I went back up to the Upper East Side recently. There's something about that part of town around the holidays that always gets me nostalgic, being that I spent most of my life up there. While strolling around in the East 70s, I was instantly reminded of this song, thinking back to my grade school days prior to the advent of MTV. I vividly remember a Friday afternoon when my friend Rich and I went back to his place on East 96th street after school and flipped on the radio (something almost unheard of, these days), spending the rest of the afternoon just listening and watching the speakers in anticipation of each new selection. Back then, the local rock stations still seemed to seamlessly venture beyond parameter. It wasn't at all unlikely to hear Traffic, Led Zeppelin and Foreigner followed in swift succession by the Talking Heads, B-52s and Adam & the Ants. It all seemed so new. It's probably idealistic and a little revisionist of me to suggest as much, but it seemed like a healthier option compared to today's rigidly compartmentalized playlists that cater exclusively to pre-market researched demographics. It just seemed more open.
Beyond those afore-mentioned artists, I also link Joe Jackson, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Elvis Costello, Blondie, Graham Parker, Split Enz, The Pretenders, Robert Gordon, Marshall Crensaw, Nick Lowe, Rockpile, The Cars and, of course, Squeeze to that era. Too accessible for orthodox Punk Rock (which I was also just discovering) and too early for the New Romantic set, these and other artists all fell under the catch-all umbrella (and hotly-contested term), "New Wave."
One of the more conventional bands of this gaggle, Squeeze's inclusion in the New Wave roster itself is somewhat arguable. Their record sleeves may have bore all the trappings of the era (day-glo colors, xeroxed photographs, angular fonts), but the band itself traded in a brand of straight-ahead pop that came steeped in the same tradition that informed Lennon & McCartney (a writing duo Squeeze's Chris Difford and Glen Tillbrook were frequently compared to -- somewhat overwhelmingly -- at the time). In the parlance of a youthful Upper East Side brat at the precipice of adolescence, although you might've heard them playing on the speakers at Fiorucci, Squeeze were always more JG Melon than CBGB. Unlike the work of so many of their garishly-sunglassed peers, Squeeze's songs eschewed paeans to urban upheaval or the exploration of dance floor frontiers in favor of mature themes, adult situations and naturalistic romantic entanglement. It wasn't at all unlikely to hear Squeeze singing about infidelity, estrangement and divorce while the rest of the world was doing "The Safety Dance."
By the same token, Squeeze still had a quirky, immediately distinctive sound. Back on the radio, once you found yourself emerging from the lethargic malaise of some awful track by Bad Company or The Doors, the opening notes of "Another Nail In My Heart" from the Argybargy album sounded legitimately like the freshest, most urgent music imaginable and a palpable blow against the empire. Never mind waving your lighter around, those taut, jumpy guitars made you want to put on your skinniest tie and pogo around the room. They may not have had the feral aesthetic of the Buzzcocks or the Ramones, but Squeeze still had caught a whiff of the future, and it didn't include plodding, self-indulgent solos.
Similarly, "Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)" retained its sibling single's energy, but packed it with a gorgeous melody, Jools Holland's amazing boogie-woogie piano and the band's signature lyrical complexity (name-checking no less than Harold Robbins and William Tell in the process). Personally speaking, I cannot hear one of these tracks without pining for the other. On East Side Story, the album that followed Argybargy, Squeeze scored their biggest hit to date with "Tempted" (featuring the then-newly recruited Paul Carrack filling in for the absent Jools Holland) and even my dad bought that one (which, of course, meant I lost all interest -- once your parents appreciate your music, it's all over). The band's hits compilation, Singles - 45's & Under became a ubiquitous staple in the record collections of virtually every person I knew, and rightly so.
Twenty-seven years later, while Squeeze's name never springs to mind when I'm asked to cite my favorite bands, I still adore both "Another Nail In My Heart" and "Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)." They might lack the venom, lyrical spite and propulsive wallop of much of my favorite music, but I know timeless pop music when I hear it.