I made the promise a while back, when featuring Labelled With Love as an example of a song being a great short story, that I’d offer up some thoughts on its parent album, East Side Story.
As an adolescent teenage lad, I enjoyed listening to Squeeze as there really was something mischievous about them, with many of their lyrics dealing with various aspects of sex, especially on the sophomore album, Cool For Cats, released in 1979 which happened to be the first of theirs that I bought.
Slap and Tickle, Touching Me Touching You, It’s So Dirty, and Cool for Cats are packed with lyrics that are a mixture of being right there in your face, hidden with double-entendres or disguised with local slang. It’s an album that I never really could totally fathom as some of the music left me a tad cold – I knew the band had its roots in pub rock in the south-east of London and some of the songs certainly displayed that particular lineage which jarred with my love for faster, edgier new wave/post-punk songs.
Having said all that, the album also contained Up The Junction, the very reason I had gone out and made the purchase. It was, and remains, one of my favourite 45s of all-time, a tale of working-class bliss gone awry set to an ear-worm of a tune. This was the side of Squeeze that I was desperate for.
The band’s third album, Argybargy, released in 1980 delivered more of what I was after. There was still the occasional take on sex, with the imperious Pulling Mussels (From A Shell) being the best example, but with songs such as Another Nail In My Heart, I Think I’m Go Go, Here Comes That Feeling, and If I Didn’t Love You made this a more satisfying listen, albeit there were still a couple of pub-type tunes that had me reaching for the needle and moving it swiftly over.
I was quite pleased to learn that piano player Jools Holland had decided to leave the band after Argybargy as I had the view that it was his musical tastes, and style of playing that most jarred with me. I really did just want the pure pop of the singers/writers, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook.
Having said that, I was a bit concerned that they had drafted in Paul Carrack as the replacement – someone I only knew as the singer with Ace who had enjoyed a massive hit with How Long, an MOR-ballad that I hated, back in 1975.
The first of the new songs came in the shape of a lead-off single, one that didn’t actually do all that well, stalling at #35 in early may 1981:-
A fast-paced guitar-focused pop song that sounded like Squeeze but with some something added to the sound. A lot of critics at the time mentioned Beatles comparisons in terms of the tune and the use of the harmonies, but I thought there was more than a touch of Elvis Costello in the mix, which is no surprise given he was co-producer and occasional contributor of backing vocals.
It was two weeks later that the album arrived in the shops. I was working as the Saturday Boy in Woolworths at the time and I used my staff discount to pick up a copy of the album when I got to work a few days after it had come out. Robert, the store manager and an ancient bloke in his mid-20s from Belfast, told me that he had been listening to the album at least once a day and that in his view it was a really strange offering, packed with all sorts of different tunes, few of which sounded like the earlier hit singles. I asked him if he liked it and he said he wasn’t sure. Now, given that this bloke had fairly decent taste in music (he owned loads of punk and new wave records and was a huge fan of Joy Division), this was a bit of a concern.
I took the record home that night. I don’t think I would have played it that night as I would have been round at the house of the new-found girlfriend and then the next day would have been devoted to playing football. Sunday evenings was time set aside to listen to the new singles chart rundown, and so it would have been a couple more days before I’d have played the album in full – I wasn’t at school much at this point in time, only going in for exams but secure in the knowledge that I already had enough from the previous year’s diet to have secured a place at uni. Isn’t it funny how some long-forgotten memories from almost 40 years ago are dredged up when you look at the sleeve of an album and give it another listen?
I’ll be honest. The first listen to East Side Story confused me. I probably had given too much credence to Robert’s opinion and was failing to listen without prejudice. There was an absence of hit singles as far as I was concerned, and horror of horrors, there was a straight-up country and western song. There were songs that sounded like the sort of stuff some my mates’ big brothers listened to (psychedelia); there were a couple of songs that still sounded as if Jools Holland was involved in the studio; there was at least one when Chris Difford sounded as if he was deliberately singing out of key above a tune that bordered on the painful to listen to; and then there was this piece of white-soul, Doobie Brothers-style, on which Paul Carrack had taken lead vocal – it was too close a cousin to What A Fool Believes for my tastes.
And then, the summer arrived. School’s Out for ever….and loads of time on my hands as most of my mates have gone into a job or an apprenticeship, failing which some sort of slave-wage scheme that the Thatcher government had insisted young folk signed up to or there would be no welfare benefits. East Side Story found itself on heavy rotation – I had this feeling at the back of my mind that if I could begin to get my head around it then it would be a sign of my tastes maturing, which I probably had to do if I was going to meet and get friendly with all sorts of new and clever folk at uni….
Slowly but surely, the tunes on the album began to resonate with me. This was the sort of album that ‘grown-ups’ listened to. Fourteen songs that covered all sorts of musical genres, never settling into any obvious pattern.
The great trick was to open with In Quintessence, the one track that could easily have passed for a Squeeze 45 as it reminded me of Another Nail…but after that it veered all over the place packed with amazing tunes, packed with lyrics that were at times humorous, at times clever, at times poignant, at times moving and at times thought-provoking. It was an album that was proving to be increasingly rewarding with each listen…..and I even found myself almost warming to the Paul Carrack vocal (on a song written by Difford/Tilbrook) on the basis that there wasn’t a second helping on the LP.
It’s an album that I can still happily listen to these days, more so than any of the other Squeeze records that I had purchased prior to this. This was the album that Up The Junction had long-promised and was a million miles away from Touching Me, Touching You, which now sounded incredibly juvenile in my new found world where wandering through the students union into different bars and areas (including a Games Hall in which a group of hippies hogged the jukebox and provided, over a nine-month period, my long-overdue introduction to Neil Young).
East Side Story. It’s the album in which I did my most growing up.
It should be noted that F-Hole goes straight into Labelled With Love, a sequencing of tracks which always makes me smile.