Question: what do Axl Rose of Guns N’Roses, The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, TV/radio presenter Chris Evans, The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, Huey Morgan of Fun Lovin’ Criminals, The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie, Sophie Ellis Bextor and at least 30 million other people around the world have in common?
Answer: they are all 10cc fans.
The missing link between The Beatles and the Gorillaz, 10cc ruled the pop world at a time – the 1970s – when the charts were dominated by some of the most creative and colourful artistes in pop history.
Unlike David Bowie, Queen, Elton John or Rod Stewart – all of whom they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with for a decade – 10cc worked not on image or celebrity-status, but on the art of making highly sophisticated rock masterworks into simple-sounding pop hits.
As founding member Graham Gouldman says, “Our main influences were The Beatles and the Beach Boys. Then there was all the other stuff …"
“For me it was people like Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Jimmy Webb, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. Eric [Stewart] was more rock ’n’ roll, the blues and R&B; while Kevin [Godley] and Lol [Creme] were sort of Jacques Brel, more artistic and avant-garde."
“It’s what happened when we put all those things together that made 10cc.” The result was some of the greatest pop records of the 20th century.
From their breakthrough No 2 hit Donna in 1972, to their final No 1 – Dreadlock Holiday – in 1978, via such landmark releases as I’m Not In Love, their worldwide smash in 1975, 10cc stood for the kind of heightened pop sensibility achieved only by the very greatest music practitioners.
In truth, they could have come from any era. 10cc would have been as at home in the dynamic early days of pop in the 1950s, as they would have been in the instant-gratification download culture of today. As Gouldman points out, “It was all about the songs. Not the image or who the singer was or who played which instrument.”
Like The Simpsons, 10cc could be appreciated on several levels: pure entertainment delivered by pop-sophisticates. As Rolling Stone put it in 1975, ‘There is more going on in one 10cc song than on the last ten Yes albums.’
It wasn’t anything the group built towards either, it was all there on their very first record Donna. You didn’t have to be conversant with the doo-wop-channelled-through-Frank Zappa influence to appreciate its inventiveness.
“We were just trying to amuse ourselves,” says Gouldman now. “That was why it worked. The fact was we had our own recording facility, Strawberry Studios in Stockport. We actually started writing together just for a laugh, really. We weren’t consciously trying to make hit records.”
The early-‘70s was an intense period of creative activity for the guys, on multiple fronts, with Gouldman having already notched up hit song-writing credits with groups such as the Yardbirds, Hollies and Herman’s Hermits.
When the studio wasn’t being used, Gouldman and song-writing partner and studio co-owner Eric Stewart – a talented multi-instrumentalist and recording whiz, formerly of Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders – along with Creme and Godley, who Gouldman had known since school days, would use the downtime, “to mess around and make our own sounds”.
They also became the studio house band.
Gouldman even spent time in New York, writing for bubblegum kings Jerry Kazenetz and Jeff Katz (“don’t ask …,” he says). But, fed up with being away from home, he returned to the UK to record the songs he had written Stateside, with his chums at Strawberry.
Meanwhile back in Stockport, Stewart, Godley and Creme had also been busy, with Stewart particularly keen on testing a new four-track recorder. Experimenting with the device lead to the recording of Neanderthal Man, a track that went on to enjoy 14 weeks in the UK charts in 1970, peaking at No 2. The band was called Hotlegs and comprised Godley, Creme, Stewart, and briefly Gouldman.
As if that wasn’t enough, in 1972 Gouldman’s manager Harvey Lisberg (later to become the band’s manager too), met Neil Sedaka who was playing a residency at Batley Variety Club in Yorkshire. Sedaka’s career was in decline and Lisberg suggested he worked with the guys at the studio.
The result was Sedaka’s hit comeback album Solitaire, with Top 30 singles in the UK and US, recorded at Strawberry and produced by Gouldman, Stewart, Godley and Creme, with Stewart acting as engineer.
“We all learnt so much from those sessions,” says Gouldman. “Neil’s sheer professionalism, musicianship and song-writing were inspiring.”
As the four worked together more, says Gouldman, “We’d done a few tracks and we needed a B side for Waterfall [a Gouldman/Stewart composition]. There was a possibility that it would come out on the Apple label, which we were very excited about, because any connection with the Beatles was great.”
A Godley and Creme song, Donna, was chosen, “but as we were recording it, we sensed that we were doing something special. Really, all these things came together by chance. We didn’t even have a name for the band and weren’t bent on world domination or anything. But Donna made us sit up and notice ourselves, that we actually had something special here.”
And so 10cc was born, Donna became the A side and reached No 2 in the UK charts. Right from the start it was obvious they weren’t like other groups. All four could sing and were adept in the recording studio, and all were seasoned musicians more interested in pleasing themselves than writing to a formula.
Not long after Donna was released, Sedaka returned to Strawberry to record a second album, The Tra-La Days Are Over, with the same team, and his career took off again.
10cc comprised essentially two song-writing camps, Gouldman and Stewart, and Godley and Creme, though that would sometimes change too. “Our principle was always the music,” says Gouldman, “whatever’s best for the song. That means if I can sing better than you on it, that’s what happens. Or if Lol can play lead guitar better than you, he’ll do it. Consequently we had four singers in the band, four instrumentalists and four producers, plus Eric also engineered the sessions. “The other thing was whoever wrote the song, it kind of became the property of the four of us. You couldn’t say, ‘That song is crap, I don’t want anything to do with it’. What you had to say was, ‘I don’t like that part of the song, but I think we could make it better by doing this’. You always had to come up with something positive.”
“It was the combination of all four of us that made the difference, not only in the song-writing, but in the production values as well,” says Gouldman.
No two 10cc records ever sounded the same. Gouldman chuckles, “There were so many influences flying around and they all found their way onto the records and we loved pastiche.”
The result might be the eight-minute pop opera Une Nuit a Paris , which opened their third album, The Original Soundtrack (1975). Or it might be a landmark pop masterpiece, from the same album, like I’m Not In Love.
“A very important element,” explains Gouldman, “was we were completely self-contained. There wasn’t even a producer. If Eric was singing one of us would work the board. We used to just give the tracks straight to the record company.”
The only comparable situation previously had been with The Beatles – and they had producer George Martin to help them. “We didn’t even have an A&R man,” says Gouldman. “No one was going to tell us anything.”
Indeed, they didn’t even have a recognisable frontman. “Eric was a very good-looking guy who sort of took the role quite often, and Lol was also brilliant out front. But you’d never know on the record who was playing guitar or even who was singing sometimes. We weren’t like Queen, where you knew instantly it was Brian May on guitar and Freddie Mercury on vocals.”
The first time they played live, at the Isle of Man Casino in 1973, they were taken aback at the response. “We went onstage and girls started screaming! It was like, what the f**k is going on? We imagined ourselves as professors of pop who were going to give a lecture on pop music, but it wasn’t like that at all.”
The critical plaudits also rolled in. Rolling Stone calling The Original Soundtrack, “better than anything the Beach Boys have done of late”. The NME described I’m Not In Love as “a John Lennon song with a Paul McCartney vocal”. In an age where critics spent an inordinate amount of time trying to identify the new Beatles, 10cc increasingly seemed to fit the bill.
“Because we existed in our own world, we didn’t need anyone to tell us how good we were. We listened to the records and went, this is everything we want it to be and more.” Even after the astonishing success of I’m Not In Love, they refused to play the game and followed it up with the acidic Art For Art’s Sake – and scored another Top 5 hit.
“’Art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake’, was something my late father used to say to me, although he wasn’t cynical like that at all – he was very artistic. But it’s such a lovely phrase. Eric had this riff and I just started singing that, and the song came.”
The biggest surprise of all was the departure of Godley and Creme after their next album, How Dare You? “It was horrible,” Gouldman confesses. “It was an absolute disaster. Like getting a divorce.”
Godley and Creme had become preoccupied with the Gizmotron – from the word ‘gizmo’ – a device they had invented which when applied could bring new sounds and textures out of an electric guitar. Obsessed with devising a showcase for it, they began recording a triple album together, Consequences.
Says a reflective Gouldman now, “Kev and I, who stayed quite close, have talked about this since and have decided what should have happened; he and Lol should have gone go off and done their thing for a year or so, then allowed 10cc to resume.
“But that’s just not how things were done in the ‘70s. No one had a year off. Plus I think the record company were probably expecting another album, tours were booked and so on.”
Instead, Gouldman and Stewart continued as 10cc and scored more notable successes with their next two albums, Deceptive Bends (1977) – featuring their next worldwide hit single Things We Do For Love – and Bloody Tourists (1978), which spawned another international hit, Dreadlock Holiday.
“We were on a mission to prove ourselves,” says Gouldman, “This wasn’t like a couple of guys leaving the band who just played their instruments. This was two of the producers going, two of the singers going, two of the songwriters going. So it was a real 50 percent gone.”
Ultimately, the split took its toll and when Stewart was badly injured in a car crash in 1979, the writing was on the wall.
“It flattened me completely,” Stewart later recalled. “I damaged my left ear and damaged my eye very badly. I couldn't go near music. I couldn't go near anything loud and I love music and motor-racing. I had to stay away from both things for a long time [and] the momentum of this big machine that we'd had rolling slowed and slowed and slowed. And on the music scene, the punk thing had come in a big way.”
As history now records, all four original members enjoyed very successful post-10cc careers. Godley and Creme continued as a partnership, recording their own hit records and becoming Grammy-winning video directors for acts such as Ultravox, The Police, Duran Duran and Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
Stewart collaborated on three Paul McCartney albums in the 1980s and continues to record sporadically as a solo artiste, his most recent collection being Viva La Difference in 2009.
Meanwhile Gouldman spent the 1980s concentrating on recording soundtracks for films such as Farah Fawcett’s Sunburn and the American animation Animalympics. He also worked as a producer with The Ramones and Gilbert O’Sullivan.
He then formed Wax with American songwriter Andrew ‘Lonely Boy’ Gold and had hits with Right Between The Eyes and Bridge To You Heart.
There were two final Gouldman-Stewart directed 10cc albums in the ‘90s, the first ...Meanwhile (1992), featured contributions from both Godley and Creme, while the last, Mirror Mirror (1995), despite featuring contributions from McCartney and Gold, was more a collection of Gouldman and Stewart solo songs.
That same year, 10cc received a BMI citation for three million plays on US radio for I’m Not In Love (since risen to five million). This followed the BMI citation for two million plays (since risen to 3.5m) of Things We Do For Love.
Then, with 2002 being the 30th anniversary of the band’s debut hit, Donna, 10cc began to creep back into the national consciousness. With Gouldman fronting a new touring band, a 28-date UK tour was followed by a series of one-off events across Europe.
10cc has since toured the world again, including shows in Australia, New Zealand and Japan and appearances at numerous festivals. In 2006, Universal records released the TV-advertised, double CD 10cc: Greatest Hits … And More, featuring the obvious band numbers, plus hits Gouldman wrote for others, and collaborations including two new tracks written with Kevin Godley.
In June 2007, the Mail On Sunday newspaper produced a special 10-track Best of 10cc CD, distributing more than 2.4 million copies throughout the UK and Ireland. The paper said sales rose by 232,000 on the day of publication.
During 2010 the band toured Australia and Japan again, played more festivals and toured Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Belgium, with national TV shows in Sweden and Italy thrown in for good measure.
Now in 2011, Gouldman leads 10cc through their next 33-date UK headline tour, followed by eight shows in Holland, concerts in Canada (Montreal and Quebec), a host of summer festivals across Europe and a Scandinavian tour in the autumn.
Says Gouldman, “The audiences these days are very gratifying. You get the people you would expect, who grew up with 10cc, but you also get young kids.
“Now whether they’ve discovered 10cc for themselves, via the internet or radio, or just grown up with their parents playing it in the house, I don’t know. But we get a great mix of people from the generations.
“Also the band, as it stands now is absolutely fantastic. And of course our main strength and what we’re selling is the songs, nothing else.” It was ever thus. As he adds, “This is as near as you’re ever going to get to hearing the perfect 10cc. Hit after hit after hit. It’s relentless. We show no mercy.”
Commenting on the UK concert dates, Gouldman explains, “I come out before 10cc and sing a hit I wrote for another artiste. Then I bring on Rick and we’ll sing another hit I wrote before 10cc, with acoustic guitars. Mick comes on and the three of us sing another and then Mike joins us and we do four-part harmony on another. Then they go off and I finish the opening set alone.”
That’s what you call a complete show. “It’s a great evening,” he acknowledges, “and do you know, I’ve been to every single one and loved it!”
The live band’s line-up is:
Paul has worked with 10cc from the beginning and Rick joined the live band in the mid-‘70s. Mike is occasionally replaced by Keith Hayman, when Mike tours as musical director with Take That.
Some additional information:
• 10cc has sold more than 15 million albums in the UK.
• 10cc has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide.
• I’m Not In Love has been played over five million times on US radio.
• A YouTube video clip about the making of I’m Not In Love circulated the globe in late-2010, resulting in increased name-checks by bloggers and DJs.
• Things We Do For Love has been played over 3.5 million times on US radio.
• Gouldman, Godley and Crème won two Ivor Novello Awards for the 1973 hit single Rubber Bullets. The Ivor Novello Awards, established in 1955, are the highest song-writing accolades in the UK.
• In 1993, Will To Power hit the Top 10 in the UK with its version of I’m Not In Love. It has also been recorded by, among others, The Pretenders (for the film Indecent Proposal), Peggy Lee, Richie Havens, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, and most recently The Flaming Lips.
• Axl Rose of Guns N’Roses says of I’m Not In Love, “that song messes with my life, man. It’s one of my favourite songs of all time.”
• Chris Isaak’s huge hit album Blue Hotel featured his version of Gouldman’s 1965 song Heart Full of Soul, written for the Yardbirds.
• Bus Stop (written by Gouldman for he Hollies) has been played over four million times on US radio. He also wrote the Yardbird’s hit For Your Love, which has been played over two million times on US radio.
• Wax, featuring Gouldman and Andrew Gold, has sold two million albums worldwide, spawning the hit singles Right Between The Eyes and Bridge To Your Heart.
Dreadlock Holiday 1
Rubber Bullets 1
Art For Art’s Sake 5
Good Morning Judge 5
The Things We Do For Love 6
I’m Mandy Fly Me 6
Life Is A Minestrone 7
The Dean And I 10
The Wall Street Shuffle 10