College Countdown: The Trouser Press Top Ten Albums of 1981, 5

squeeze

5. Squeeze, East Side Story

Trouser Press wrote: “Craftsmanship needn’t be dull. Someday their songs will get the recognition they deserve; don’t wait.”

Well, Trouser Press was sure correct about that “someday” part of the review. Though the album was moderately successful at the time, certain songs have developed in prominence over the years to effectively become standards of the quiet pop mastery vein of New Wave. “Tempted,” in particular, became of those songs that insinuated itself so deeply in pop culture that modern music fans would be forgiven for assuming it was an enormous hit back in 1981, instead of its actual fate of petering out before reaching the Top 40 in either the U.K. or the U.S. It wasn’t even the most successful track from the album, at least in their homeland. The third single, “Labelled with Love,” took its heartfelt cowpoke strum all the way to the U.K. Top 10, standing as the last Squeeze single to climb that high. That song was even big enough to lend its name to a stage musical based on Squeeze’s music that debuted in London a couple years later.

East Side Story was the band’s fourth album and found them in a bit of a state of flux. While songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook were the names that most needed to be in the credits list to ensure that a release could be reasonably labeled as a Squeeze record, the band had lost a fairly prominent member when keyboardist Jools Holland decided to leave the group in favor of a solo career and, eventually, co-hosting the loopy music television show The Tube. Top take his place, Squeeze recruited Paul Carrack, formerly of the band Ace. He stuck around for East Side Story before slipping out of the line-up himself, which briefly helped end the band altogether before a quick rejuvenation that found the revolving door of personnel spinning wildly. Including the five members who can make a claim to currently being in the group, Wikipedia lists twenty-one individuals who can put “member of Squeeze” on their résumés. Good god, there’s even a chart.

Originally, East Side Story was going to be a far more ambitious release. The band planned to record a double LP with a different big-name producer for each side. Elvis Costello, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe were said to be already lined up, and the band was angling for no less than Paul McCartney for the fourth side. That didn’t play out, however, and the album wound up produced largely by Costello, working with his regular studio collaborator Roger Bechirian. There was still a good deal of stretching employed on the release as Difford and Tilbrook toyed with different styles throughout. Besides the countryfied lope of “Labelled with Love,” the album included the rockabilly stroll of “Messed Around,” the moony, Beatlesque psychedelia of “There’s No Tomorrow” and the elegant, drawing room pop of “Vanity Fair.” In all, the album provides an object lesson in how a band can remain resolute true to their own established style while adventurously striding into new sonic areas.

The album is also rife with examples of Squeeze pulling over the deceptively difficult trick of just coming up with a brisk, bright, brilliant pop song of the sort that helpless singing along begins before the the first play has even completed. Hearing one of those again is its own misguided assertion that these guys, this album these songs must have been huge upon release. It sadly wasn’t the case. Too many people foolishly decided to wait.

Previously
Introduction
10. The Dictators, Fuck ‘Em if They Can’t Take a Joke
8. (tie) The Undertones, Positive Touch
8. (tie) The dB’s, Stands for Decibels
7. The Pretenders, II
6. Holly and the Italians, The Right to Be Italian