Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)

Album: Argybargy (1980)
Charted: 44
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • According to Squeeze lyricist Chris Difford, this song was inspired by a vacation (or as he says, "holiday") that his parents sent him on to Margate, which is a seaside resort in Kent, England. Difford told us: "We stayed in the caravan at a holiday camp. There was a club there where bands played and the song reflects that atmosphere of the traditional working class 'get away from it all' weekend. It was the first time I had really looked up into the sky to see what it was like. It was a beautiful dark sky and it felt amazing to be away from London."
  • Difford wrote this in the style of Small Faces, which he describes as "An English band that wrote very English lyrics." A breakdown of some of the lyrics:
    Camber Sands - a resort in Camber, England.
    Harold Robbins - an American author whose books include Never Love A Stranger and Where Love Has Gone.
    William Tell - an expert marksman who, according to legend, shot an arrow off his son's head with a crossbow.
    Maid Marian - Robin Hood's girlfriend.
  • Glenn Tilbrook, who writes the music for Squeeze, told us about writing the song: "Songs to me are like diary excerpts, as musically when I hear them, I go right back to where I was at that point. Where I was at that point, I don't know whether you call it an apartment, but it was basically just one room and a kitchen. And from my first royalty check I bought a piano, I bought a mini Moog, I bought a 4-track recorder. And that was all I needed, I was happy. So I'd just stay in the middle of the night and write and write and write, and that was great for me. It was really good. I was also smoking a bit of weed at the time, so everything was very slow. But 'Pulling Mussels' and 'Another Nail For My Heart,' which we wrote within days of each other, were really, really slow." (Read more in our interview with Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze. The Squeeze site is squeezeofficial.com.)
  • The famous piano part of this song was performed by Jools Holland, who was an original member of Squeeze. Holland would later tour with his own rhythm and blues orchestra, and went on to host the UK music program Later with Jools Holland.
  • Some listeners thought this song was about masturbation - after all, he was completing his holiday behind the chalet - what else could he be doing back there?

Comments: 12

  • Anonymous from MinneapolisI am sorry but pulling mussels from a shell is a well-known slang for clitoral stimulation...tiptoe feet behind the chalet. making out
  • K from UkI grew up with Squeeze and as a little girl I didn't know the exact specifics of what it meant but even so as a little girl I was still 100% sure and aware it was a very cheeky euphemism.
  • Nickster from Minneapolis, MnApple. William Tell shot an apple off his son's head with a crossbow.
  • Aps412 from Pittsburgh, UsaPlok from UK: you just blew my mind. Can I marry you?!?
  • Terry Arnold from Camber Sands Glen you stayed with us at Camber at the time of the writing of Pulling mussels. You have my mum to thank for that. And a little extra info you may not know is that your dad and my dad was good friends. Would love to hear from you. Take care stay safe.
  • Plok from UkMost cultures have slang terms for female genitalia that involve aquatic animals. Americans think they smell like tuna, Asians think they look like clams. Britons think steamed mussels look like labia, and if you ever seen steamed mussels it's difficult to argue the point - they *do* look like labia. "Pulling mussels" is Cockney slang for actually gaining access to someone's ladyparts, in much the same way someone might refer to cunnilingus as 'clam diving'.

    So he's not going behind the chalet to have a wank - boys wank anywhere, the place rarely matters and certainly won't be remembered years later in any lyric-worthy light. And waking 'completes' nothing; left to their own devices, they'll be at it again 20 minutes later. But the first time you had your hands down someone's pants, the first time you undressed someone, the first time the desire of the heart was answered with the desire of the body; these things you remember forever. It is implicit in the slang that he pulled the 'mussels' out of the 'shell'... to whatever extent, this was a sexual encounter. And to whatever extent it meant to him, he "hit the target": all those references to archery. William Tell, Robin Hood. Maid Marion, on her tiptoed feet.

    The verses are about the banal joys of the working class, paying to spend their weekends in 'holiday camps' where they supposedly have 'fun' doing the same things they would be doing at the pub had they stayed at home... the sort of place a teen can spot as nonsense on first sight. The chorus is about the genuine joys he discovered in the midst of all of that banality, behind the chalet with Maid Marion on her tiptoed feet. A discovery that made him feel heroic, like Robin Hood. An event that would someday be worthy of enshrining in lyrics, just as it was enshrined in memory.

    Nowadays people seem to prefer revisionist interpretations, usually because they are offended by the meaning of the slang. I think the song is sweet... it's a memory about finding something beautiful and pure in the middle of a sea of banality. And/or getting randy with someone at summer camp, which, let's be honest, was pretty much indistinguishable from beautiful and true the first time we encountered it.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn November 20th 1982, the Squeeze performed "Annie Get Your Gun" on the NBC-TV program 'Saturday Night Live'*...
    The song would peak at #16 in Ireland; and in the U.S.A. it reached #40 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart...
    And on the same 'SNL' show they also performed "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)"; it peaked at #44 in the United kingdom in 1980...
    * The host for this episode of "Saturday Night Live' was seven year-old actress, Drew Barrymore.
  • Jess from LondonWell I like all these ideas. But ultimately, it doesn't have to be so literal, does it? He's just having a good time, maybe he's kissing the girl, maybe more, maybe not. He's plucking the prize from the shell of life, the world's his oyster, right? Though I do like the phrase "ripe for removal".
  • David from Leicester, United Kingdom"Pulling mussels from a shell"...........not kissing...........imagine the situation....teenage boy, teenage girl, hormones raging - holiday romance. If you look at a mussell freshly cooked, the shell opens and there sits the mussell, ripe for removal - looking very much like a lady's "front bottom" - it's about a hand down a pair of knickers!....sorry for being slightly graphic!!
  • Jack from Raleigh, NcThe above comment reminds me of the summer of 80 or 81. This song was on the radio all the time while we were all at the beach, and we would sing out loud to our friend Michelle "Pulling Muscles from Michelle". She got pretty tired of this after several hundred repeats.
  • William from South Portland, MeOk, so I've been listening to bits and pieces of this song and other Squeeze tunes for the better part of three decades, but it wasn't until I recently read the entire interview with Squeeze here on Songfacts that I really became a Squeeze fan. Suddenly, I was able to put some kind of human element into the lyrics that had never really existed before. I always sort of wondered what the "pulling mussels from the shell" thing was all about, so I set out to really give the song a good listen and see what I could come up with. Well.....the lyrics indicate: "But, behind the chalet, the holiday's complete, and I feel like William Tell, Maid Marion on her tip-toe feet, pulling mussels from a shell, pulling mussels from a shell." You see, it's not about self-pleasuring - well, not exactly. It's about kissing!! Tonsil hockey, French-kissing, you know the drill! (Pun intended!! ;-) The guy is having an okay holiday with all the regular things, but life gets really great when our hero dude (who thinks of himself as William Tell) meets up with this chick (Maid Marion). He's taller, like 6'3" and she's shorter, say 5'3". So, she's on her tip-toes and he's kinds slouched over, and they're going at it wicked-hard, trying to tongue-stab each other to death. Of course, during all the heavy petting, everyone knows that the underside of your tongue looks a lot like a mussel when it's being pulled out of it's shell. Please tell me I'm right, because I can so see this!!!! Or, it could be that old William has unhooked Marion's bra-strap - which could be described likewise, mussels (boobie) from the shell (bra cup). Hey, one man's thoughts. If you don't like it, sue me!!!!! ;-)
  • Zabadak from London, EnglandSome people mis-hear the title of this as Pulling Muscles From Michelle!"
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Zac Hanson

Zac HansonSongwriter Interviews

Zac tells the story of Hanson's massive hit "MMMbop," and talks about how brotherly bonds effect their music.

Stephen Christian of Anberlin

Stephen Christian of AnberlinSongwriter Interviews

The lead singer/lyricist for Anberlin breaks down "Impossible" and covers some tracks from their 2012 album Vital.

Van Dyke Parks

Van Dyke ParksSongwriter Interviews

U2, Carly Simon, Joanna Newsom, Brian Wilson and Fiona Apple have all gone to Van Dyke Parks to make their songs exceptional.

Ian Astbury of The Cult

Ian Astbury of The CultSongwriter Interviews

The Cult frontman tells who the "Fire Woman" is, and talks about performing with the new version of The Doors.

Graham Bonnet (Alcatrazz, Rainbow)

Graham Bonnet (Alcatrazz, Rainbow)Songwriter Interviews

Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai were two of Graham's co-writers for some '80s rock classics.

Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne

Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of WayneSongwriter Interviews

The guy who brought us "Stacy's Mom" also wrote the Jane Lynch Emmy song and Stephen Colbert's Christmas songs.