“I see her beauty through the nib of my pen” – David Clifford muses on the lyrics of Chris Difford
We know how well the marriage of Glenn Tilbrook melodies align with Chris Difford’s lyrics, to form a musical partnership so beloved by Squeeze fans, but how does Mr Difford captivate our thoughts, in so few words?
Probably because he is an extremely talented man and a lyrical genius, but let us dissect a few songs and see how his words can evoke so much emotion.
Chris Difford is famed for his Play for Today style of writing, forming 3 minute kitchen sink dramas; [[Labelled With Love]], [[Up The Junction]], [[Vicky Verky]] to name just three.
If we take Vicky Verky for example and see in just two lines how he manages to evoke a vision of urban young love:
“With her hair up in his fingers
The fish and chips smell lingers”
Already we can see a young couple, whose only meal comes wrapped in yesterday’s news. Add two more lines and we can see a more complete story;
“Under amber streetlamps
She holds the law in her hands”
There you have it; in just 23 words, you have a setting, a focus, an image and a story. Some authors cannot set such a scene in 4 chapters, but Chris Difford can instil this vision in just 4 lines. As to what the “She holds the law in her hands” line actually means is debateable, so any offers would be greatly received. Personally I think it’s related to the fact that our young couple maybe interested in activities that, given their age, would contravene certain legislation.
[[Up The Junction]] is an absolute classic song. One of the reasons why it still attracts listeners today, I think, is that it is still relevant. This same story is perpetuated through time, again and again young couples will fall in love, move in together, etc. etc. and the poignancy of the lyrics and the story threaded through Up The Junction ring true today, just as much as it did when it was first written. Juxtaposing a song lyric to real life and finding a link to the listener, that is a true writing talent. People will always listen to songs that they feel connected to and have an affinity with.
Talking of love and loss, on the Sweets From a Stranger album you will find the upbeat tune, but downbeat lyric of I Can’t Get Up Anymore. The last lines of which encapsulates, with a slightly tongue in cheek comment, the feeling of despair of lost love and not having someone close to you;
“All this hunger and trial won’t achieve a result
But a nut can’t keep tight without the help of a bolt”
I think those lines are pure magic, a lyrical imagery – taking unrelated words and aligning them to a story of love and loss. Chris Difford is clearly the master of the musical simile.
Continuing the lost love theme; look at the first couple of lines to [[Another Nail In My Heart]] – if you want to capture a moment of losing love, then here’s how to do it so poetically;
“The case was pulled from under the bed
She made a call to a sympathetic friend
And made arrangements”
This not only tells us that a loved one is leaving, but gives us a starting point for the story. Again, it is succinct and to the point, but perhaps sympathetic to the one that is going, what do you think?
As has been proven so many times through his solo work and obviously all the work with Squeeze; Chris Difford can certainly paint wonderful and descriptive vignettes with his lyrics. Taking on the love and loss genre so well, it is so easy to feel sorry for the one retelling the tale or the subject of the song.
Here’s another example of pinpoint accuracy when describing a moment in time and in this case an emotion as well. In [[Everything In The World]] we open to a scene in an airport, but how does Chris convey the emotion felt? Well in just two classic lines we get that feeling;
“There’s two lonely faces
And one of them’s the clock”
That is how lonely he feels! Sheer sublime poetry! Beautifully crafted words there and so few of them, but the vision in our heads is clear. Here we have our esteemed writer painting another lyrical landscape for us to conjure up images in our own minds.
I think that is an important point to remember; each song will portray different meanings to different listeners. Overall the outcome might be the same, but the musical route to get to the end, may take the listener down a different path, due to a different perception. But that’s alright. That’s what art is about; beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case it’s the ear!
Similarly in the bright and breezy; [[This Summer]] we find some amazing ways to express love and this time this isn’t lost love, this is pure, fun-filled togetherness;
“Of how we shared those fun fair rides
Beneath the brightness of the night”
More than that, you have these other few lines, which for me, say so much more than the 22 words that they are;
“Mornings pass us by
As curtains hide the sun
Nights we spent out of control
Like two flags wrapped around a pole”
For me, those lines would take a plethora of pages to describe in a Mills and Boon novel, but here Chris manages to do it in so few words, but with so much passion. I absolutely love those lines. What about you? What are your favourite lines?
Let’s bring it right up to date with a lovely few lines from Everything; a track off the new album Cradle To The Grave;
“And how we are is all
A part of where we’ve been
A slice of every day
A piece of everything”
These lines I feel are slightly different to the others that we have looked at. To me they say a lot of things, without saying anything at all. They just fit so well together, expressing so much, but what? It’s down to the listener again to ascertain from their own perceptions what the words mean to them. Which takes us back to Up The Junction; if you feel an affinity to a lyric, because your perceptions of the lyrics mean something to you, then that is ‘job done’ for the lyric writer. They have managed to get under your skin. Or slip into your psyche and plant that seed which will blossom into an imagined vision inside your head, buoyed along by a beautiful melody. But that’s Squeeze all over.
We have only just scratched the surface here and there are more wonderful lyrics to explore.
One final note on the words of Chris Difford and it is only fitting that this final note should be a lyric from Mr Difford again. In the song Depression; which was only a Squeeze demo according to the book; The Lyrics of Chris Difford; we find one line that encapsulates the ability of Chris when it comes to lyric writing;
“I see her beauty through the nib of my pen”
Not only her beauty, but the beauty in all the songs we hear from Chris Difford and Squeeze.
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