It’s always folly to compare any songwriting duo to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, because the songwriting engine of The Beatles will always be beyond anything else like it in pop and rock music. Yet the duo of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, who wrote the songs for UK band Squeeze, probably did as well as any pair ever saddled with the “Next Lennon and McCartney” moniker.
The partnership was somewhat odd in that Difford wrote the lyrics and Tilbrook handled the music, pretty much exclusively so in both cases. Throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s, Difford’s wry, nimble wordplay and Tilbrook’s keen melodic sense powered a steady stream of hit albums and singles, at least in England. Squeeze’s success was a bit more muted in the U.S., but “Tempted” helped to break down the American door for the band.
The song was the centerpiece of the band’s fantastic 1981 album East Side Story, which was co-produced by Elvis Costello. (That’s E.C. singing the low vocal in the second verse of “Tempted.”) Difford explained to Songfacts how the song came to him during the band’s travels. “Tempted was written in a cab on the way to Heathrow, I just wrote down what I saw and how I felt as we wormed our way through the traffic,” he said. “I also must have anticipated a good time on tour as the chorus suggests.”
“Tempted” tells of the narrator’s futile attempts to stay faithful to the woman he addresses in the song while dealing with temptations on the road. Squeeze had a secret weapon to help put the song across in keyboardist-vocalist Paul Carrack. Carrack joined the band for East Side Story, and his soulful vocals found some profound, buried emotions in Difford’s guilt-ridden to-do-list.
It’s a credit to Difford that he is willing to show his narrator’s struggles maintaining his fidelity, as opposed to writing another clichéd anthem about the rock star on the road pining for his girl at home. For his part, Tilbrook created a melody that’s both instantly catchy and sturdy enough to endure. And Carrack pulled it all together with a vocal that makes you feel every bit of this guy’s torment, which is crucial to making him relatable to the audience.
We leave this sad sack standing in front of a mirror asking his reflection for some kind of sign as to the path he should take. The song wouldn’t hit even the Top 40 in the US, but it would become ubiquitous in TV shows, movies, and commercials over the years while it simultaneously gained a foothold on 80’s-based radio stations. They may not have been Lennon and McCartney, but Difford and Tilbrook, with a big assist from Carrack, sure captured Beatlesque pop perfection with “Tempted.”