1. There are only a small handful of records in this world that it’s impossible to get sick of, and this Squeeze compilation is arguably among the few of them.
For the uninitiated: Squeeze is an endlessly rad band that was big in the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s both in the UK (their homeland) and the US. They had roughly a million hits thanks to Glenn Tillbrook and Chris Difford, the band’s two main singers and songwriters. Their music is smart and weird and interesting, but also universally danceable and earworm-y — once you hear this record, it’s the only thing you’ll want to listen to for at least a week, but also possibly just for the rest of your life.
Singles — 45’s and Under, which was released in 1982, works way more like a fluid album than a collection of hits. It’s a perfect encyclopedia of what makes Squeeze a wonderful band. But it’s also an expertly arranged documentation of the amazing artistic heights pop music can reach when it sets out to make you dance and tell you dynamic stories in every song. So let’s take a few minutes to single out (OOF, I know, sorry) exactly what makes this record so essential.
4. The classic track “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” is not only the catchiest song ever written about shellfish — it’s also a set of anthropological observations about social class.
“Pulling mussels” isn’t just a reference to seafood, either — it’s British slang for boning. Who knew bivalves could be so dirty-sounding? The bulk of the song is based on Difford’s memories of seaside vacations taken in his youth and the different types of people he saw there: “Two fat ladies window shop something for the mantelpiece,” goes one lyric. “You wish you had a motor boat to pose around the harbor / But when the sun goes down to bed, you hook it up behind the car,” he sings in another. It’s all about the disconnect between what people strive for and the reality of what they actually have, which is pulled into sharper focus by the fact that although this is ostensibly a song about vacationing, it’s gritty instead of luxurious.
7. Songs like “Up the Junction” and “Black Coffee in Bed” nail the particulars of romantic hardship in their extreme and careful attention to detail.
“Up the Junction” takes listeners through the details of an entire arc of a relationship, from the earnest, hopeful beginnings of meeting a girl with whom the singer “never thought it would happen” to the resigned failure at its end, when he regretfully cops to getting that girl pregnant and being pretty much the worst to her afterward. It’s basically a less shitty/macho version of a John Updike story, but delivered through your headphones.
“Black Coffee in Bed” is the true tale of the exact two week mark after every breakup ever, where there are still signs of the person all around — “a stain on my notebook where your coffee cup was” — and you’re ready to get over your messy, ring-leaving ex by getting underneath someone else but still feel mad pangs sometimes: “The stain on my notebook remains all that’s left of the memory of late nights and coffee in bed.” Its lyrics are realistic about heartbreak without getting all maudlin on you, which is rare for any breakup-based pop song.
10. Of course, the impossible-to-dislike “Tempted” is a whole other topic on its own.
This song stands out so starkly from the others partially because of its unfamiliar singer— the vocalist is keyboardist Paul Carrack, who took the lead far less frequently than Difford or Tillbrook. But it’s mostly the utter and complete sexiness of the melody that characterizes this beauty, which is definitely the sultriest and general best track on this whole goddamn record. If you don’t hook up to this song at least once in your life, I feel great pity for you. It’s something of a conjugal classic.
“Tempted” is seductive outside of the bedroom, too — you can’t put it on without getting completely invested in listening to it. Even if you don’t sing, even if you sound like a broken duck call when you try, you absolutely must squawk out at least some, if not all, of the lyrics and experience great zeal for this immaculate track and also life in general. It’s the law or something. Bonus points if you can accurately list all the items sung in the verses: “A toothbrush, some toothpaste, a flannel for my face…” and so on. It’s like a lyrical scavenger hunt!
13. Even the goofy, slangy songs about nightlife and sex draw you in completely.
Also looking at you, “Slap & Tickle.”
16. Oh, and this god crops up many times throughout the tracklist.
Elvis Costello sings occasional backing vocals, like on “Tempted” and “Black Coffee in Bed,” and is credited as a producer on a handful of the singles, including “Tempted.” The track was recorded less than a year before his 1982 masterpiece, Imperial Bedroom, and reflects a similar sound to the LP in its husky, sexy approach to pop, which also prioritizes strong, distinct vocals. All this is to say that his presence here is palpable, and that it totally fucking rules.
19. Listening to it all the way through feels like reading a particularly satisfying short story collection, even in its most infectiously poppy moments.
The songs have full plots and settings, play with detail in the band’s characteristically eloquent but always hyper-conversational tone, and lay down the minutiae of experiences in ways that are tragic, sweet, wistful, and enormously human. Each track is a self-contained story, but they all come together to establish a totally unified narrative voice and style.
20. So take some time to appreciate the fact that Singles will always be your main Squeeze. (I’m sorry, I know and understand that this is the worst pun).
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