A group whose singles I liked but whose albums I never dipped into were Squeeze - beloved of critics and those who didn't want to embrace punk but were attracted by this very British, witty and musically competent group. The songwriting partnership of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook matched Elvis Costello for acerbity and combined it with a keen eye for the lives of ordinary characters and humdrum British urban existences. They wrote of Clapham Junction and Camber Sands with a winsome, often nostalgic affection and their songs were packed to the brim with kitchen sink drama atmosphere. Up The Junction is the most obvious example, along with the delightful Goodbye Girl, the evocative Pulling Mussels (From The Shell), the pounding punk-funk of Slap & Tickle and the melodic new wave groove of Another Nail In My Heart.
There were also attractively upbeat, quirky numbers like Cool For Cats and Take Me I'm Yours and later country-influenced songs like Tempted and Labelled With Love.
Is That Love and the frantic, acoustically riffy Annie Get Your Gun are both lively numbers that exemplify the often carefree vibe of the late seventies-early eighties. It certainly wasn't all gloomy post punk. The seventies-era Traffic-esque Black Coffee In Bed is another great one too, as is the cod-disco-rap of Hourglass.
For a short period from 1978 to 1981, Squeeze had an unbroken run of hit singles that were seemingly always on the radio. Hearing any of them now takes me right back to those days. As a student, I frequented a pizza restaurant all the time, and one record they were always playing was Another Nail In My Heart. As soon as it comes on I am back there, eating my Jalapeño and spicy sausage diablo, (it came with a free pint of beer as it was so hot).
One problem I have always had with Squeeze was the fact that their songs suffer from a lo-fi, muffled production. It is not too big a deal, though, just listen to Up The Junction and let the lyrics and atmosphere override the so-so sound.
Squeeze weren't punk, they were new wave-ish and were successful in that genre's era but in many ways they defied pigeonholing. Whatever, they wrote and delivered good songs and listening to them makes me extremely nostalgic.
This pop-influenced group, fronted by sometime actress Clare Grogan, were a short-lived post punk-new wave band who only released three albums and had three top ten hits - the great singalong fun of Happy Birthday, the slightly dubby new wave pop of I Could Be Happy (best listened to in its 12" format) and the girl group-influenced but surprisingly muscular and very catchy Don't Talk To Me About Love. This latter one is very much part of the sound of 1983.
Happy Birthday (1981)
Intro/Love And Kisses/Real Toys/Idols/Legionnaire/Faithless/Beckoning Strings/Happy Birthday/Midnight/A Day's Wait/Leave Me Alone/Insects/Outro
Their debut album, from 1981, with the exception of Happy Birthday, is a surprisingly sombre post punk offering, or maybe not so as it was produced by The Banshees' Steve Severin. The sounds on songs like Love & Kisses, Idols, the instrumental Legionnaire and Real Toys is relatively dour, metronomic drums, throbbing bass and post punk jangly guitars, raised only by Grogan's light, breezy voice. Were these tracks sung by a gloomy sounding male voice, they would be classic post punkers. As it is, Grogan's vocal delivery gives the album a bit of a lighter feel. So you get post punk moody minimalism topped off by a cutesy little girl voice. Faithless and the musically chunky Beckoning Strings are both tracks that sum up this sound perfectly. Clare sounds like a fourteen year-old trying to sound like Siouxsie Sioux in her bedroom. Furthermore, I always thought the band sounded really amateur on Happy Birthday, like a student group rehearsing, and they are like that throughout the album. All very incongruous but strangely intriguing, making it ok for the occasional listen, but no more than that, really.