Despite the Gold and Platinum albums and Top 40 pop hits Squeeze racked up in the U.S. over the course of their career, the British band hasn’t had a live album available in America for decades — until now. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Chris Difford’s lyrics and Glenn Tilbrook’s tunes came together for a long string of sizzling singles that combined New Wave quirkiness with soulful sophistication. After a lengthy hiatus due to a classic creative-partners conflict between Difford and Tilbrook, the band finally started storming the stages again in 2007. While they’re currently getting set to assemble their first studio recording together in a decade and a half, they decided it was high time for an album that captures what happens when Squeeze steps in front of an American audience. Live At the Fillmore — available digitally or as a limited-edition LP — catches Difford, Tillbrook and company in the act of hurling the hits at a hearty crowd in 2010 at the storied San Francisco venue. With all these Squeeze classics surging to the fore once more, it seemed like a fine time to quiz Tilbrook about the stories behind some of the time-honored tunes Squeeze serves up live on their latest release.
1. Is That Love
It was, for me, a playful exercise in tipping your hat towards the Beatles, really. You only have a certain window where you can do that sort of thing, and that window is when you’re young, like early 20s. I couldn’t do that now, because it would be parody, it wouldn’t be fresh. But what it was at the time, it was written far slower as well, it was written mid-tempo, musically. It was that major/minor thing that the Beatles did so well. Going into the studio with [East Side Story producer] Elvis Costello, we were at the top of our game at that point I think, and we did a really fresh version of the song.
2. If I Didn’t Love You
I remember [the line] “the record jumps on a scratch” coming out to me, and saying, “Okay, that’s my cue to imitate a broken record [in the chorus vocal], a record that jumps.” I think it’s a great lyric. A lot of Chris’s lyrics deal with relationships that have either broken down or are breaking down. That was his quirk at the time. That’s another example of a really great way to look at that. The thing is, the devil is in the details — it’s about how specific he is about stuff.
We recorded a version that was more like ELO, really — it was power pop. And I’m really glad that we saved ourselves from that, because you don’t always know when you write a song how it should be, that’s one of the things I’ve learned. The version that is first delivered to you when you finish it isn’t necessarily the way it should end up. We’d done this horrible version, but we still felt like there was something else missing from it. And when we re-recorded it we found out what it was. Through several different turns – the version we did without Paul [Carrack, Squeeze singer/keyboardist] was produced by Dave Edmunds, and it’s a straightforward pop production, but when Elvis heard the song he suggested that we kick it about a bit more, and that’s the version that we came up with. And it was Elvis’s idea to do the song with Paul singing, and that was initially a big disappointment to me, but actually a genius idea.
4. Another Nail in My Heart
What I remember about it is I was smoking quite a lot of green stuff at the time, and it was written [to be] very, very slow. On my home demo it’s almost microscopically slow. But what we did in those days, recording with the band, was we took a song and just shook it up and worked out a version, and recorded that. That’s why that song sounds so fresh I think, because the recorded version is when we’d just worked out how to make it work.
5. Pulling Mussels (From a Shell)
I’d say almost all the Squeeze songs were presented to me [by Difford] as complete lyrics at that point. That was a lyric I put a tune to. What went through my mind is how brilliantly he invented that [title] phrase. It wasn’t like it was a phrase in use, it wasn’t a Cockney thing that people said; Chris came up with that. Brilliant. The way that we recorded in those days is that I’d come with my demo; like “Another Nail In My Heart,” the demo was significantly slower than the recorded version. The band worked it out; the band gave it energy. I think you can bring to the table what you will about the song — my opinion about it is, on a basic level it’s a holiday song, but on a secondary level it’s a rite-of-passage song. It’s about passing through adolescence into adulthood, and having the experience of relationships, but in a very oblique way. That’s the genius of Chris.
Live At the Fillmore is out now on Anchor and Hope Music.