The Meaning Behind “Black Coffee in Bed” by Squeeze and How It Was Inspired by a Stained Notebook

Few bands who came of age in the late ’70s and early ’80s released music that has stood the test of time like the British outfit Squeeze was able to do. That’s because the band’s success had nothing to do with hopping on any musical trends. Instead, it was all about songwriting, which never goes out of style. With songs like “Black Coffee in Bed,” they ensured their music would enjoy a lengthy shelf life.

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What’s the meaning of this classic track? How did the songwriting partnership of Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford put songs like this together? And how was Difford inspired by a piece of stationery lying around? Find out as we look back at how “Black Coffee in Bed” first percolated.

The Rise of Squeeze

Squeeze’s founding duo of Tilbrook and Difford remain in the band today, about 50 years after they first met and began writing songs together. That process has also become a major part of the band’s lore. Basically, Difford writes the lyrics and hands them off to Tilbrook who then puts those words to a tune. Other than Elton John and Bernie Taupin, it’s hard to find any other rock songwriting partnerships of that type that have enjoyed as much success.

The band’s debut album miscast them as a kind of experimental pop group. But they quickly hit their stride with their 1979 record Cool for Cats, which focused on the razor-sharp songwriting of Difford and Tilbrook. Squeeze scored a number of hits in the United Kingdom over the next several years. Their early rise peaked with the 1981 album East Side Story, which is regarded by many as one of the ’80s finest albums. It featured “Tempted,” the first song of theirs to receive significant airplay in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the pace they were keeping and the pressure on Difford and Tilbrook to keep churning out hits started to catch up with them. Paul Carrack, who sang lead on “Tempted,” left to pursue a solo career. The 1982 album Sweets from a Stranger betrays exhaustion and a lack of inspiration. The band broke up as a result, although it was short-lived—they reunited for a new album in 1985.

But Sweets from a Stranger wasn’t a complete loss. It included a soulful, ambitious single featuring an impassioned vocal and a high-wire guitar solo by Tilbrook. And it was all inspired by a stained notebook.

Making “Coffee”

“Black Coffee in Bed” came to life when Difford noticed that a page on one of his writing notebooks had the outline of his coffee cup on it. That set him off on a twisting tale of a guy moving from one relationship to the next. Difford told American Songwriter in a 2019 interview he made sure to hold onto the notebook:

“Yeah, I still have the notepad in my office. That’s how the opening lines always happen,” he said. “In fact, I’ve been working on something today that came from a picture that I saw. That’s how a lot of songs start. You have to see something or visualize an image, and pick up a pen and off you go.”

The Meaning of “Black Coffee in Bed”

“Black Coffee in Bed” explains how difficult it is to shake a fractured romantic relationship when there are reminders everywhere. There’s a stain on my notebook where your coffee cup was, the narrator begins, setting us up for the way these details keep tripping him up. But the song also allows this guy the chance to move on, thanks to a friend whom he’s been seeing.

It’s not like he’s completely in the clear: With the way that you left me I can hardly contain / The hurt and the anger and the joy of the pain. Instead of wallowing, he chooses to gather optimism for a fresh relationship: Now knowing I’m single, there’ll be fire in my eyes / And a stain in my notebook for a new love tonight.

Still, we think this guy doth protest too much, claiming there’s nothing of your love that I’ll ever miss, and the stain on my notebook says nothing to me. We believe that it says everything about his mixed emotions that he has fixated on it so. “Black Coffee in Bed” provides a stellar example of how smart songwriting infused with heart—something Squeeze managed with regularity—can outlast any musical fads.

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Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

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