One day in the 1970s, Pete Townshend went into a music shop and bought an accordion. Learning the instrument inspired him to compose a song during the period when he was writing for what became the album The Who By Numbers.
The number was called “Squeeze Box,” and Pete admitted in his autobiography Who I Am that he wrote it entirely for his own amusement, and didn’t even include it among the batch of songs he presented to Roger Daltrey for consideration for the upcoming album project. The man who persuaded Townshend that he should do the song, with the band, was his old mate from the Small Faces and the Faces, Ronnie Lane.
After the film version of his musical epic Tommy, Pete found himself disillusioned with The Who, and felt that the band had reached a natural conclusion. But he was urged to persevere, not least by his guru Meher Baba, and the album was completed to considerable acclaim and success. Furthermore, “Squeeze Box” became its flagship single, released first in America, where it made the Billboard Hot 100 on November 29, 1975.
The Who hadn’t had a Top 20 hit single in the US since “Join Together” in 1972, so expectations were fairly modest as “Squeeze Box” made its chart bow at No.89. But it made steady progress, and by Christmas week, was sitting just outside the Top 40. More sales and airplay accrued in early 1976, and the single peaked at No.16, for two weeks, in February. To this day, it remains The Who’s longest-running US hit single, with a 16-week shelf life.
A December 1975 review by Cash Box of the band’s show in Houston had special praise for the song, noting that it “came across with the same down in the dirt hardness as the band’s more overt offerings. Of particular note was the trading off of musical ground between Townshend and [John] Entwistle.”
“Squeeze Box” was released in the UK in the new year and became a Top 10 hit, at No. 10, also hitting No.2 in Ireland and going all the way to No.1 in Canada. Ronnie Lane’s enthusiasm for the song was well placed.
Buy or stream “Squeeze Box” on The Who By Numbers.