reached number 15 on the strength of MTV's heavy rotation of the song's inventive video, and the Top 40 "853-5937." After completing an international tour, which featured another concert at Madison Square Garden and a headlining spot at the Reading Festival, Metcalfe left the band, and he was not replaced.
Babylon and On may have been a hit, but Squeeze's renewed success wasn't long-lasting. The group's next album, Frank, was released in the fall of 1989 and it wasn't given much a promotional push by A&M. Consequently, it flopped in both the U.S. and the U.K. During the supporting tour for Frank, A&M dropped Squeeze, leaving the band in the cold. Following the tour, Holland left the band to concentrate on his career as a recording artist, as well as a television host for the BBC. Squeeze released a live album, A Round & a Bout, on IRS Records in the spring of 1990. Early in 1991, the band signed with Reprise Records and began recording a new album, hiring Steve Nieve, Bruce Hornsby and Matt Irving as session keyboardists. The resulting album, Play, was released in the fall of 1991 to little attention, partially because it received no support from the label. During the Play tour, the band hired Don Snow and Carol Isaacs as keyboardists. Over the course of 1992, Difford and Tilbrook began to play the occasional acoustic concert, as Squeeze revamped its touring lineup again, hiring Steve Nieve as their touring keyboardist. Longtime drummer Gilson Lavis left the band later that year to play in Jools Holland's big band; he was replaced by Pete Thomas who, like Nieve, was a member of the Attractions.
Squeeze resigned from A&M Records in early 1993 and recorded their new album, Some Fantastic Place, with Thomas on drums and Paul Carrack on keyboards. Released in the September of 1993, the album became a moderate British hit, debuting at number 26; it was ignored in the U.S.. During 1994, Thomas left the band to join the reunited Attractions; by the end of the year, the group had replaced him with Andy Newmark. Prior to the recording of 1995's Ridiculous, Kevin Wilkinson -- no relation to bassist Keith Wilkinson -- became the group's drummer. Released in the U.K. in the fall of 1995, Ridiculous became a moderate hit, generating the hits "This Summer" and "Electric Trains." The album was released in America in the spring of 1996 on IRS. Under the name John Savannah, Don Snow contributed keyboards on Ridiculous and the album's supporting tour.
During 1996, Squeeze released two compilations, the single-disc Piccadilly Collection in the U.S. and the double-disc Excess Moderation in the U.K.. The following year, A&M U.K. issued the box set Six of One..., which contained remastered versions of their first six albums, plus two bonus tracks on each disc. A second box, covering the second six albums, was scheduled for release in 1998, but it was canceled after the label folded. By that time, Squeeze had finished their contractual obligation for new studio albums with the label. They signed with independent Quixotic Records, releasing a new album, Domino, in November of 1998. Domino was recorded with a new lineup, featuring Difford and Tilbrook, plus Jools Holland's brother Chris Holland on keyboards, bassist Hilaire Penda, and drummer Ashley Soan, a former member of Del Amitri. Following the supporting tour, Squeeze went their separate ways again at the close of 1999.
Difford and Tilbrook pursued solo projects during the course of the 2000s, contributing to some Squeeze-related projects -- notably the excellent 2004 book by Jim Drury, Squeeze: Song by Song -- but they didn't reunite the band, not even when they were goaded by VH1's Band Reunited program in 2004. Squeeze started to lurch back into activity in 2007, as Universal reissued a deluxe edition of Argybargy and a new hits collection; Difford and Tilbrook formed a new version of the band, largely relying on players from Glenn's Fluffers, for a U.S. tour later captured on the live album 5 Live: On Tour in America. From that point on Squeeze toured fairly regularly, with the band announcing in 2010 that Difford and Tilbrook were working on new songs, but before that album was released came Spot the Difference, a 2010 record where the band re-recorded many of its biggest hits.
Over the next five years, Difford and Tilbrook worked steadily on new songs while touring with a lineup consisting of John Bentley, Stephen Large, and Simon Hanson; Bentley was swapped out for Lucy Shaw in 2015. Squeeze finally unveiled their new studio album, Cradle to the Grave -- their first album in 17 years -- in the autumn of 2015. After its release, Shaw left the band and was replaced by Yolanda Charles; Steve Smith, formerly of Dirty Vegas, also joined the group as a percussionist. This lineup debuted on The Knowledge, which appeared in October 2017. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
- London, England
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