How I wrote ‘Cool For Cats’ by Squeeze’s Chris Difford
We speak with double Ivor Novello Award-winning lyricist and founding member of Squeeze about one of their most famous songs
Frequently compared with Lennon and McCartney, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook have been lauded as a songwriting duo since their new wave band Squeeze’s first release in 1978. With hits such as Up The Junction, Goodbye Girl, Pulling Mussels From The Shell, Tempted, and so many more, the group established themselves as a vital part of quintessentially British music.
But it was their second single Cool For Cats that peaked at No 2 on the UK Singles Chart in 1979, making the release one of the band’s biggest hits. The song also features a rare lead vocal performance from Chris.
We asked the acclaimed wordsmith to tell us how he and Glenn crafted one of their coolest compositions (that’s not just for felines)…
“We were very fluent in those days, so we used to write two or three songs-a-day, sometimes. It was like we were courting each other, in a relationship way, I suppose, and we just really enjoyed the process of writing.
“It became very apparent that Glenn would write the music, sing and produce, and I’d write the lyrics. There was very little conversation about what we did; we kind of respected what our talents were and just let each do what we needed to do, and that formed the nucleus of the Squeeze catalogue, I suspect. In those days, there was nothing else to do but write songs, drink beer, smoke dope and just hang out, but as you get older you get other responsibilities, your mind is taken off in different directions and you lose the concentration – well, I did anyway – to be in a band.
“I think we evolved with each song we wrote and with each album that we made. They’re all different. The evolution of Squeeze has taken many turns because we’ve had different musicians in the band over the years, different producers, different record labels, and we’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by good people, most of the time, who’ve cared about Squeeze and made it a success. It’s not just the combination of myself and Glenn writing songs, it’s the combination of musicianship and good spirit.
“The creativity came thick and fast, and there was nothing that stood in its way. So when your channels are open, and you’ve got time, then it’s quite easy for inspiration to come and it’s a very exciting process… There was no plan and no stream of consciousness, it was just what I did. I got a pen and paper and started writing ideas down, but I never questioned or planned anything, and that’s kind of what was the beauty of being young and writing songs. I didn’t make it difficult for myself, I just enjoyed the process.”
“Cool For Cats has the most famous story, I suppose. Glenn had already written the tune and we’d used a lyric on the backing track, but it didn’t sound that great. It was unrecognisable and a completely different melody.
“So he persuaded me to rewrite the lyric. So I went back to my house – a flat in London, my first flat that was mine, away from my parents – put the cassette on, watched Benny Hill on television and then the lyric just fell out on the table. So I blame him!
“I wasn’t trying to get across anything [with the lyric] other than to try to fill the gap in the music, by putting some words to it. I don’t remember there being anything other than a situation of wanting to have a bit of fun with the backing track. We were young and enthusiastic, and anything went, so I suppose the lyric was perfect for that song. There was no ambition for it, it was kind of what it was, thankfully.
“It was easy. I can’t say that there was any blood and sweat, it just happened. When those things occur in your life they’re the best things.
“It was recorded at John Wood’s studio in Kensington, Chelsea, but I don’t remember much about the recording of it, apart from the middle bit where no one could decide what was going to happen – whether there was going to be a guitar solo, a drum solo or a keyboard solo, so I think they all just happened at the same time. So I think it’s a bit weird that that bit has never really done anything, it’s a bridge from one verse to another.
“The album [also called Cool For Cats] was recorded, first by a guy called Brian Humphries at Britannia Row in London, but we didn’t like what he did. So we went back in the studio with John Wood and then it became something completely different and much, much better.
“[Cool For Cats was recorded] towards the latter part of the record, I think. To be honest, we recorded all the songs at the same time, so I don’t remember them separately. It was just the process of going into the studio with loads of songs, some musicians, a bit of cheese on toast, and then we’re off!
“I didn’t have a clue [that it would be so successful]. I’m not very good at picking winners, unfortunately!”