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45 at 33: Squeeze’s Hourglass

Revisiting the 45 figure of Hourglass by the darlings of Deptford, Squeeze. Because we should.

The hourglass has no more grains of sand

My watch has stopped no more turning hands

The crew have abandoned ship

The lights are on but now one is in

“Hourglass had a pretty sort of disco-type beat for the demo,” explained Squeeze guitarist and lyricist and Chris Difford, the first single from the band’s seventh album, Babylon And On in 1987.

“But then, when we were all sittin’ down in the rehearsal studio, we didn’t even try it that way; we all knew that that wouldn’t be the way the song would end up. So our reference point was, what would Talking Heads do with this song? That’s what we said, and so we all imagined we were Talking Heads. And from that, the arrangement grew that sounded like us.” 

Takeittothebridge throwitoverboard

Seeifitcanswim backuptotheshore

Noonesinthehouse allthelightsareon


With Glenn Tilbrook spewing out its rapid-fire chorus and keyboardist and Tube presenter Jools Holland back in the fray — albeit temporarily — the manic momentum of Hourglass was aided by an impressive promo clip directed by Adrian Edmondson, AKA Mr Jennifer Saunders of my former stamping grounds Richmond and Dartmoor.

“I would think that the video has had a lot to do with it,” said Difford, in response to a question about the single’s success. “It’s been played a lot, and everybody you speak to compliments you on it. When you meet fans after gigs, they say, “Your video’s great.” They don’t say, “Your album’s great.” So it’s the first thing they think of.”

The Dali-inspired surrealist clip certainly was a feast for the eyes and helped propel Hourglass to become one of the band’s biggest hits, entering the UK charts on 8 August reaching No.16 five weeks later. Aided by a support slot on the American leg of David Bowie’s Glass Spider folly, it managed to go one place better at 15th place across the pond and despite its doomy subject matter remains Squeeze’s highest charting US single. Go figure.

Steve Pafford

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