Celebrating their fiftieth anniversary with an extensive international tour, Squeeze are one of rock’s vital institutions, a band who carved out a distinctive place in the pop firmament with their vibrantly melodic, perceptive songs. Those songs were written by Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, the composers who remained at the heart of Squeeze since its inception in 1973. Such early New Wave hits as “Up the Junction,” “Cool for Cats,” “Another Nail in My Heart” and “Tempted” led critics to label Difford and Tilbrook the “next Lennon and McCartney,” an assessment that wasn’t proven to be hyperbole. The ensuing decades found Squeeze building a formidable body of work, a songbook that continues to expand with the release of the vigorous comeback albums Cradle to the Grave and The Knowledge, a pair of records Squeeze delivered in the late 2010s after a nearly twenty-year hiatus from the studio.
Over the years, Squeeze saw a few hiatuses and breaks, not to mention players cycling through the lineup. Throughout it all, Difford and Tilbrook were the constants. The pair met when Tilbrook answered a “musicians wanted” advertisement Difford placed in a local south London shop. Keyboardist Jools Holland joined shortly afterward, then the band adopted the name Squeeze, cheekily taking the moniker from the disparaged final Velvet Underground album that featured none of the group’s original members. Improbably, founding Velvet Underground member John Cale wound up playing a crucial role in Squeeze’s early career. In 1977, after Gilson Lavis came aboard as their drummer and Harri Kakouli became the group’s bassist, Cale produced Packet of Three, Squeeze’s debut EP, and a good portion of their eponymous 1978 debut. The band produced two cuts on Squeeze, including their breakthrough hit, “Take Me, I’m Yours.”
“Take Me I’m Yours” showcased a nervy, inventive band, providing a blueprint for Cool for Cats, the 1979 album that established Squeeze as one of the leading New Wave groups. Boasting the poignant “Goodbye Girl,” the dexterous storytelling of “Up the Junction” and the jaunty wit of the title track, Cool for Cats was one of the defining LPs of New Wave, bettered only by the colorful, muscular Argybargy, the 1980 sequel that featured “Another Nail in My Heart” and “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell).” Squeeze teamed with producer Elvis Costello for East Side Story, a 1981 masterpiece with “Tempted,” their first song to crack the American charts.
Success caused some ripples within the band. After releasing Sweets from a Stranger in 1982, Squeeze split. Difford and Tilbrook continued their collaboration with a self-titled LP in 1984, then reunited most of the Argybargy-era lineup for Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti in 1985. This incarnation of Squeeze recorded Babylon and On, the 1987 album that gave the band its first American Top 40 hit with the exuberant “Hourglass.”
Squeeze spent the first part of the 1990s delivering such exquisitely crafted records as Play and Some Fantastic Place, albums that showed the group easing into a reflective middle age. By the time they delivered Ridiculous and Domino in the second half of the ’90s, they were considered forefathers of Britpop, the swinging sound spearheaded by such Squeeze disciples as Blur and Supergrass.
After the supporting tour for Domino concluded in 1999, Squeeze went their separate ways. Difford and Tilbrook launched solo careers that would continue after they reunited as Squeeze in 2007. At first, the revived Squeeze was a touring outfit, only heading into the studio in 2010 to cut Spot the Difference, a collection where they re-recorded their greatest hits. Difford and Tilbrook added keyboardist Stephen Large and drummer Simon Hanson to the lineup during this time, eventually taking the revitalized group into the studio to record Cradle to the Grave, the 2015 album that found the band reconnecting with the dynamic, tuneful eclecticism of their 1980s heyday. Two years later, The Knowledge proved Cradle to the Grave was no fluke.
With bassist Owen Biddle, pedal steel guitar and guitarist Melvin Duffy and percussionist Steve Smith joining Difford, Tilbrook, Large, and Hanson, Squeeze has stayed on the road through the early 2020s, taking time to record the Food for Thought charity EP in 2022. This is the version of the band that’s kept the sound and spirit of Squeeze alive during its fiftieth year, a half-century distinguished by some of the smartest and sweetest guitar-pop made during the rock & roll era.