As far as compilation albums go, you can’t do much better than Squeeze’s Singles – 45’s and Under. Released just four albums into the band’s career, it’s packed with the group’s singular magic: tight musicianship, effortless melodic hooks courtesy of Glenn Tilbrook, clever slice-of-life lyrics from Chris Difford, and Tilbrook-and-Difford’s high-and-low harmonies. The band would continue from there to build an imposing catalog, even as the lineup beyond the two songwriters continuously morphed. You might know the singles — or you might not; the band only had one Top 20 hit in the U.S. But the band’s albums also contain many examples of what make them so special. Here are ten of the best.
1. “Wrong Side of The Moon” (1980)
The band’s 1978 self-titled debut was largely hijacked by producer John Cale and sounded little like what their signature sound would become. Much better was 1979’s Cool for Cats, although the singles are the main draws here. By 1980’s Argybargy, they were hitting on all cylinders, as the album tracks were just as noteworthy as the U.K. hits. Although he wouldn’t stick around the band much longer, keyboardist Jools Holland, later to become the successful host of a long-running U.K. music show, co-wrote and sang lead vocal on “Wrong Side of the Moon,” a charming bit of woe-is-me.
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2. “Woman’s World” (1981)
All the forces united for 1981’s East Side Story, the band’s undisputed masterpiece and one of the finest albums of the decade. Elvis Costello provided sympathetic production, and vocal ringer Paul Carrack stopped for one album and left an indelible impression with his soulful emoting on “Tempted.” But the strength of the songs is what stands out, and this depiction of a harried housewife is typically winning. Difford’s words capture all of the frustration of an underappreciated woman, while Tilbrook’s twisting melody earns her the sympathy that her family rarely displays.
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3. “Points of View” (1982)
The band couldn’t quite rally to the same heights on East Side Story’s follow-up, 1982’s Sweets from a Stranger — although “Black Coffee In Bed” is one of their career high points. This after-hours tale of a ne’er-do-well besotted with a nightclub singer is set apart by great bass work from John Bentley, who played on the band’s best three albums and then was replaced. His soulful lines here are the perfect foundation for Tilbrook’s nicely-measured vocals.
4. “Hits of the Year” (1985)
Squeeze briefly broke up following Sweets from a Stranger. Difford and Tilbrook recorded an album as a duo, then pulled the group back together for 1985’s Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti. While it was good to have them back, the album was a bit too musically fussy to register as one of their best. They get it right on this track, however, a hard-charging rocker with brass support and those inimitable harmonies churning out a melody that’s as suspenseful as it is catchy.
5. “Cigarette of a Single Man” (1987)
Just when it seemed the band’s momentum had been stymied, Babylon and On roped them their first two Top 40 U.S. singles, including Top 15 smash “Hourglass.” More importantly, the album kicked off a stretch of four straight that can stand with the earlier classics. This track emerges from a languid beginning to reveal an incisive portrait of loneliness. As usual, Difford’s lyrical details are telling, no matter whether our hero is prowling through the bar and hanging out at home, while Tilbrook’s melody explodes to anthemic heights.
6. “Love Circles” (1990)
A three-year wait until their next album all but ensured that the commercial success of Babylon and On wouldn’t be sustained. Still, Frank finds the band in top form, surveying a variety of styles with their usual dexterity. Difford also enjoyed the rare opportunity to sing lead on a single. His most notable effort in that regard prior to this was “Cool for Cats,” which was a tongue-in-cheek affair, but he plays it straight here to sing about the way that love often starts with a bang and ends with a whimper.
7. “Letting Go” (1991)
1991 brought Play, which was a quasi-concept album. The concept didn’t matter so much as the fact as it was yet another consistent set of material from the band. On this track, they conjure a kind of film-noir feel, with help from Elvis Costello’s longtime collaborator Steve Nieve on keyboard. Again, the devil is in the details, as Difford’s lyrics show the deterioration of a relationship that the two principals in the song can’t bring themselves to accept.
8. “Jolly Comes Home” (1993)
The band’s last great album in the ‘90s was Some Fantastic Place, which reunited them with Paul Carrack and brought Pete Thomas, yet another of Costello’s bandmates, in for drums. Thomas definitely provides some heft to the proceedings, but the most unforgettable moments are provided by this softer track. While the music might be absolutely lovely in its relative quietude, with some gorgeous orchestral parts, the silence between the two main characters is destroying their marriage by degrees.
9. “Haywire” (2015)
All of the lineup changes and dissension finally put the kibosh on Squeeze after two lackluster albums in the wake of Some Fantastic Place. Luckily, Tilbrook and Difford put all that aside and returned after nearly two decades away for Cradle to the Grave, a gentle, affecting collection of songs that showed that the songwriting partnership is still sturdy. This sun-kissed ode to getting away from it all with good company is as unapologetically warm as anything the band has ever recorded.
Happily, Difford and Tilbrook didn’t wait very long to rev it up again for The Knowledge, released just last year. Of course, they changed the rhythm section yet again, but the bottom line is that the most important elements, their songs, and their harmonies, were still in place. This wistful look back at a former love, propelled by a playful harpsichord solo, is evidence that those elements simply don’t go out of style.
Photo: Chris Difford, Jools Holland, Gilson Lavis, Glenn Tilbrook, John Bentley (Fin Costello/Redferns, courtesy Getty Images)
PS. This post, from way back in 2018, is worth revisiting — as many of you weren’t hanging with us back then. And, after all, Squeeze…