How Squeeze’s “Play” saved my life

RIYL: Watching people bare their souls for all the world to see, risking abject humiliation in the process

I have not done many interviews in my time as senior editor for – certainly not in comparison to my good friend and colleague Will Harris, who does roughly six million interviews a year – and yet, there aren’t that many people left that I am dying to talk to. I interviewed boyhood idol John Taylor in 2005 (big story behind that one, which you can find here), and have picked off members of Blur, the Kaiser Chiefs, Hard-Fi and Depeche Mode along the way. The only three big ones left on my list were Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, and Bryan Ferry.

I scratched one of them off the list yesterday. Glenn Tilbrook was doing press to promote Squeeze’s new album Spot the Difference – which the band readily admits was made for licensing purposes so they can rake in a little extra cash from soundtrack supervisors and advertisers – which meant I had the opportunity to tell him something I’ve wanted to tell him for a long time: that Squeeze’s 1991 album Play saved my life.

Here’s the back story: I was involved in a tempestuous relationship with a girl who was under tremendous pressure from her parents to stop seeing me. And, wanting to please her parents and therefore make life easier, she started to listen to them, even after I had moved cross-country to be with her. Finally, I gave up, and made plans to move to Boston with my brother. I was working at a record store before I left, and they had a promo copy of Play. Since the people who frequented the suburban mall that housed the record store had no interest in Squeeze, the manager let me take it home. Home at the time was a flea-infested apartment I shared with some older guy. It was not where the heart is, which is why this album proved to be a massive source of comfort.

There seemed to be a song on the album for each emotion I was feeling at any given moment, with a lyric to match. “Each day’s a hope, each day’s a prayer, that I’ll rebuild and I’ll repair,” from “There Is a Voice,” or the opening lines to “Crying in My Sleep,” which I would sing to myself while busing tables, one of my three jobs after landing in Boston: “Breaking up is breaking my heart and showing me the door / But if I get it open, I’ll discover that there’s much more to life than this.” Even for the songs that weren’t an exact match to my situation, there was a vibe to it that resonated with me. I needed to feel better about myself. Play helped me do that.

Flash-forward 19 years, and I’m having a Skype chat with Tilbrook, who’s vacationing in the south of England after finishing what he calls the best tour of the States he’s ever done. And I lay it all on the line.

BE: On a personal note, you should know that Play basically saved my life.

GT: (Stunned) Wow.

BE: I was going through a hellacious breakup, and that album was extremely comforting to me. I know it didn’t sell a lot of records, but I’m so glad you guys made it.

GT: You know, a man who’s subsequently become my best friend said exactly the same thing to me! He was going through a divorce at that same time, and said, “Play, it just got me through.” Wow, that is really weird. What a weird coincidence. ‘Cause not that many people heard the record anyway, and that’s one of our best records, I think.

Here’s the thing I wanted to mention, but obviously don’t have the data to back up: I find it highly unlikely that Glenn’s friend and I are the only ones who were saved by this album. Is there anyone else out there who found solace, and ultimately rebirth, in these songs? It can’t be only me and this other guy…can it?

Back me up here, people. Does anyone else have the emotional connection to Play that I have? Let’s hear your stories in the comment section.

Lastly, thank you Glenn (and Chris) for writing such moving songs, and for being a great interview. Can’t wait to hear the new material you’re working on. Oh, and as a post-script, I ended up getting back together with the girl in question and dating her for another few years, and in following her to Chicago, I met the woman who would become my wife. It took a little longer than I hoped, but I got that door open after all.

Squeeze MySpace page
Click to buy Play from Amazon
Click to buy Spot the Difference from Amazon


Squeeze: Spot the Difference

RIYL: The Beatles, Elvis Costello, Split Enz

Cynics will surely scoff at the idea of new wave legends Squeeze re-recording their best known songs, but not us, not after we learned that they made more money from their self-released 1999 album Domino than any of the albums they released for A&M, Reprise and IRS during their heyday. Think of Spot the Difference, so named because the band tried to make these new versions sound as close to the originals as possible, less as an album for consumers – because really, there is no need for fans of the band to buy this, unless they’re feeling generous and want to send the band some money – than it is for soundtrack supervisors and people in the biz. It stands to reason that the band made these so they could market these versions to anyone looking to use a Squeeze song in this movie or that TV show, asking for far less than Universal, who owns the originals, would ask, while still turning a nifty profit in the process. The consumer of said TV show or movie, meanwhile, will likely be none the wiser, since the band did an impressive job covering their own tunes. The only key difference is the placement of the vocals in the mix, as the lyrics are much easier to discern, though true Squeeze fans will notice tweaks in production here and there. As a commercial product, Spot the Difference is as nonessential as they come. As a business move, it’s remarkably shrewd. (XOXO 2010)

Squeeze MySpace page
Click to buy Spot the Difference from Amazon