I’ll come right out and make this bold(ish) statement: Squeeze’s 1981 album East Side Story was one of the top 10 albums of the ’80s. Hands down. Sure, I could list 20 albums that might qualify for that as well, but I’m quite confident that on any given day I could make an argument for East Side Story to be in my top 10, and on some days, top 5. It certainly has stood the test of time better than many albums of the era, thanks to the fact that Squeeze tended to stick with the classic 4- or 5-piece rock band lineup, typically avoiding the synth that so badly dates much of what seemed like great music at the time. But when you have as great a barrelhouse piano player as Jools Holland in your band, why mess with synths? (To qualify that, Holland left just before this album, but they stuck with the mold that had been set by their previous albums.)
Tie that in to the fact that Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook were a songwriting team often compared to Lennon and McCartney (while I appreciate the sentiment, I’d have to say that it wasn’t really an accurate comparison), and Squeeze was bound to release a classic album through and through. Argybargy came pretty close, and is certainly another favorite of mine, but East Side Story was the one. And then after it their albums became only more sporadically good, so it’s an obvious choice for career pinnacle.
Despite “Tempted” becoming their megahit from the album, it’s very possibly my least favorite song on the album — maybe part of that is from hearing it too much, part from the fact that it’s sung by Paul Carrack, who was only a member of Squeeze for this one album (yes, he’s got a great voice, and it really is a great piece of songwriting, but it doesn’t seem as much like Squeeze). There are so many more interesting songs on the album — and if I needed to choose just one, I think it would have to be “Someone Else’s Bell.” It’s one of Tilbrook’s best singing performances (saying a lot, considering how great a singer he was at the time) — in the transition from verse to chorus, the way his voice climbs step by step from the lower registers of the verse to the higher, louder notes of the chorus just seems kind of brilliant, simultaneously revving up the energy and anger of the song. And angry, hurt, and/or dismayed it is, depicting the state of mind of a man in a mutually boring relationship who has found out that his wife is most likely cheating on him, and more or less vows to get her back in like kind:
Don’t you think I see it
Your handbag’s full of notes
I’m feeling like the punch line
In someone’s private joke.
And if the grass seems greener
But it turns out to be blue,
The Garden of Eden wasn’t quite the place for you.
Don’t be surprised if I’m gone
Under the spell of some other witch’s wand
Ringing someone else’s bell.
A sad state of affairs (pun intended), but that wry “Garden of Eden” line always makes me chuckle (in my mind, anyway). And the hook of the chorus is simply one of the best of the ’80s, never mind that the song is close to unknown outside of Squeeze’s fan base. Maybe this will help make it slightly less so…