High school was a funny time. Well, at least it was a funny time for me. Girls confused me. Classes challenged me. Music entertained me. Books engaged me. I was discovering who I was…what I liked. What I cared about. What caught my attention.
It was during my murky teen years that MTV was beginning to breakthrough, and for any teenage music fan in the early 1980’s, this was a major event. Short music promotional films all day and all night. Not much in the way of rap, hip hop or soul music yet, but lots of rock and roll, punk and alternative music.
I find myself criticizing my own kids for how much television they watch, but then I remember my own checkered past with MTV. I would sit in front of that television all day. It could be in the suburbs of Chicago or the mountains of the Vail ski resort. I didn’t care. I was watching. Waiting for the next great song. Thrilled with the imagination of the videos. Finding new songs and new artists. Keeping up to date on all the music news.
Along the way, I discovered the band Squeeze, and boy did I feel cool. Five neatly coifed English gentlemen with perfect harmonies and a soulful groove. They were considered “alternative” new wave music, if only for the fact they did not often find themselves on the top of the music charts. I can’t remember if I heard about them first through a friend, or on MTV, but the year was 1981, and they had just released their Elvis Costello produced album East Side Story. Keyboardist and vocalist Paul Carrack had joined the band, and the music had a new sound that was immediately evocative of Motown and Stax as Carrack added new color and tonality to the vocal duo of Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford.
The Song “Tempted” was the first release off the album, and as soon as I heard it I assumed it must have been a cover of a 1960’s B-Side, originally released by The Temptations or The Four Tops.
But it was not. It was new, and it was as deeply tender and heartfelt as anything that was released that year.
The video begins with the backup singers (as the video for any great soul song should), and we see Carrack playing the organ and wailing away on the lyrics.
“I bought a toothbrush, some toothpaste
A flannel for my face
Pajamas, a hairbrush
New shoes and a case
I said to my reflection
“Let’s get out of this place””
Listening to this song as a sometimes lonely, confused teenager, the self-reflection and solitude of the song immediately spoke to me. And the music made me feel cool.
The song breaks no new lyrical ground. A man is lonely and alone. He leaves his apartment and walks down the street. To the airport. To the drug store. He is remembering his lost love, but as he mourns what once was, he is thinking about someone else.
“Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered
What’s been going on
Now that you have gone
There’s no other
Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered”
What the song may lack in lyrical introspection it makes up for in its performance. Carrack takes the first two verses, then Glenn Tillbrook takes the vocal up to an alto, contrasted by alternating bass lines sung (on the recording) by Elvis Costello, and in performance by band mate Chris Difford.
During the time of Michael Jackson dance pop, Bruce Springsteen bar rock, and Flock of Seagulls and Talk Talk techno rock, here comes a small band out of England singing an impeccably written and performed music that Lou Rawls or David Ruffin would have been honored to sing.
Tempted. By the fruit of another.
Written by Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford
Performed by Squeeze
Released July 10, 1981