A life in music No.5 – 1979
Squeeze – ‘Cool For Cats’
Something incredible happened in 1979. It certainly did for me, and 34 years later I’d still say it was a magnificent year for music. Punk had all but been and gone, but it had revitalised popular music, giving it an energy it had lacked since the 60s. Ska and reggae, offshoots of the punk era, as well as a mod revival made its way into pubs, clubs and ultimately mainstream radio and into the charts. As a 13-year-old kid wearing sta-pressed, Fred Perrys and argyle jumpers I loved it all, soaking it up like my life depended on it. Over the next two years Radio 1’s weekly Top 40 show on Sundays became my obsession. I created my own chart system, writing down the Top 20 every week, giving the no.1 position 20 points, no.2 19 points, down to no.20 which would get one point. At the end of the year I made my own Top 20 singles chart from the accumulated points. My obsession with lists was also becoming a bit scary. By the end of 1980 if anyone gave me the title of a single from the Top 20 in ‘79 or ‘80, I could name the artist, every time. Some would say this was an early sign of me becoming a music nerd, and I’d probably have to agree.
Five bands dominated my desires in 1979, the first of which was Squeeze. Cool For Cats was their second album and I played it to death. It contained four singles, two of which ‘Cool For Cats’ and ‘Up The Junction’ were, and still are perfect examples of the song-writing brilliance of Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook. Like many new lyricists at the time, Difford & Tilbrook wrote songs about real life, real people and modern culture, but unlike many bands who were influenced by the dawning of the Thatcher-era and the mountain of political issues affecting the country, Squeeze wrote songs about people. And sex. Not sex as in your modern day sexist, image obsessed, body fascist bullshit. No. Cool For Cats was littered with innuendo, slang and stories of masturbation, desperation, infatuation, heavy drinking and unwanted pregnancies, all brilliantly linked together by razor-sharp social awareness. It was perfectly real, like a Ken Loach movie set to music.
‘Cool For Cats’ was a brilliant single. Lyrically reminiscent of a pubescent Ray Davies, musically bombastic in a London pub style. I turned 13 the week after its release, but it’s Squeeze’s next single that was the first song I remember being able to sing from start to finish. I guess I needed to be a teenager first. Strangely I remember a specific time too… in the changing rooms after swimming at school. It’s funny the things you remember. I felt quite adult reciting the lyrics, like I was narrating a grown-up story to school friends who I hoped would be impressed. ‘Up The Junction’ was clearly lyrically influenced by Nell Dunn’s 1963 novel of the same name, sharing the same gritty, working-class realism starting from its opening line “I never thought it would happen with me and the girl from Clapham”. Just looking at the album’s sleeve brings back blissfully happy, innocent, wide-eyed memories. Squeeze were a pop-obsessed pubescent boy’s dream. Give the dog a bone indeed.
1972: Theme To Robinson Crusoe
1973: Sweet – ‘Blockbuster’
1977: E.L.O – ‘Out Of The Blue’
1978: Blondie – ‘Picture This’
1979: Squeeze – ‘Cool For Cats’