Great, great story Marty. I loved Squeeze in their heyday (still have all their LP's, but just sold the CD's), and even saw them live in England in December of '82. Difford & Tillbrook were probably the best songwriters of their generation, I myself liking them more than Costello, though not as much as Nick Lowe (he's actually a generation before them, of course, but became successful concurrently with them, and ran in the same circles).
Great story Marty. I saw Glen Tillbrook twice in Phoenix in the last 2 years, and I've seen Squeeze live about 6 times. If asked to name a favorite band, it would likely be Squeeze overall.
Over the years when I've heard people speak in awe of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team, I always think to myself that they still can't approach Difford and Tillbrook. They are just amazing. So many great songs over the years, and they always sound so unforced and genuine.
Some bands/artists labor over their works, and it sounds like it. These guys produce great music, and it always sounds like they were just born to do it.
I love Squeeze, “In Quintessence“is one of my favorites.
I have four or five of their LPs, thanks for bringing up the topic.
I am a Squeeze fan and have seen them 3 times in their prime. I will be seeing Difford and Tillbrook in December. To compare them with Lennon McCartney as a songwriting team--let alone to find them better, must be from one who does not truly know the entire Beatles catalogue or who simply does not like the Beatles.
That being said, they are very good lyricists
FWIW, after the very early years McCartney and Lennon hardly wrote together--they just kept the legal credit arrangement intact.
good story, marty. to me, tho, their great lyric is "up the junction," which is like a great tragicomic novel in three minutes.
"Up The Junction" is another personal favorite, but....
It's a great example of narrative lyric writing. (What I believe that Mark Knopfler was referring to as "Making Movies" when he so titled a Dire Straits LP.) "Junction" effectively tells a story and fleshes out characters in - as you note - 3 minutes. That's pretty rare. Even rarer, that story is IMO quite poignant.
I agree that that is a tremendous achievement. Few songwriters can pull that off consistently and Diffford and Tillbrook are in that select company IMO. The comments that follow are not intended in any way to diminish "Junction", because I fully agree that it's among the best songs of its type and is a great lyrical achievement in its own right.
What separates ""Fantastic Place" (for me) is that it bites off an even bigger task. Losing a loved one is probably the most painful experience most people ever live through. Over time, our society has developed elaborate rituals (like funerals/clergy) to help at these times. Therein, we are usually provided some standard advice that's supposed to help, along the lines of:
"We're here to celebrate a life as well as mourn a death."
Two unfortunate things about that advice, IME - it almost always rings hollow and it's even worse when the person has died young since there's less life to celebrate.
For me - "Some Fantastic Place" is actually a convincing celebration of a life lost too young. As such, it's - in my view - almost a singular achievement in pop music. Richard Thompson, Mark Knopfler, Dar Williams, Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan (among others) have penned narrative lyrics that I'd put alongside "Junction", but I know of no one who has written a "pop elegy" as effective as "Fantastic Place". Again, Just MHO.
IMO, John and Paul were unparalleled as songwriters in certain respects, but not in every respect. They certainly provided an elegant solution to the problem of integrating their own brand of (relentlessly creative) harmony into rock n roll music (as opposed to, say, Brian Wilson whose solution was also brilliant but often messy/inelegant). As to the balance of their work, there are many other artists who I prefer.
My own view is that, while the Lennon/Macca achievement is justifiably recognized for its brilliance, it's not necessarily that important to me. I appreciate what they did, but I tend to look for other things in my favorite music. Just personal preference and different priorities.
BTW, I'm not arguing that I'm right here (re: "Up The Junction" vs "Some Fantastic Place" or re: The Beatles vs the rest of the songwriting world). I'm just explaining my own views on these two issues. In my book, this kind of stuff definitely falls under the heading of "To each his own" .
"She pours milk into the cat's saucer/I'm John Wayne as I'm walking towards her/She's like to dance, but not this minute/She's the fish I'd like to fillet."
That's from memory, but those are some great lines!
Remember the English pronounce it "fill it" not "fill a"
I love that you guys aren't afraid of challenging the common wisdom---that The damn Beatles are IT, nobody can touch them. I've never felt that way, and continually marvel at how their hardcore fans (I know a few) can be so blindly uncritical of them. Beatlemania lives! Sgt. Pepper the best album ever? I can't stand it!
Speaking of great lyrics about loss, and especially the emotion of melancholy (which I believe is the essence of the human condition), I have heard no one better at expressing it than Iris Dement, particularly in a song entitled "No Time To Cry". I learned of Iris while reading an interview with Merle Haggard years ago, who was quite impressed with her, both as a songwriter and singer. He himself has recorded NTTC, but his version doesn't come close to the heartbreak hers will invoke in you. Very, very special.
Nice to see someone comment on Iris DeMent. To get the full impact her talent, try turning off the sound and read her lyrics, e.g. "In the deep of the night... in the deep of the night... by the river so still... where sorrows come to heal... and wrongs are made right... down in the deep of the night... in the deep of the night... on a creaking porch swing... the ancient ones sing... everything is alright".
Wanted to thank Marty for his eloquent and very well written story. It, and
the follow ups, inspired me to check out some of this band's music. Not
much of a pop-music-phile for the last couple of couple of decades (for no
other reason than hours in the day) the only tune by this band that I was
familiar with was "Tempted". What a great band and what great
songs! The comparison to the Beatles is particularly interesting to me and
the similarities are there. We all know what fantastic songsmiths the Beatles were; but, and not meaning to open up a can of worms, for me, the
Beatles' overall INSTRUMENTAL musicianship was not on the same level
as their singing and song writing. To my ears, there was always a certain
imbalance between all the elements that define a great band. I know the
apologists will point to things like how Ringo was the "perfect"
drummer for the Beatles, and it is true that sometimes simplicity better suits
some of the music's wide-eyed youthful pop-ness. Maybe; but still, an
adequate but inferior drummer. Squeeze strikes a great balance between
the great songwriting, singing and playing.
I'm familiar with NTTC, but I'd never heard Iris D's cover. I agree that it's the best take on that (very moving) song that I've ever heard. As you noted, it captures a certain essential melancholia of life. It's a very successful commentary on a widely shared experience IMO and an excellent example of insightful writing, as well as a beautiful interpretation by Iris.
Fantastic Place is an entirely different kettle of fish. It is a celebration at a time of sadness, which is why I find it such a singular work of art. It may be more or less moving (to any given listener) than NTTC, but I was really commenting at the audacious nature of the undertaking, as much as anything else. It's not a sad song, or a mournful one, it's actually joyful - with the pain of loss lurking unspoken beneath the lyric.
Segueing neatly to Frogman's comment. I agree that The Beatles were underwhelming instrumentalists. Not bad - but not particularly compelling, either. I used to frequently argue this subject with my guitar teacher. He felt that the guitar playing in The Beatles catalog was remarkable. I believed that the ideas and arrangements were notable, but the playing (particularly the solos) rarely impressed me. There were exceptions (Something, for one), but I rarely go back to The Beatles for their playing.
Interestingly, "Fantastic Place" includes a wonderful, short guitar solo from Tillbrook that really serves the song. This certainly isn't Hendrix, Clapton, Van Halen guitar playing - it's more in the spirit of Chuck Berry (or Dave Davies, Terry Kath, Todd Rundgren, Lindsey Buckingham, etc.), a short and eloquent variation on the melody that intensifies the momentum of the song. In this particular case, it ends with a stuttering walk up the neck of the guitar and sort of spills into a gospel flavored "middle eight". The gospel touch is just a perfect complement to the spirituality of the lyric at that moment:
(Sung to the dead)
"When I'm near you, I can see you,
When I'm near you, I can hear you,
When I'm near you, I can feel you"
IMO, this is a tremendous bit of song craft - and one more reason that I hold this song in such high regard.
Sorry about the first word of the last post. It autocorrected from "Bfd" to "but". I wasn't taking exception to anyone's commentary with my post, merely starting off with a response to Bfd.
BTW, thanks to all for the kind words in the responses here.
Frogman, I totally disagree with your assessment of the Beatles' instrumental musicianship. To me Lennon was the weak link but he was good enough. Many good drummers cite Ringo as being at or near the top of great rock drummers. He's not in the same category as, say, Bill Bruford or Ginger Baker, but he was not playing in Yes or Cream.
Disagreement is one of the things that make these discussions interesting
and fun; and disagree we will. See, I knew I would be opening up a can of
worms. I will concede that trying to determine a player's ability has to be in
the context of the music. I made that point clear in my comment and one
has to put aside the idea of ultimate instrumental mastery and consider
how the player's style serves the particular music. Still, I have to wonder
how some of the Beatles' music might have sounded with a drummer who
could muster up a little more rhythmic incisiveness and accuracy, and had a
somewhat less "lazy" approach. I don't think this was entirely
an artistic choice on Ringo's part, but also an expression of his limitations.
Ringo, near the top of great rock drummers? Yikes!
marty, on your sayso i listened "some fantastic place" critically. it's a poignant lyric and i can see why you're so moved by it. very personally, tho, it didn't grab me as much melodically as say. "vickyverky" or my beloved "up the junction"; difford (or tilbrook, not sure) has played some really concise, inventive solos such as "nail in my heart" and "mussels", but the guitar solo on this one (as you note)sorta just replicates the verse and wasn't the grabber for me. but i have the ultimate respect for you and your taste, so i'm just fulminating.
Re: The Beatles playing. "In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is King ."
How does that quote apply to the subject under discussion Schubert?
You don't have to be very good to stand out in their genre .
As per usual, I don't really disagree with anything that you've written, with one slightly different take on how a given songwriter might integrate a solo into a given song.
The solo in SFP is an example of what I meant by "playing in service to the song"'. I completely agree that it's not the most inventive thing you'll ever hear, but - IMO - sometimes the highest purpose of a guitar solo is to re-state the melody in a way that reveals a different side to it. It's almost a different art form than soloing for the sake of a unique statement in, and of, itself. In this case, I think Tillbrook 100% made the "right" decision (with the caveat, of course, that there are an infinite number of right decisions) in keeping the solo within the four corners of the melody. The song is so strong that stepping outside those constraints risks breaking the spell. As always, YMMV - particularly if you're not as enthralled with the song as I am.
I will note one beautiful structural element to the solo. Both melodically and rhythmically, it sets up the walk down which transitions to the middle eight. In my view, that's brilliant song-craft. It's a very clever solution to the always present problem of segueing to a completely new segment of a song. The middle eight (as usual) only appears once in SFP and it's quite different in feel from both the chorus and the verse, yet the solo flows seamlessly into that passage. Again, it's another way in which that solo is in service to the song.
SFP probably more powerfully resonates for me because, despite persistent efforts to improve myself in this regard, I remain a fundamentally cynical soul. I've been to too many funerals and have never found much comfort in anyone's attempt to celebrate the life of the person that has died. That sentiment just never works for me....except in that song. The lyric strikes me as completely genuine, completely heartfelt, and astonishingly joyous in the face of great sadness. Like I said, that particular formula resides as much in this listener as it does in that song. Although, interestingly, when I asked Tillbrook (Difford wasn't really participating in this game) to choose the one he was proudest of, he chose SFP. So, I guess he may share my own issues around the subject of death, hope, and faith. Who knows?
BTW, I must give you this: Your choice of the descriptor "tragicomic" for Up The Junction was spot-on. I love the couplet:
"She left me when my drinking,
became a proper stinking"
You want to smile at the rhyme (and the oh-so-British use of the modifier "proper"), but the narrator has just lost his family to alcohol. It really is that rarity - a truly tragicomic moment.
I'm a big fan of "playing in service to the song", which is one reason The Band is my all-time favorite, uh, band. George Harrison was really good at pistts, his guitar "break" (as opposed to solo) in The Beatles "Nowhere Man", as an example, is absolutely sublime, very reminiscent of James Burton's in Ricky Nelson's recording of "Young World". Kind of, as Marty said, just replaying the melody, but it works really well musically, not virtuosoticly (I know, not really a word).
Marty, Iris' recording of NTTC isn't a "cover"---she wrote the song!
Schubert, 60's pop/rock is no different from any other genre. There's a lot of horrible-to-mediocre stuff and then there's good, better, great and the very top. The Beatles were at the very top. If they produced something that wasn't top-shelf they usually had the sense not to release it. Leonard Bernstein got on board pretty early on (but Glenn Gould hated them). In more than 30 years of teaching guitar I've come across two students who did not care for the Beatles. That's an astonishingly low number. Anyway, Harrison was a great pop/rock guitarist and McCartney was perhaps the premier bassist of his time (I wouldn't compare pop bass to jazz). No flies on this boys
That was snobbish, and reveals you as ignorant to the value of music and musicians that don't conform to your taste.
marty--in deference to your response i relistened to sfp--what's curious about the song is that, at least by squeeze's standard, it's largely unadorned/unarranged--until you get to the bridge it's really just difford (tilbrook?) and his acoustic guitar--no keyboard flourishes, cymbal rolls, harmonies, etc. accordingly, if you don't wholly buy into the melody it doesn't grab you like some of their sonically-overloaded ditties. you have a very interesting point, tho, about playing in service to a song--if i grasp the concept correctly someone like mike campbell or george harrison (johnny marr?) does that very well, whereas e.g. a richard thompson is so wildly inventive that the guitarwork sometimes becomes larger than the song.
I was reading about Bob Dylan's Infidel album.
I did not know Mark Knopfler produced it which I found interesting.
Knopfler was quoted as saying Dylan's skills as a musician playing guitar and keyboard were limited but pointed out how little it mattered because Dylan was a great poet really in the role of a musician and that his music spoke to so many as a result.
I've never even given thought to Dylan's music skills. He's been so prolific for so long it seems mostly irrelevant. He seems to know how to make good music by leveraging his unique talent with those of others.
So there you go. There is more to music than great chops it would seem.
The thing is there is no great music without listeners. When music registers with the masses not much else matters. You can nitpick all the details for arguments sake but facts speak for themselves.
Roxy54, It is a matter of taste, good taste and bad taste, the latter being near universal in current society .
Your passion for classical music is obvious when you post in threads on that subject, but....
Do you participate in pop music forums simply to explain that, by virtue of your general distaste for pop music, you are the last bastion of good taste? It sure feels that way. Divergent opinions make for interesting conversation, but your persistent dismissiveness in these threads seems to serve little purpose. Obviously, you have the right to comment wherever you please, but why bother? You might better serve yourself and this community by participating only in those discussions which involve music you actually care about. Why troll here?
You summed up my concept pretty well. I'm confident that I could sit and listen to Richard Thompson solo over a metronome and enjoy the experience. I also love his songwriting. However, the extended soloing on Calvary Cross or Shoot Out The Lights sort out exists outside of the songs themselves. Like I said, it's almost a different art form.
I always thought that NTTC was a Merle Haggard song. Live and learn.
Your own words prove it then. You are a close-minded elitist snob. That is your loss.
I've known only one genius in my life. I met him when we were both starting 4th grade at a new Elementary School that was just opening in Cupertino California. He had already been put ahead ("skipped") two grades, and the school wanted to do a third, but his parents (his mother a Professor at San Jose State, his father a Jazz Drummer) refused, not wanting him to be any more younger than his classmates than he already was (two years, obviously). I didn't really know him, just of him, until the Summer before our Senior year at Cupertino High, when the Garage Band he was in (on guitar, a Gretsch Tennessee, plugged into a Fender Bandmaster amp) asked me to join. He was a The Beatles fanatic, knowing their music like no one else I've known. I had heard about and was completely obsessed with Brian Wilson's aborted Smile album, which had come out as the lesser Smiley Smile (the whole Smile saga is well worth your time investigating). After I played it for him, he became at least as obsessed with it as I, and Brian became his primary musical interest (along with Bob Dylan and The Band).
We went on to College, where he majored in Music, learning all about theory, composition, etc. His abilities at advanced math and other abstract concepts served him well in understanding music on the technical and theoretical level, and though he remained interested in Brian Wilson (as well as Bob Dylan and The Band), he became far more interested in first Beethoven, then Mozart, and finally, after transferring to UC Riverside (known for it's excellent music department), J.S. Bach, who became his primary musical interest for the rest of his short life (he died at 56, of a heart attack, the result of his extremely poor diet).
After earning a couple of Masters degrees (Music of course, but also Education), he ended up at Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, first designing programs, then teaching other programmers. He also became a member of Mensa, and spent his free time playing computer chess and recording Bach Cantatas (played on his piano and guitar).
We went our separate ways, and hadn't seen each other in about twenty years until a mutual friend put us back in touch. I visited him in N. California, and he I in SoCal. I learned that he had completely lost interest in Dylan (who could blame him, after those three 90's albums of Bob singing the songs of others?!) and all other Pop music. So I played him a recent album I thought might change that, Dylan's "Love and Theft". Yessir, that did the trick---he loved it!
I offer all of the above to make the point that, yes, Classical music has more to offer he or she than Pop in some ways, but the best Pop music is not without it's own rewards. They can't be compared to each other, as they are completely different disciplines, one the Music of The Royalty/Elite/Privileged/Educated (at the time of it's conception, that is), the other the music of the working class. The two music's also serve different functions, Bach's in the service of glorifying God, Rock n' Roll to dance to (originally)!
Still, I have to share something Brian Wilson said to his brother Carl during the recording of the Smile album. Brian had been listening to a lot of Classical the past year ('66), and as he and Carl were floating in the pool as the last notes of one of the Beethoven Symphonies faded away, he said to Carl "It's nice to know you're a musical midget"!
o well. it was a good thread while it lasted.
It's sad, but this is what tends to happen when someone decides to walk into the party and drop a turd in the punch bowl. It usually changes the conversation (and not for the better) and sucks the joy out of the room. Maybe that was Schubert's intention. If it was, it certainly earns him no respect, benefits no one else, and just makes you wonder why he feels compelled to do this sort of thing.
Back on track a bit--I always enjoyed hearing Squeeze when I encountered their music years ago. I never felt compelled to buy their albums. I saw them (current version) on Jools Holland recently and enjoyed that performance as well. But it never occurred to me that anyone saw them as approaching, equal to or superior to the Beatles. If someone could list a handful of tracks to check out that are among their very best I'd like to make a fair comparison.
You raise a fair point in that Squeeze is essentially playing on the same musical field as did the Beatles - combining the rhythmic conventions of rock n roll with a richer harmonic approach. While The Beatles can fairly claim IMO a more sophisticated and innovative legacy on that front than can Squeeze, the question of songwriting preference isn't limited by that distinction. Chris Difford is simply a remarkable lyricist.
Both John and Paul produced some memorable lyrics and Lennon is remembered in some quarters as a poet. Personal preferences differ, but IMO neither Lennon nor McCartney can touch Chris Difford for narrative lyric writing. The bulk of popular opinion might take issue with that statement, but it's my personal judgement.
Even if you're willing to stipulate the above, it's still fair to ask whether that is enough to defend the notion that Difford/Tillbrook surpasses Lennon/Macca as songwriters. In the end, the answer to that question depends upon your priorities. For me, Squeeze is good enough on the tune smithing front to make any edge the Beatles have in that realm essentially irrelevant. Again, that's just my own personal priority at play.
At the end of the day, I simply never go back and listen to the Beatles anymore. They sort of ended up as neither fish nor fowl for me. Their achievement may indeed be impressive within the bounds of what they set out to do, but i guess that I find that it more clever than it is nourishing. These days I want nourishment.
I fully appreciate their craft, but - if I need a shot of harmonically rich popular music - I'll probably fire up some Stephen Sondheim. If I want rock n roll, I'll fire up some Rolling Stones or Chuck Berry. If I want something in between, I'm more likely to turn to Squeeze, Brian Wilson, Lindsey Buckingham etc. than I am to turn to The Beatles.
I'm not about to try to convince you (or anyone else) that one band or the other featured better songwriting. I can only tell you that I much prefer listening to Squeeze these days.
As a side note, George Harrison definitely had his moments (as I noted previously, the solo in Something is among my absolute favorites) but I personally wouldn't consider him a great rock guitarist based on his work with The Beatles. After he left, Harrison made a better case for himself IMO, but The Beatles catalog offers little guitar soloing that I find worth revisiting. There's plenty of compelling arrangement of music for guitar, but only a little lead that floats my boat.
It doesn't need to be said, but YMMV.
As to the track list you requested, here are a few that I'd start with (off the top of my head, so if anyone else wants to chime in, they may well identify a key song that I omitted):
Some Fantastic Place
Up The Junction
Another Nail In My Heart
Pulling mussels (from the shell)
Annie Get Your Gun
Bdp24, sometimes I feel like having Italian food with a complex sauce and an elaborate salad. Other times it's a few slices of pizza and a beer. It's great either way.
Brian Wilson was my first hero. I "still dig those sounds." Thanks for the "musical midget" quote.
Marty, thanks for that list. I will check them out (I've probably already heard some of them, but it was long, long ago).
Good analogy Tostadosunidos. I also like that of a book versus a short story to a Classical composition versus a song. IMO the Brian Wilson songs in the Smile album are at least as "good" as anything Copland wrote, capturing "Americana" very successfully, with the extra added element of "weirdness" (Brian's song's chord structures are very "spooky", like a David Lynch film---"Fall Breaks and Back to Winter" is actually quite scary).
I'm a big Paul Carrack fan so I tend to like Squeeze with Carrack best. His vocal chops help put them over for me at least for the short time he was there.
I can hear some Beatles influences in tunes like Up the Junction for example but other than the hunger at the time for anything that might be regarded as new Beatles I wouldn't lean too heavy on that.
I always like a food analogy for rock n roll vs classical - but mine would be French haute cuisine vs sashimi. In one case, a chef who has mastered a ton of technique may produce a complicated dish that requires every bit of his training as well as an elaborate and often time critical game plan. There may be several steps involved in the preparation of a protein, more for a sauce, still more for accompanying vegetables and garnish. Every step must be synchronized for the desired result.
In the other case, he's essentially just cutting fish. There's not even any "cooking" (in the strict sense of the word) involved. However, the latter can produce a sublime and elegant result which reflects the aesthetic of a different culture.
They both have a place at my table.
bdp24... Based on your mentioning the Iris DeMent song "No Time To Cry", I purchased the "My Life" CD and played it for the first time yesterday. All I can say is... WOW.