Squeeze's "Tempted" is one of the oddest popular songs of the '80s. It's far from the band's biggest hit, yet it's the song they're arguably best known for, some 40 years later. How did this happen?
To answer that question, you have to go back four decades. The British band, anchored by singer/songwriter/lyricist Chris Difford and singer/songwriter/guitarist Glenn Tilbrook, had been together for several years when, in 1979, they scored a pair of back-to-back No. 2 hits: the raucous, Difford-sung "Cool for Cats" and the Beatlesque, Tilbrook-led "Up the Junction." The duo's irresistible combination of stick-in-your-ear melodies and slice-of-life lyrics made them popular in the burgeoning post-punk/New Wave scene in England, and they toured alongside the likes of The Police (having shared a manager) and Elvis Costello.
The plan for the album that became East Side Story was initially a double album, with a side produced by a bevy of pop and post-punk all-stars: Costello, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and a lad from Liverpool named Paul McCartney. Unfortunately, that idea didn't pan out: the album was mostly recorded with Costello and his engineer Roger Bechirian. (Edmunds contributed some production, including a scrapped version of "Tempted" that the band later suggested sounded more like Electric Light Orchestra.)
Difford's observant lyrics, he told Songfacts, were “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...I also must have anticipated a good time on tour as the chorus suggests." Tilbrook split vocal duties on the track with keyboardist Paul Carrack, known for his work in Ace and Roxy Music and a recent replacement for the band's departing member Jools Holland. (Costello supplies the distinctive low notes.) Though it missed the Top 40 on either side of the Atlantic, audiences loved its soulful style and gripping narrative - and before long, Difford and Tilbrook were being compared in the press to Lennon and McCartney.
Funnily enough, "Tempted" only got bigger with time. It's been featured in television commercials and films like Reality Bites, proving its popularity continues to endure. It's still a staple of Squeeze's live show, and sounds just as good in small theaters as it does arenas. Difford and Tilbrook continue to write killer songs together, but as far as a signature tune, there's no other than "Tempted" - and they're fine with that. "It was when we grew up, really, as a band," Tilbrook said in that Songfacts interview. "When we finished it I couldn't quite believe it was us."