"In songwriters Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, the British New Wave has finally found its own John Lennon and Paul McCartney." This statement of high praise for Squeeze's dynamic songwriting duo began Rolling Stone's review of East Side Story, Squeeze's fourth album. Joined by keyboardist and singer Paul Carrack in his one-album cameo as a Squeeze member, the group filled the album with smart, uptempo pop tunes whose lyrics scanned, in Difford's words, like "suburban short stories."
Difford and Tilbrook credit Elvis Costello, who coproduced most of the album with Roger Bechirian, for providing inspiration and encouraging the band to move into different areas. "Elvis gave us a broader canvas to work on," says Tilbrook. "He considered some songs we'd written that I wouldn't have thought would be Squeeze songs." For example, when Tilbrook was fast-forwarding a tape of demos, he accidentally landed on "Labeled With Love," a country & western number. He hadn't intended to play it for Costello, who nonetheless liked it right away. When Tilbrook protested that it didn't sound like Squeeze, Costello said, "Let's do it anyway."
East Side Story's best-known song is "Tempted," sung in a husky, soulful voice by Paul Carrack, with Costello and Tilbrook chiming in here and there. Difford wrote the lyrics on the way to the airport, and "all the things in there are pretty much all the things that were in my mind on that trip," he says. Though "Tempted" became an FM-radio favorite, it didn't crack the U.S. Top Forty. "It's one of those records everyone thinks is a hit, but it wasn't really," says Tilbrook. "I was disappointed it didn't do better, but I've felt that way about a lot of our records."
Musical touches both playful and artful, ranging from the surreal, wavering keyboards on "Heaven" to the full orchestra on "Vanity Fair," adorn East Side Story. Yet Squeeze maintains that the record was an uncomplicated one to make. "It was quite an old-fashioned approach to record making," says Tilbrook. "There weren't really any production tricks on it. The production really involved arrangements, and then just a straightforward recording of the songs."
As a side note, the name Lennon cropped up in an unexpected way midway through the sessions. "One morning, Elvis called and said that John Lennon had been killed the night before and that we weren't going to go out to the studio that day," Difford says. "Then he called back and said, 'No, let's just go in, get some drink and play.' We didn't record anything; we were just playing the blues."