October 17 – Two Great Bands Squeeze Into Top 40

It was a big day for two big alternative rock bands 35 years ago, as well as for mainstream pop radio fans who caught up to the college rock crowd a little. Both R.E.M. and Squeeze landed their first American top 40 hit single this day in 1987. Both had already been big on the alternative and college radio scenes for most of the decade.

In R.E.M.’s case, it was “The One I Love”, the fiery lead single off their fifth album, Document. That happened to be not only the last new album they put out on the small IRS Records label and the first they did with producer Scott Litt, who’d go on to produce their biggest hits like Out of Time and Automatic for the People.

The Georgia band were already darlings of the critics and had scored reasonably big-selling albums, as well as one major rock radio hit with “Fall on Me”. Mainstream airplay had been elusive however, until “Fall on Me‘, which pushed their career up to the next level. Ironically it was probably in large part due to people being downright oblvious to the song’s meaning.

The crunchy rocker features Michael Stipe sneering “this one goes out to the one I love” a few times and that seemed to be the thing many fixated on…not the lines which followed like “a simple prop to occupy my time” nor the yelled “Fire!” . Stipe later said “it’s incredibly violent” and suggesting “it’s probably better they just think it’s a love song.” Guitarist Peter Buck was more blunt: “”People told me it was ‘their’ song. That was their song? Why not ‘Paint it Black’ or ‘Stupid Girl’ or ‘Under My Thumb’?”

Love song or angry screed, “The One I Love” got to #9 at home and helped the album become their first platinum one.

Squeeze had been around longer, a full decade in fact. The British band led by guitarists and songwriters Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford had been very popular early on on their side of the ocean, but had only marginal success in the U.S. The closest they’d come before to a hit was “Tempted”, a song which now is considered an ’80s staple but had only hit #49 on the charts. Their fortunes changed in ’87 with “Hourglass”, the first single off their seventh studio album, Babylon and On.

For that one the changeable lineup was what many considered the “classic” lineup, including Jools Holland on keyboards. While Difford and Tilbrook traditionally shared credit on songs, they seldom actually wrote together. Some songs were Diffords, some were Tilbrooks and quite often, Difford wrote lyrics to music Tilbrook composed. For this one they decided to change it up and actually write collaboratively. Apparently, that worked.

While many of their earlier songs were witty little stories (“Up the Junction” , “Cool for Cats” etc.) this one was less direct. Tibrook said the chorus particularly “was nonsense words…I loved the idea of rapid delivery which is what the chorus required.” Nonsensical or not, the song had the sort of “sing-along” quality that dared you to keep up. But that may not have been the reason it became their biggest hit here. Difford says “I would think the video has a lot to do with it. It’s been played a lot,” adding “you meet fans after gigs and they say ‘your video’s great!’. They don’t say ‘your album’s great’.” Indeed the surrealistic video was fun and full of visual surprises. (R.E.M.”s video was a big part of their first hit’s success too; the most surprising thing about that one was that it was directed by Alton Brown – the future Food Network TV chef!)

Hourglass” got to #15 in the States, #23 in Canada and #16 back in the UK, where it was far from their biggest, but did represent a bit of a comeback after four years or so of relative obscurity.

Although they hit the top 40 simultaneously, the two bands careers took different paths after 1987. R.E.M. of course signed to Warner Brothers and became arguably the biggest American band of the first half of the ’90s. Squeeze on the other hand have carried on, with a couple of breaks, ever since but had difficulty finding a big audience after it.


12 thoughts on “October 17 – Two Great Bands Squeeze Into Top 40

  1. ‘Hourglass’ is forgotten here, though it is a great 80s number, not harmed by very watchable vid. And on REM’s loving ‘One I Love’- listen up past the chorus people! How many weddings have a dewy eyed loving couple walked away from and onto the dance floor listening to the Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take/Ode To Stalking?’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘The One I Love’ is a good one…though they’d had much better before that went unnoticed. Mind-boggling though that people just assumed it was a nice love song, much like The Police’s ‘Every breath…’ as you suggest.
      The Squeeze song’s not bad, but likewise, they’d had much better before. Nice to see them have an American hit though nonetheless.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Badfinger (Max)

    Squeeze had it all… some great pop songs from them. We have talked about it before but I first noticed them with East Side Story and all of the Beatles comparisons…which didn’t help I’m sure.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Badfinger (Max)

        When I got their greatest hits…I thought…wow…not all were hits here but they all sounded great…hit or not….of course “hit” doesn’t mean a lot to me.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, I’ve had ‘Singles 45 & under’ a couple of times, now I have a slightly expanded GH and it’s one I can listen to start to finish & like every track. ‘Another Nail thru my Heart’ seemed like a big hit in Toronto & introduced them to me, but wasn’t a major chart hit anywhere apparently

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes it is ironic about “The One I Love” but like Steve Martin said (paraphrasing) “nobody writes sad banjo music.” They tricked the listeners with the lyrics on that one. I admit it took me awhile before the lyrics sank in. I remember the Squeeze song Hourglass but only vaguely.

    Liked by 1 person

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