The Album -- Squeeze, "East Side Story," A&M SP4854; The Show -- Friday at 8 at the Ontario.

The history of Squeeze should serve as a lesson for record labels large and small, il.e. , if you're gonna sign 'em, stick with 'em -- at least until they've settled into some kind of definable pattern.

A&M followed this rare practice with Garland Jeffreys, and while he's still not seting any commercial records, he's turned out to be one of the better investments in good rock and roll.

When A&M signed Squeeze (then U.K. Squeeze) in 1978, it was a motley assortment of Brits whose quasi-progressive technology rock constituted les of a style than a smarty-pants swagger. One name change tells progressions and lyrical style. McCarneyesque tunes like "Heaven" and Someone Else's Bell" are so straightforward and confident that Mr. M. himself would do well to take a leson from these upstarts.

Tilbrok and Difford give the yelvis Costello/Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds trinity a pretty good run for its money as well, particularly on "Woman's World" and "F-Hole." It's not surprising that Costello and Edmunds helped Roger Bechirian produce "East Side Story"; what's nice is that the group never capitulates to those stronger, more firmly established musical personalities.

Squeeze's retention of a collective sense of self is the real delight of this album. There may be simulation or even outright adulation, but there's no mindless imitation to be found on these 14 well-formed tracks.

Furthermore, drummer Gilson Lavis resists dominating the sometimes spare arrangements, and Paul Carrackhs keyboards lend the perfect amount of spice and spirit.

All of which just goes to demonstrate that, given the time to develop and even change, pop artists can do an A&R person's initial instincts proud.

And four rather shoddy albums later, they've hit their stride stylistically -- and perhaps even commercially, although that remains to be seen.

"East Side Story" is such a pure pop product whatever filler exists ("In Quintessence, "Mumbo Jumbo") would outshine half the rock presently masquerading as hit material. So well has the group narrowed its focus that what used to be a lack of style has evolved into thoughtful eclecticism.

Composer Glen Tilbrook complements the lyrics of Chris Difford in a natural, uncomplicated way, and the balance provides the very heart of Squeeze's sound. The different motifs they use to decorate their little forays into human relationships are sincere and convincing, even when the verses are humorous.

The soulfulness of "Tempted," therefore, comes off as, well, soul, rather than a tongue-in-cheek, Blues Brothers-type "tribute" to the genre or a niggling, insecure Hall-and-Oates attempt at it. And the bittersweet country accents that color "Labelled with Love" are authentic enough to satisfy any George Jones fan -- sentimental without being overblown.

When not dabbling in more traditional American forms, Squeeze puts together a fine pre-punk Anglo-pop. The group is completely uninhibited in its veneration of Bea