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The 10cc Story - Part II
THEIR MOST SUCCESSFUL YEARS, WHICH SAW THEM BECOME ONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST POPULAR LIVE AND RECORDING ACTS
BY DAVE THOMPSON
Record Collector, April 1984
An early publicity shot of 10cc. Left to right: Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley, Eric Stewart, Lol Creme.
Last month we saw how the future members of 10cc achieved success both as a recording act (Hotlegs) and as producers and owners of Strawberry Studios, birthplace of a number of hit records in the early Seventies. in 1972, Graham Gouldman, Lol Creme, Kevin Godley and Eric Stewart began to work together on a joint project which would fulfill their own musical ambitions, rather than other people's.
"It was Neil Sedaka's success that did it, I think", reflected Graham Gouldman. "We'd just been accepting any job we were offered and were getting really frustrated. We knew that we were worth more than that but it needed something to prod us into facing that. We were a bit choked to think that we'd done the whole of Neil's first album with him just for flat session fees when we could have been recording our own material."
The first recording that the four made together, in the spring of 1972, was written by Stewart and Gouldman called "Waterfall". Stewart took an acetate of it with him when he went to the Apple studios to master that first Sedaka album, hoping that he could persuade Apple to release it. Months later he received a rejection slip saying that the song wasn't commercial enough to be put out as a single (advice that should have been taken when it was issued as an Aside three years later - the result an ignominious flop!).
In the meantime, Godley and Creme had come up with another song which initially was intended as a possible B side to "Waterfall". "Donna" was a falsetto-voiced rock'n'roll spoof, "but we knew it had something". And, according to Eric, "we only knew of one person who was mad enough to release it, and that was Jonathan King."
Stewart had known King since the early Sixties when the Mindbenders were being followed around the country by a university student who claimed he could make them even bigger than the Beatles' if only they would let him manage them. The band laughed him off, "and the next thing we knew he'd had a hit with 'Everyone's Gone To The Moon'. We never saw him again."
Stewart called King and that same evening King drove up to Strawberry, "listened to 'Donna' and fell about laughing, saying 'it's fabulous, it's a hit'. So we agreed to let him release it on his UK label, and he was right. It was a hit."
It was King who also supplied the band's name: apparently it came to him in a dream. Initial worries that the band would simply be dismissed as another of King's little jokes (like the Piglets, Saccharin etc.) were dispelled when the band appeared on 'Top Of The Pops' in September. King had given them two alternatives: either appear wearing their normal everyday denims, or "go the whole hog, be outrageous and appear in polythene hot pants". They opted for normality, and as they walked into the studio DJ Tony Blackburn (whose choice of "Donna" as a Pick Of The Week had been instrumental in the record's success) greeted them with the words "Good God, you're normal! What a great gimmick!"
"Donna", backed by the instrumental "Hot Sun Rock", reached No. 2 in the chart. In retrospect, the band admit that their choice of a follow-up was a mistake. "Johnny Don't Do It" was another Fifties-type song, this time with the theme of a motorcycle accident. Unfortunately, the Shangri-Las' "The Leader Of The Pack" was reissued at the same time, and while that epic tale of teenage woe reached No. 3, "Johnny Don't Do It" sank without trace and is now probably the rarest of 10cc's UK label releases.
Their third single, "Rubber Bullets", also ran into problems, but of a completely different nature. Because of the British army's use of rubber bullets in Northern Ireland, many BBC radio producers thought that the record's subject matter must be connected with the IRA. Their counterparts at BBC TV were not so squeamish, however - the song actually dealt with a 'Jailhouse Rock' style riot in a U.S. jail - and 10cc appeared on 'Top Of The Pops' with barely a radio play to their credit. This situation drastically altered when the single made it to No. 1 in May 1973, staying on the charts for 15 weeks and also making No. 45 in America. The flip, incidentally, was "Waterfall".
The success of "Rubber Bullets" more than paved the way for the band's eponymously-titled debut album. It included all three of the band's A sides to date (although both "Donna" and "Johnny Don't Do It" were remixed, and "Rubber Bullets" appeared in an extended form), plus "The Dean And l", which further established the band in the singles chart when it was culled from the album in August. The six other tracks further compounded the belief that 10cc were fast developing into a force to be reckoned with.
"The Dean And I" reached No. 8, and the similar success of the album prompted the band to make their first foray onto the live circuit. The debuted at Douglas Palace Lido on August 26th 1973, following up with intermittent gigs around the country until the start of November, when they retumed to Strawberry to begin work on their next album - sharing studio time with Mike McGear, who was recording the "McGear" album under the auspices of his brother Paul McCartney. It was, claimed Stewart, the next phase in the band's "masterplan to control the universe. The Sweet, Slade and Gary Glitter are all very valuable pop, but it's fragile because it's so dependent on a vogue. We don't try to appeal to one audience, or aspire to instant stardom, we're satisfied to move ahead a little at a time as long as we're always moving forward."
The band's first single of 1974 was "The Worst Band In The World", once again released at Jonathan King's insistence. And, for once, he was wrong. As was so often the case with 10cc singles, initial airplay was minimal, but when 'Top Of The Pops' also proved hesitant, the release was doomed. The problem this time was an apparently offensive lyric, and although the band re-recorded tile song 'for public consumption' the record still flopped. As on most of their early singles, the flipside was just as interesting: " 18 Carat Man Of Means" might well have been an A side in its own right, and this release must stand as the band's strongest ever coupling.
In Febrruary they made their first visit to America, an undertaking which was suddenly curtailed when Kevin Godley fell victim to an unscheduled illness. The band took the change in plans as an excuse for a holiday, returning home in time to see "Wall Street Shuffle", their latest single, restore them to the Top Ten, with the album "Sheet Music" swiftly following suit. The album was eventually to become one of the most successful of 1974, remaining in the charts for over six months, and qualifying for a gold disc.
"Sheet Music", more than anything else, was the album which cemented 10cc's reputation as one of the most inventive and exciting British bands of the decade. "It grips the heart of rock'n'roll like nothing I've heard before", read the 'Melody Maker' review, going on to describe 10cc as "the Beach Boys of 'Good Vibrations', the Beatles of 'Penny Lane', they're the mischievious kid next door, they're the Marx Brothers, they're Jack and Jill, they're comic cuts characters, and they're sheer brilliance". Eric Stewart certainly agreed - he told MM that 10cc's music is "better than 90% of the sheer unadulterated crap that's in the charts".
"Silly Love", the third single to be lifted from "Sheet Music" (and the first to have an album track as a flip) was released in August, but despite appearances on such bastions of British rock TV as 'Lift Off With Ayshea' and 'Top Of The Pops', as well as a major U.K. tour which included a headline appearance at the Reading Festival, the band were rewarded with a mere fortnight in the lower reaches of the Top Thirty. This was the band's last official single for UK. On February 22nd 1975 it was reported that they had signed to Phonogram for around a million dollars. According to Ric Dixon, 10cc's co-manager (with Harvey Lisburg), "we decided that if 10cc were to reach their full potential we must change to a truly international record company", while a spokesman for UK, while expressing disappointment at losing the band, added that "a million dollars buys a lot of loyalty".
The band's third album, "The Original Soundtrack", had already been recorded and it appeared a fortnight later with a single, the brilliant "Life Is A Minestrone", trailing in its wake. Once again, the album was a remarkable achievement, but as so often happens, last year's critical darlings were in line for a good kicking. But despite the media discontent, "Original Soundtrack" was to prove the band's most successful album, reaching No. 3 in the charts. It also spawned two major hit singles, "Minestrone" and "I'm Not In Love", which was a No. 1 in the early summer of 1975 and has since dominated countless 'All Time Greats' popularity polls.
The release of "I'm Not In Love" coincided with UK putting out "100cc - The Greatest Hits Of 10cc", an album which brought together all but one of the band's A side ("Johnny Don't Do It") and all the non-album B-sides. A single coupling two of these, "Waterfall"/"4% Of Something", was also released, but while the album quickly charted, the single was ignored.
It was six months before 10cc released any new product. October saw Justin Hayward and John Lodge take a break from the Moody Blues and chart with "Blue Guitar", a song which featured 10cc as both producers and accompanying musicians. Then the following month "Art For Art's Sake" gave the band their seventh Top Ten entry. An uncharacteristically unmemorable song, it proved an all too accurate introduction to the new album, "How Dare You". The four writers in the band had always naturally gravitated into two distinct schools of thought (Godley/Creme and Gouldman/Stewart, with the most entertaining results usually occuring when they swapped partners) but on "How Dare You" the once healthy friction between the pairs was become more uncomfortable. The band were evidently struggling for ideas, and while a handful of tracks (notably "I Wanna Rule The World" and "I'm Mandy - Fly Me", another hit single) did bear repeated listening, the collection as a whole showed 10cc to be suffering from an acute dearth of inspiration. Something had to give.
And in October, it did. The now defunct paper 'National Rock Star' reported that Godley and Creme had left the band to work on "a revolutionary new instrument they have invented and developed." Strangely, the device - the Gismo, a guitar attachment which gives continuous sustain - had been around since the Hotlegs' days, and already appears to have been in use on "Sheet Music" (on "Old Wild Men", and "Gismo My Way", the flip of "Wall Street Shuffle").
The duo's initial intention was to record a single which would showcase the Gismo's many talents: by Christmas the project had become a triple album telling the story of "man's last defence against an irate nature".
Meanwhile, Gouldman and Stewart had decided to carry on as 10cc, and having moved their base of operations down to the recently completed Strawberry South studio in Dorking (thus leaving the Strawberry studio with drummer Paul Burgess (who had worked as second drummer with the original line-up on live dates).
"The Things We Do For Love", the new line-up's first single, appeared in time for Christmas 1976 - a pleasant but all too harmless pop romp which previewed the early 1977 release of "Deceptive Bends". The album featured Gouldman and Stewart playing almost all the instruments, and duplicated the single in proving totally innocuous to all but the most cynical palate. "Consequences", the debut offering from Godley and Creme, appeared a short time later, heralded by a single (and 'Top Of The Pops' appearance), "5 O'Clock In The Morning".
Before Godley and Creme left the band in 1976 to pursue a career in music and video, 10cc had established themselves as one of the world's most popular bands.
While "Deceptive Bends" was the commercially most successful of these releases (making the Top Ten and spawning a No. 5 hit single, "Good Morning Judge"), "Consequences" was by far the most adventurous, and was thereby truer to the original intentions of 10cc. Much of its music has resurfaced in the most unexpected places - cigarette commercials, TV incidental music and so on. Sales were low, however, and Mercury eventually issued a single album drawing together the most popular moments from the original six sides: a venture remarkably similar to the white label promotion album brought out just prior to the original release.
In early spring 1977, 10cc, complemented by Tony O'Malley (keyboards), Stuart Tosh (drums) and Rick Fenn (guitar), undertook a major tour, later captured for posterity on the "Live And Let Live" double package. A particularly unsatisfying venture, the album merely duplicated all but one track from "Deceptive Bends" peppered with 'highlights' from the original line-up's repertoire - all Stewart/Gouldman compositions, naturally. It was a sad indication of how far the band's standards had declined: expecting fans to fork out for the same songs twice in less than eight months was pure and simple exploitation, and the album's chart placing was deservedly low. But if people were preparing to dismiss 10cc altogether, Stewart and Gouldman still had one last ace up their sleeves. "Dreadlock Holiday" was an infuriatingly catchy slice of mock reggae based around Justin Hayward's experiences while on holiday in the Caribbean, and in the summer of 1978 it gave 10cc their third No. 1 hit. It was, however, their last. An equally strong follow-up, "Reds In My Beds", failed to make any impression on the chart, and while the album from which both tracks were taken ("Bloody Tourists") was a sizeable success, 10cc's only subsequent chart placings have been gained by a second "Greatest Hits" package put out by Mercury after parent company Phonogram acquired the UK catalogue along with the rest of the Decca group.
For Godley and Creme, the years since the split have been equally frustrating. Despite often unbearably patchy albums, the duo have again and again proved themselves more than capable of unleashing some truly captivating numbers. "Wide Boy", "Shack Attack", "Sandwiches Of You", "Welcome To Breakfast Television" and - best of all - "An Englishman In New York/Strange Apparatus" are all equal to anything they achieved with 10cc. Yet their only major commercial success has come from just two singles: "Under Your Thumb" and the Motown pastiche "Wedding Bells". They have, however, been able to supplement their income by rising to great heights as video producers, a career which at the moment appears to have overshadowed their musical ventures.
It would seem highly unlikely that either Godley and Creme or 10cc will ever be able to recapture the sheer brilliance of the songs they produced in 1974 and 1975, or the singles which added up to some of the most important music of the decade; but who could have predicted what would happen next during the eighteen-month gap between "Neanderthal Man" and "Donna"? Both units of the group continue to enjoy a fiercely devoted following which should guarantee their commercial future for many years to come; and for the collector there are almost twenty years of releases featuring various members of the group which shed some light on their rich and varied career.
Special thanks to Christer Granberg in Sweden, for providing us with a copy of the article!
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