Up the Junction is the eighth track on, and third single from, Squeeze’s second album, Cool for Cats (1979). The song became one of Squeeze’s most successful singles, reaching number two on the UK chart and has become one of their most enduring and recognisable compositions. The tale of working class life set in the band’s native South London is notable for not having a chorus, instead using key changes to its base progression in order to mirror the dramatic arc of its storyline. ”. Structurally, the song is similar to Bob Dylan’s Positively 4th Street (1965), which songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook have cited as an influence. In a piece written for The Guardian on the 5th May 2015, Tilbrook stated “There’s no chorus because I thought a repeated section would spoil the flow of Chris’s story”.
Lyrically, the song is well-known for its use of half rhymes. For example, “ready” and “telly”; “kitchen” and “missing”. The title of the song is not sung until the final line. Difford has been known to cite Roxy Music’s Virginia Plain (1972), which similarly only has the song’s title in the last line, as the inspiration for this.
Difford has acknowledged that the song takes its title from the 1965 television play Up the Junction, aired as part of The Wednesday Play series, directed by Ken Loach, and the subsequent film version, released in 1968.
The play is, in turn, based on Neil Dunn’s collection of short stories of the same name, first published in 1963. The film version of Up the Junction featured a song named also named Up the Junction by Manfred Mann, which is unrelated to Squeeze’s song.
Although Squeeze’s Up the Junction is not a retelling of the play, it does include several parallels. Firstly, both the play and Squeeze’s song are a portrayal of daily life in the Clapham area of London, the song beginning with the lines “I never thought it would happen, With me and a girl from Clapham”. The “Junction” in both the song and the play refers to Clapham Junction railway station. Clapham is seven miles southwest of Deptford, where the band is from. The term ‘up the junction’ is English slang meaning without hope, or taken at its crudest level with another English colloquialism, ‘screwed’. In turn, ‘screwed’ is also a colloquialism for someone who has just had sexual intercourse, thus linking in with the theme of pregnancy in both the play and particularly in the song, in which it is a main theme. The use of colloquial working class language is prominent in both the song and the play.
As the song continues, the “windy common” mentioned as the place where ‘it happened’ between the song’s protagonist and his love interest is a 200 acre park in Clapham which has sports fields, freshwater ponds, a bandstand and its own tube station. Further into the song, following a verse of flirting between the couple, we find the lines “We moved into a basement, With thoughts of our engagement, We stayed in by the telly, Although the room was smelly”. Here, the protagonist and love interest are living together and thinking about marriage. They are living very modestly but happily, staying at home and enjoying each other’s company and watching the television. Further to this, in the following lines, “We spent our time just kissing, The Railway Arms we’re missing, But love has got us hooked up, And all our time it took up” sees the couple loved up and starting a new way of life away from the local pub, “The Railway Arms”.
In the following verse, the protagonist tells of how he “got a job with Stanley, He said I’d come in handy, And started me on Monday, So I had a bath on Sunday”. The first day of a new job being a special enough occasion to have a bath is a reflection of the economic situation of the characters in the song. Additionally, the idea of having a bath as and when needed is an example of the humorous self-defacing attitude towards British working class life prominent in the song. For further examples of this, see the line “She dealt out all the rations, With some or other passions” in the first verse. This line not only depicts the love interest playing hard to get but is also a comment on rationing in post-World War Two Britain, which didn’t end until 1954. If we were to take the song to be set in the same era as the play, with the book on which it was based having been published in 1963, then although rationing was finished, it would have still been very fresh in the memories of the characters involved. Also, the couple live in a “basement”, which has connotations of them being at the bottom of the property ladder.
In the next verse, “I worked eleven hours, And bought the girl some flowers, She said she’d seen a doctor, And nothing now could stop her”, we see the change in circumstances which informs the rest of the song. Interestingly, after the love interest finds out she is pregnant, the song’s tempo speeds up, perhaps referring to the passage of time taking on a new speed and evoking the chaos which the couple are thrown into.
For the next verse, “I worked all through the winter, The weather brass and bitter, I put away a tenner, Each week to make her better, And when the time was ready, We had to sell the telly, Late evenings by the fire, With little kicks inside her”, the song shifts from a major to minor key in order to simulate the passing of time and circumstance and the change of season. The “brass” is another British colloquialism from the phrase “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”. It is derived from small monkeys cast from alloy brass which were very common tourist souvenirs from China and Japan in the 19th and 20th centuries. They often, although not always, came in a set of three representing the Three Wise Monkeys carved in wood above the Shrine of Toshogu in Nikko, Japan. Some sets added a fourth monkey with its hand covering its genitals. Similarly, “tenner” is another British colloquialism, meaning ten pounds. The fact that the couple have “to sell the telly [another colloquialism, meaning television]” shows how tight money is, particularly with their new arrival imminent. The couple also live in cramped conditions; note how their living quarters is referred to as a “room” earlier in the song. This means they would be thinking there would now be very little room for a “telly” once the baby arrived. The fact that the couple are sitting in front of the fire in the penultimate line of the verse is telling of the coldness of the couple’s flat during the winter.
The next verse, “This morning at four fifty, I took her rather nifty, Down to an incubator, Where thirty minutes later, She gave birth to a daughter, Within a year a walker, She looked just like her mother, If there could be another”, switches back to the major key, conveying the joy of childbirth. This joy is short-lived, as the next verse explains: “And now she’s two years older, Her mother’s with a soldier, She left me when my drinking, Became a proper stinging, The devil came and took me, From bar to street to bookie, no more nights by the telly, no more nappies smelling”. In this verse, the stress of fatherhood has taken its toll on the protagonist, his partner and his daughter are no longer in his life and he has succumbed to the twin vices of drinking and gambling.
The following verse, “Alone here in the kitchen, I feel there’s something missing, I’d beg for some forgiveness, But begging’s not my business, And she won’t write a letter, Although I always tell her, And so it’s really my assumption, I’m really up the junction” finds the protagonist missing his partner and daughter and his old life but admitting that it is his own fault that he is on his own. The fact that he wants his ex-spouse to write a letter shows that the protagonist wants to make amends for his wrongdoings and have his family back in his life. The brilliance of the song’s composition is seen in the way in which the final line, featuring the phrase “up the junction”, referring to both the hopelessness of the situation and Clapham Junction, brings the song full circle with the opening scene, “I never thought it would happen, With me and a girl from Clapham”.
And what became of the “girl from Clapham”? She reappears in the later Squeeze song A Moving Story, from their 1998 album Domino.
The music video for Up the Junction features the band playing in a flat. The flat is actually John Lennon’s old house, the same house where the promotional film for Imagine was filmed. Additionally, the song is also notable for its accompanying Top of the Pops performance, for which the band, miming to the song, swapped instruments. For example, singer Glenn Tilbrook is on drums and pianist Jools Holland is on guitar.