of the Week #10
By Beppe Colli
When thinking about the Summer
"hits" of 1970, these are the names of the songs that came to my
mind: American Woman, by the Guess Who; Question, by the Moody Blues; Instant Karma!,
by John Lennon; In The Summertime, by Mungo Jerry. At the time, I bought the
first two, and I'd do the same today. I have to add that my two favourite songs
of the four were also those that were played less often on the radio, and that
that Summer both John Lennon and Mungo Jerry practically owned the airwaves:
one had to be patient just for a short while, and - presto! - here they were
Besides those songs already mentioned, my
memory gave me the title of one of the most diabolical ditties ever released:
Neanderthal Man. For those who have never heard of it, this is what I'll say: picture
a "tribal" rhythm with almost no variation, coupled with these rhymes:
I'm a Neanderthal Man/You're a Neanderthal Girl/Let's make a Neanderthal
Love/In this Neanderthal World. That's it, more or less. For a few long weeks,
the song became an earworm. And it was only thanks to technical progress having
still to invent those particular devices that humanity was spared the sound of
cars blasting the tune when beeping in the streets.
But I have to admit that, day by day, I
started noticing in the song a middle part that featured good dynamics, voices,
a kind of... "sound from space", cut, then thin-sounding flutes, then...
it was back to the "Neanderthal" theme. And so, thanks to this song
by Hotlegs - that was the name of the group - in my teen rudimental mental
language I started asking myself this question: How can it be that people who
release such a stupid song are also able to conceive such a charming intermezzo
as a kind of "diversion"? And so it was thanks to this song that I
started thinking about how music was not, like I'd always believed it to be,
(just) a "manifestation of the soul", but that there was also a
"deliberate" side to it, an act that considered song
"elements" as "things".
I strongly believe that the refusal of the
"deliberate" side of music-making is one of the main reasons why the
music press of the time - also, the ex post judgment - had the group 10cc in
such little consideration (I'm sure by now readers are wondering what this 10cc
has to do with Hotlegs. Well, please be patient for a short while). Everybody
knows that material achievements deserve mucho respect, so of course no-one ever
questions the "hits". But was it "real" music?
Funny to notice how the press used to
regard the "reflexive" quality of the music by 10cc as proof of its
lack of "authenticity". There's a whole series of criticism: from Charles
Shaar Murray who, in the New Musical Express (The Punk And I or Two Jews Blues,
March 15, 1975), labels the attitude adopted by 10cc as "total
nihilism"; to Andrew Tyler, who in the introduction to a long interview
which appeared in the New Musical Express (The 10cc Fine Art Collection, 7
February 1976) thus spoke:
have a sure grasp of technique that is admirable, plus a directness of lyric
that is rare. But often a piece is thick with technology and totally bereft of
emotional drive. Musical lines are searched out and discarded with an almost
phobic frenzy, as though repetition, however much organic or emotional sense it
makes, is to be avoided whatever the cost."
"But often a piece is thick with technology and totally bereft of
emotional drive", as if one negates the other (if we change the context,
the sentence can also be applied to such "Prog" groups as King
Crimson and Gentle Giant).
To speak bluntly:
"This rock 'n' roll song, is it real or fake? What if I dance to it, shall
I look ridiculous? How can a group write a song about a dance that one dances
while sitting without moving? Could a group so fond of jokes and wit be taken
(There was a time when
10cc was considered as playing music that in a way resembled Frank Zappa's, and
though the argument doesn't hold water, there are many interesting points to
I think this is enough.
I'll immediately say that here I'll only cover the four albums released by the
original quartet, and the years 1972-1976. Let's start the story having a look
at the Sixties.
A long, and (for the
times) exhaustive, article by Alan Betrock, which appeared in the New York
magazine The Rock Marketplace, and was later reprinted in U.K. magazine Zigzag
(issue #44, January 1975) with the title 10cc: The Worst Band In The World? revealed
the enormous quantity of material released by the future members of 10cc in the
60s and 70s.
Just the main points. Eric
Stewart (guitar, keyboards, vocals) was mostly remembered for being a member of
the Mindbenders. While Graham Gouldman (bass guitar, guitar, vocals), though
quite young, had written a long list of hit songs, as recorded by famous groups
of the time. I'll just mention three: For Your Love, by the Yardbirds; No Milk
Today, by Herman's Hermits; Bus Stop, by the Hollies.
Today one can watch
online today's Graham Gouldman playing those hits on an acoustic guitar, while
sitting on a stool. It's easy to see that these are "sturdy" songs,
sometimes featuring "strange" chords; funny to think about his young
age at the time, and that he wrote "commercial" songs, written to be
recorded, and sold.
"craft". And it was a side of making music that for a long time was
regarded as merely "ordinary". But if it's clear that the
"competition" is not Jeff Beck on a night when he could do no wrong,
but "every-day's music", now that Carole King's Tapestry has passed
the 50 years mark, it's all too clear why so much of today's music is so boring.)
A "solid" -
though unspectacular - background for both Lol Creme (guitar, keyboards,
vocals) and Kevin Godley (drums, percussion, vocals): two art students in love
with the arts, including cinema.
Hoping that working in
a recording studio could prove to be his future, Eric Stewart started one -
Strawberry Studios, after the song by the Beatles. A little sing-song created
on the spot just to try new equipment - Godley and Creme were already part of
the enterprise - made a friend who worked for a record company go bonkers. So
there was a new contract to be signed, and in a very short time Neanderthal Man,
by Hotlegs, was at the top of the charts.
But things didn't go as
planned. The singles that followed did not sell, and their new album - Thinks:
School Stinks - a great piece of work miles removed from the style of their
hit, sank without a trace. It's a fine album that can be still listened to with
great pleasure, featuring fresh-sounding melodies (Take Me Back, Fly Away),
moments that anticipate 10cc (Um Wah, Um Woh, Suite F.A.), a pastiche resembling
the Beach Boys (All God's Children).
The four musicians -
Gouldman becoming a group member after the album release - began doing an
enormous quantity of mercenary jobs that paid for more studio equipment.
Again, almost by
chance, there was a new group single - Donna - at the top of the charts. A new
contract - a "stingy" one - gave them a new name, and made it
possible for 10cc to have two new hits: Johnny Don't Do It, and the mega-hit Rubber
"thin"-sounding, featuring just a few instruments, the group's first
album, 10cc (1973), is quite fresh and personal. There are excellent vocals; a
fine, melodic, bass guitar; funny lyrics, with many quotes from culture and
movies: the "juvenile delinquent" who dies tragically in Johnny Don't
Do It; the "weakling" who gets his girl back and kicks sand in the
face of his rival after a "gym" course in Sand In My Face; a musical scenario
"starring Doris Day" in The Dean And I; the "prison revolt, priest
included" in Rubber Bullets. The most surprising... surprise is the fact
that the closing number, Fresh Air For My Mama, is a gospel melody memorably sung
by Kevin Godley (readers are invited, while it's still possible, to watch a BBC
video from 1974 where the song is performed alongside Old Wild Man).
(Quick hint about the
vocals. Graham Gouldman has a "low"-, "melodic"-sounding,
voice. Lol Creme possesses a "cartoonish", rock 'n ' roll, falsetto.
Eric Stewart is an impeccable "Paul McCartney sound-alike". Kevin
Godley is the one with the "celestial" voice, and the
The group's chart
success made it possible for 10cc to cease all "mercenary" work, in
order to concentrate on their own music. Sheet Music (1974, which inaugurates
the group's long relationship with celebrated graphic studio Hipgnosis) is in
many ways the group's "perfect" album; excellent sound, full of
inventions, rich with surprises, featuring songs that are impossible to forget:
The Wall Street Shuffle, The Worst Band In The World, Somewhere In Hollywood, Old
Wild Man (readers are invited, while it's still possible, to watch a BBC video
from 1974 where the song is performed alongside Fresh Air For My Mama).
The group's chart
success made it possible for 10cc to sign a new record contract. Sporting a
"no expenses spared" kinda cover, The Original Soundtrack (1975),
features two "epic" works: opening track Une Nuit A Paris, penned by
Godley e Creme; and the innovative (and world-famous) hit I'm Not In Love, penned
by Stewart-Gouldman, but whose elaborate development is the work of the whole
group. (A long, quite detailed article appearing in U.K. monthly Sound On Sound
clearly illustrates the point.) Not every song on the album is really first
quality, but it's an embarrassment of riches all the same: Blackmail (a
retro-kind of scenery in today's world, where fame is instantly achieved by
means of a sex-tape), The Second Sitting For The Last Supper, Brand New Day,
Life Is A Minestrone.
Solid, perfect, easy on
the ears, multifaceted (but not sterile!), are just a few chosen words for How
Dare You! (1976), sporting a memorable cover, that brings the work of the group's
original line-up to its close. The enormous success achieved by I'm Not In Love
must have been a crucial element, combined with the widely different background
and goals of the group members, Stewart and Gouldman as the
"musicians" who strongly believe that rock groups make a record, then
tour, then make another record, and do another tour; and Godley and Creme (who
by their own admission smoked a prodigious amount of stuff - Eric Stewart
called it "wacky baccy", an expression I'd never heard before) as the
"artists" who wanted to "sabotage" their colleagues more
"commercial" tunes, and maybe not too convinced about the life of a
real "rock group".
I chose ten tracks off
the quartet's four albums. It's not "everything there's to know about 10cc",
but it's definitely a start.
first 10cc mega-hit, Rubber Bullets is full of contagious vitality, it features
many voices and moments à la "prison movie-cartoon". "Double-speed"
guitars at the close.
Fresh Air For My Mama
album that for the most part inhabits climates rich in gaiety, parodies, and
jokes, 10cc ends on a touching note rich with gospel. A memorable
interpretation by Kevin Godley, his companions rising to the occasion.
discreet, well-mannered writing that's so typical of Graham Gouldman is all
over this song, dedicated to a peculiar kind of dance. "If your mind is
trippin'/But your disc is slippin'/Here's what you gonna do/Nothin'". The
piece features a beautiful mix of lead and background vocals.
Old Wild Man
quite touching moment, great arrangement, inventive sounds, great studio work,
the melody being split between Eric Stewart and Kevin Godley. "Old men of
rock 'n roll/Came bearing music/Where are they now?".
bomb on a plane, ready to explode, a multi-vocal conversation featuring the
bomb, the clockwork, the plane, the narrator, with a fast-paced, tense, mood. Will
our heroes succeed...?
Somewhere In Hollywood
longest track recorded by 10cc up to that time, Somewhere In Hollywood places
scenes and decades side-by-side, with a mood that turns from melancholic to
light to bitter in a blink of an eye. Creative sounds, memorable vocal
passages, a poetic moment for everyone to watch.
Brand New Day
group's third album features two widely celebrated songs, but I have a special
weakness for this exploration of a day in the life of a humble person whose
future we guess won't be much different from now, and who lives in quiet
desperation the life he's had to live: "At the end of the day/When you
look around you/And the sun sets/Deep inside you".
lazy, care-free moment featuring a contagious melody and an arrangement in
technicolor. A spectacular "explosion" of sounds at the song's close,
one's loudspeakers that appear "to come to life".
making a menacing phone call while holding a handkerchief on the phone, an
orphan abandoned in a casket on the freeway, the comic face of terror in a song
that's rich with variety in both sounds and arrangement. Starring Gouldman and
Godley as the main vocalists, and "Iceberg - I've heard/That it's
cool", with a pronunciation of "cool" that's impossible to
Don't Hang Up
Hollywood comedy, with an inviting phone "Hello" starting the track,
and the irritating sound of a phone that's put down ending it. Intermezzi for
castanets and guitars, the bass playing a dive-bombing at "You got a low
impedance/She's got a rocky terrain".
This is the close of a
beautiful story. The split was dramatic, Stewart and Creme did not talk to each
other for decades (Stewart had married Creme's sister - ouch!).
Stewart and Gouldman played
with coherence their role as musicians, and as long as the formula sounded
fresh... (here opinions will vary). When considered inside this framework,
Deceptive Bends is a solid album, while the group's line-up that toured in 1977
was more "dependable and professional" than the old quartet, and to
achieve some goals this is in many ways preferable.
Stewart was a fine
guitar player, and his solo at the end of Feel The Benefit (both on the album,
and live - look on the Web for a 1977 concert) is full of soul and skillfully
performed, with that change in the position of the pick-up selector that... "if
you blink, you'll miss it".
While both new single (Dreadlock
Holiday) and album (Bloody Tourists) were high in the charts, Stewart had a
serious car accident, lost an eye, had problems with his hearing, and from
there, as they say, it was all downhill. In the 80s he had quite a few
successful collaborations, though, one for instance being Paul McCartney.
Godley & Creme went
on as "artists" with no commercial calculations save for bills to be
paid, and there's a series of albums - Freeze Frame being the perfect starting
point - waiting to be discovered.
Then they started
directing music videos, and that was that.
Beppe Colli 2021
| Feb. 13, 2021