There was a time that Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook were mentioned in the same breath as Lennon and McCartney. Well, time hasn’t been quite that kind to the duo who penned so many great songs for Squeeze, but there’s no doubt that they penned some real gems over the years. Difford is reponsible for the lyrics on Squeeze classics like “Tempted”, “Pulling Mussels From a Shell”, “Up the Junction” and many others. He also would trot out his regular bloke croak for cool tunes like “Cool For Cats” and “Someone Else’s Heart”. He’s still going strong. Let’s pay tribute to Mr. Difford by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first ten songs that come up.
Rodriguez — Like Janis (Cold Fact): This Detroit folk singer put out two albums in the early ’70s that have acheived cult status. Rodriguez has a very commanding vocal style, all the better for the declamatory lyrics in his protest songs. There is an intensity and intelligence in these songs, which have basic structures and just enough melody to keep them from being monotone. He really demands attention.
The Damned — Looking At You (Machine Gun Ettiquette): One of the great early punk bands covering one of the best songs from one of the great proto-punk bands. This is a fabulous MC5 cover, with the band extending it into a bit of a jam, The Damned attacking the track with gusto, with some great lead guitar and the addition of a garage rock organ really adding to this classic tune.
Haircut One Hundred — Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)(Pelican West): In some respects, I think Vampire Weekend verges on sounding like Haircut One Hundred at times. This short lived band introduced the world to the talents of Nick Heyward. His solo career revealed he was just a pure pop songwriter at heart, but on this band’s solo album, elements of funk, Afropop and jazz added spice to the mix. And nowhere was this pulled off any better on the lead off track, which became a big hit. The insistent chicken scratch guitar, the percolating rhythms, the great horn lines and a killer hook make this an ’80s classic, despite Heyward’s “rapping” middle eight.
The Reducers — Black Plastic Shoes (The Reducers): This Rhode Island band plunked themselves at a three way intersection between pub rock, punk and power pop. This is a rumbling blues based rocker played at a quick pace. It gets right to the point and is the highlight of their debut album.
The Go-Betweens — Was There Anything I Could Do? (16 Lovers Lane): The Go-Betweens released a number of terrific albums, but the last one in their first go round was their masterpiece. These songs combine the excellent melodic songcraft of Grant McLennan and Robert Forster with music that was alternatively beautiful and, even when dominated by acoustic guitars, passionate and driving. This song fits in the latter category, with some great violin work. One could easily hear The Cure covering this.
*Rod Stewart — Twistin’ The Night Away (Never A Dull Moment): The greatest single influence on Rod Stewart as a singer was Sam Cooke, so covering a Cooke tune worked out as well as one would expect. Hearing Stewart attack this song by his hero with gusto is wonderful, as Stewart ups the bluesiness, while the drummer keeps things swinging.
The Jam — I Need You (This Is The Modern World): The quintessential ’70s Mod band show off some nice harmony vocals on this jangly pop tune that is refreshingly simple. This shows as much of an influence of The Beatles and Byrds as the usual Mod touchstones.
The Stylistics — Betcha By Golly Wow (Can You Dig It? The ’70s Soul Box): One of the signature harmony vocal bands during the early ’70s, The Stylistics were true ambassadors of love. This is their best known song, pure mellow bliss. Prince covered this tune.
Judee Sill — Lady-O (Judee Sill): This was the first song of Sill’s to get attention, as The Turtles did the original version, releasing it as a single. It’s good, but nothing can match Sill’s own version. This has all the hallmarks that made her just a masterful writer. The undulating melody, which mixes folk and classical traditions, and the killer middle eight, along with her thoroughly committed performance. Her songs manage to have a pop accessiblity while underneath are remarkable sophisticated compositions and arrangements. It’s a shame that she only put out two proper albums before overdosing on heroin.
Gaza Strippers — ME262 (From The Desk Of Dr. Freepill): This was an album that blended studio songs with live tunes. This is a really nice cover of a Blue Oyster Cult song that shows the more playful side of Rick Sims and company, including a bit lighter touch than most Strippers tunes.