Paul Fitzpatrick: November 2022
The 70s were awash with bands who had a couple of big hits then disappeared from the scene – Pilot, Sad Cafe and Sailor, to name a few, and if I’d been a betting man, I’d have wagered my favourite Arthur Black shirt on 10cc following a similar path.
Formed in 1972, 10cc hit the ground faster than the Roadrunner on testosterone – three top 10 singles in the space of twelve months,
including a UK number one with “Rubber Bullets”.
Despite their meteoric rise, the band struggled for credibility, probably due to their association with Jonathan King, the Svengali of bubble-gum pop, and the fact that their first three hits could understandably be described as novelty songs… although, listening to them now they stand up pretty well.
Their first release, “Donna“, was a 50’s doo-wop parody.
The follow up, “Rubber Bullets“, borrowed it’s theme from Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock”, but in typical 10cc fashion – from the warden’s perspective… “I love to hear those convicts squeal, it’s a shame those slugs ain’t real”
Their third release, “The Dean and I“, is best described as a Beach Boys pastiche concerning a coming-together at the high-school hop.
Unbeknown to most, buried amongst the bubble-gum, were some slick lyrics and savvy storytelling.
Who else would reference Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ in a song about the high-school hop or inject the lyrics “we’ve all got balls and brains, but some’s got balls and chains.” into a song about prison riots?
I’d love to say I got the hip references and sharp lyrics from the start, but truth be told they went straight over my 14 year old head.
My 10cc enlightenment came a year later in 1974 when a girl at school, who’d previously introduced me to Dark Side of The Moon, and Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs, informed me of her latest purchase – Sheet Music, 10cc’s new album.
Sensing my confusion, she told me that she’d bought the album on the back of hearing a track called “The Worst Band in The World” before reading a stellar review of the album in Melody Maker…
“They’re the Beach Boys of Good Vibrations, The Beatles of Penny Lane, they’re The Marx Brothers… they’re sheer brilliance”.
(Melody Maker, May 1974)
She duly lent me the album and whilst I didn’t buy into the hyperbole, the record was rather good, also, thanks to the accompanying sleeve notes I got an insight into their wry wordplay….
We never seen the van – leave it to the roadies
Never met the roadies – leave them in the van
All because of circumstances way beyond control
We became the darlings of this thing called rock and roll,
(“The Worst Band in The World” )
‘Dow Jones ain’t got time for the bums
They wind up on skid row with holes in their pockets
They plead with you, buddy can you spare a dime
But you ain’t got the time‘
(“Wall Street Shuffle”)
It was clear that the bands’ sound had matured from those early singles, so much so, that critics were now categorising 10cc as ‘art-rock’.
As I would discover, they were a pretty good live outfit as well….
I can’t think of many groups where every band-member can write, produce, be a multi-instrumentalist, and handle lead vocals, so it was no surprise to learn that the quartet, all in their mid-twenties, were established musicians who had decent CV’s before forming 10cc.
Kevin Godley & Lol Crème were school mates from Manchester and teamed up with another local lad, Eric Stewart, to form Hotlegs, a band would go on to have a global hit with “Neanderthal Man” in 1970.
Prior to joining, Stewart had been the lead singer in The Mindbenders, singing lead vocal on their big 60s hit “Groovy Kind of Love”.
The fourth member, Graham Gouldman, was another local lad who joined Hotlegs just before they disbanded. A sought after songwriter, Gouldman had written “Bus Stop” for The Hollies, “No Milk Today” for Hermans Hermits and “For Your Love” for The Yardbirds.
1974’s Sheet Music was a turning point for the band, gaining them credibility as album artists as well as yielding two top 20 singles, “Wall Street Shuffle” and “Silly Love”
The bands next record, The Original Soundtrack, released in 1975 saw them break away from Jonathan King’s UK label and become more experimental with sound and recording techniques.
Locked away in their state-of-the-art studio in Stockport, the band had the freedom to innovate, patenting the ‘Gizmotron’, a guitar effects device, adopted by Jimmy Page.
They also turned their hand to re-engineering conventional recording practices, most notably the use of tape-loops to create the 10cc wall-of-sound.
Best utilised on “I’m Not in Love”.
The song, written by Stewart & Gouldman, was initially a perky bossa nova that left Godley & Creme underwhelmed, however, after discarding the song the band could still hear people singing it around the studio and decided to revisit it.
Godley came up with the idea to replace the majority of instruments with a choral tsunami of voices, whilst Lol Creme figured out the tape-loop process which created the 256-voice, virtual choir effect.
I can remember reading a 1975 interview with Bryan Ferry where he claimed the first time he heard “I’m Not in Love” he pranged his car, distracted, he couldn’t work out how the hell they had created the sound.
I was fortunate enough to see 10cc live in April 1976 at the Glasgow Apollo, just after the release of the album How Dare You, the gig had been rescheduled from earlier in the year as one of the band had been ill.
I was intrigued to see if 10cc could reproduce songs like “I’m Not in Love” and “I’m Mandy Fly Me”, live on stage, but they pulled it off – they sounded just like the record.
I didn’t realise when I came away from the gig that they would split-up a matter of months later.
Creative tensions had been growing between Godley & Creme on one side and Stewart & Gouldman on the other, which came to a head during the recording of the How Dare You album.
The former wanted the music to be more experimental and push boundaries, whilst the latter were perfectly happy with the path the band were on and didn’t see the commercial sense in rocking the boat..
Kevin Godley would later concede that they all needed a break and should have taken a year or two to explore other projects with the aim of getting back together.
Unfortunately, too many were bridges burned, and the four original members never collaborated fully again.
Their swansong as the original line-up was at Knebworth in August 1976, supporting the Stones in front of 200,000 people, so it wasn’t a bad way for Godley & Creme to exit.
Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart carried on as 10cc for a while enjoying success for a few years with global hits like “The Things We Do For Love” and their last number one, 1978’s “Dreadlock Holiday”.
Meanwhile, Godley and Creme pursued their ambition to create more experimental music and had a few hits before their talents as video directors came to the fore, leading them to direct music videos for major acts like U2, Sting and Paul McCartney.
A version of 10cc still tours today, involving Graham Gouldman, which hasn’t gone down so well with some of the remaining members, and despite an excellent BBC documentary on the band which they all cordially contributed to, the prospects of them ever recording or touring again is bleak.
Were they the smartest band in the world?
Who knows, at their peak maybe they were, although I’m sure Beatles and Steely Dan fans would have something to say, but for a period in the mid 70s there weren’t many bands who were as innovative, talented and accomplished as 10cc.