10cc comprised Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme — all hailing from the hotbed of musical talent that was the Greater Manchester area. The quartet just didn’t land with their pop wizardry out of nowhere of course, and each member had paid his dues in the 1960s, often achieving considerable success.
Eric Stewart played guitar in Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders. He co-wrote a couple of B-sides and assumed lead vocals for the post-Fontana ‘A Groovy Kind Of Love’, which hit No.2 on both sides of the Atlantic and sold a million copies.
Graham Gouldman was the frontman for The Whirlwinds and The Mockingbirds. Establishing himself as a songwriter, he supplied a string of hits for other bands, including ‘For Your Love’, ‘Heart Full Of Soul’ and ‘Evil Hearted You’ for The Yardbirds; ‘Look Through Any Window’ and ‘Bus Stop’ for The Hollies; and successful songs for Herman’s Hermits. In 1968 he joined Eric Stewart in The Mindbenders. A year later, Gouldman accepted an invitation from Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz in New York to work as a staff writer at their bubblegum pop factory Super K Productions. It was here that the seed of 10cc’s musical vision was sown.
Gouldman brought Stewart plus friends Kevin Godley and Lol Creme into the fold by suggesting that the Englishmen could create commercial nuggets cheaper than local New Yorkers. By this time Gouldman and Stewart had invested their royalties into their own Strawberry Studios, based in Stockport, Greater Manchester, and so could keep recording costs to a minimum. Kasenetz and Katz agreed to the venture, block-booking Strawberry for three months in late 1969.
Art school graduates Godley and Creme had known each other, and Gouldman, since the rock’n’roll Fifties, when they’d all rehearsed their various teenage bands at the local branch of the Jewish Lads Brigade — think The Smiths’ Salford Lads Club with an ethnic twist.
In 1968 Godley and Creme recorded a single of psychedelic whimsy, ‘Seeing Things Green’, showcasing the Creme falsetto that became so familiar in 10cc, under the preposterous name Yellow Bellow Room Boom. A year later they cut ‘I’m Beside Myself’ for Giorgio Gomelski’s Marmalade label at Strawberry Studios, under the equally absurd moniker Frabjoy and The Runcible Spoon.
Once on the Super K payroll the Brits factory-farmed a healthy supply of pop froth, working in various different styles, forging the all-rounded pop template for 10cc. Godley: “It was really like a machine. Twenty tracks… We used to do the voices, everything… even the female backing vocals.” Their efforts resulted in a run of 45s that Kasenetz and Katz issued under several different names including Crazy Elephant, whose ‘Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’ ’ made No.12 both in the UK and US.
When Gouldman returned to New York to work out his Super K contract the remaining trio continued at Strawberry, and released a single, ‘Neanderthal Man’, under the name Hotlegs. This song, too, became a huge hit, eventually selling two million copies worldwide and reaching No.2 in the UK. A Hotlegs album Thinks: School Stinks followed later in 1971. There were some false starts, though. The single, ‘Umbopo’, released as Doctor Father, did nothing, and neither did their cover of Paul Simon’s ‘Cecilia’ issued as The New Wave Band.
Graham Gouldman returned from New York for more session work at Strawberry, and the quartet backed Neil Sedaka on his comeback album Solitaire (1972) and its follow up The Tra-La Days Are Over (1973). The flat fee they received for their efforts convinced the band that they should be concentrating on their own material.
They took their song ‘Donna’, inspired by Frank Zappa’s doo-wop pastiches and boasting a marvellous Creme falsetto, to pop entrepreneur Jonathan King, who singed the band to his label UK Records. King named them 10cc and ‘Donna’ shot to No.2 in Britain — followed by their first No.1, ‘Rubber Bullets’
Four fantastic albums followed, each brimming with pop invention and stylistic ingenuity, and 10cc became one of biggest acts of the Seventies, before the group divided in two, with Godley and Creme branching out as a duo, leaving Stewart and Gouldman to recruit new members. The band’s breakthrough years came in an era of outrageous stage costumes but there was no glitter or glam for 10cc and their shau was all in their music — in the very showiness of their writing, arrangements, production, and performances.
10cc (1973) set out the band’s stall as clever purveyors of wit, pastiche and melody, with the sounds of the 1950s updated to the Seventies via futuristic guitar effects and studio flair. Three hit singles, ‘Donna’ and ‘Rubber Bullets’ and ‘The Dean And I’, sit alongside the one the didn’t sell, the death-disc skit ‘Johnny Don’t Do It’, plus highlights such as ‘The Hospital Song’ and the more straightforward rocker ‘Speed Kills’.
They upped the ante with the adventurous and idiosyncratic Sheet Music (1974) that many, including themselves, consider their best album. There’s the No.10 hit ‘The Wall Street Shuffle’, the lesser hit ‘Silly Love’ and the non-hit ‘The Worst Band In The World’. Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson influences abound and the variety of styles widens to take in reggae. ‘Clockwork Creep’ is a bizarre conversation between a bomb and a jumbo jet, and the poignant ballad ‘Old Wild Men’ introduces Godley and Creme’s effects device for the guitar, the ‘Gizmo’.
10cc moved to Mercury Records for The Original Soundtrack in 1975 on the strength of one song, ‘I’m Not In Love’, a dreamy multi-layered masterpiece that took the pop symphony idea to new heights. It was their second No.1 and their biggest hit in the States, peaking at No.2. Opening track ‘Une Nuit À Paris’ is even more ambitious: a suite in three parts, nearly nine minutes long and filled with multiple characters, some singing in a French accent. The ‘Second Sitting For The Last Supper’ returns to the rock band format to deliver a lyrical tirade against organized religion, while lead single ‘Life Is A Minestrone’ fades in to recall the musical pulse of ‘Rubber Bullets’.
How Dare You! (1976) was the watershed 10cc album, the last one to feature the artier half of the partnership, Godley and Creme. In musical terms, they left on a high, and the record is packed solid with melodic hooks, heady harmonies, crazy lyrical conceits and shifting arrangements — all the usual 10cc trademarks. Would be dictators get a platform on ‘I Wanna Rule The World’, while hit single ‘Art For Art’s Sake’ has a poke at the very same commercially minded artists they used to be themselves back in the Super K days. Its follow-up ‘I’m Mandy, Fly Me’ revisits that old chestnut, the airline disaster scenario, while the finale ‘Don’t Hang Up’ is a wry look at divorce. Unusually, the title track is an instrumental.
Deceptive Bends (1977) was a strong album despite Godley and Creme’s absence, and yielded the hit singles ‘The Things We Do For Love’ and ‘Good Morning Judge’, plus the ballad ‘People In Love’, which didn’t chart. The approach was simpler and more direct than before, with fewer mid-song mood swings, but the overall result was still witty and well crafted. Highlights include the looking-for-love ‘Marriage Bureau Rendezvous’ and its aftermath ‘Honeymoon With B Troop’.
1978’s Bloody Tourists was a final fanfare of sorts before events overtook 10cc — punk and new wave was now sweeping away the old guard on the one hand, and on the other Eric Stewart sustained injuries in a car accident that kept him away from music for a while. It was their last high-charting album, and yielded the reggae-flavoured No.1 single ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, also their last big single. While there were plenty of ingenious lyrical narratives, the stripped-down approach of Deceptive Bends had set a new trend, and ‘Take These Chains’, ‘Last Night’ and ‘For You And I’ featured straightforward arrangements, while ‘Tokyo’ is, if anything, under-produced.
There are plenty of delights to be found on the band’s final five albums, Look Hear (1980), Ten Out Of 10 (1981), Windows In The Jungle (1983), …Meanwhile (1992), which enjoyed a brief reunion between the four original members, and Mirror Mirror (1995), but 10cc’s golden years were the 1970s, when they produced some of the finest, wonderfully progressive pop music to ever come out of the UK
Words: Andy Davis
10cc's third album, The Original Soundtrack, finally scored them a major hit in the United States, and rightly so; "I'm Not in Love" walked a fine line between self-pity and self-parody with its weepy tale of a boy who isn't in love (really!), and the marvelously lush production and breathy vocals allowed the tune to work beautifully either as a sly joke or at face value. The album's opener, "Une Nuit a Paris," was nearly as marvelous; a sly and often hilarious extended parody of both cinematic stereotypes of life and love in France and overblown European pop. And side one's closer, "Blackmail," was a witty tale of sex and extortion gone wrong, with a superb guitar solo embroidering the ride-out. That's all on side one; side two, however, is a bit spottier, with two undistinguished tunes, "Brand New Day" and "Flying Junk," nearly dragging the proceedings to a halt before the band rallied the troops for a happy ending with the hilarious "The Film of Our Love." The Original Soundtrack's best moments rank with the finest work 10cc ever released; however, at the same time it also displayed what was to become their Achilles' heel -- the inability to make an entire album as strong and memorable as those moments.
Words: Mark Deming
When Kevin Godley and Lol Creme left 10cc in 1976 to pursue a solo career, many thought it was the death knell for the group. However, Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman kept the group alive as a duo (with the assistance of percussionist Paul Burgess) and turned in a surprisingly solid album with 1977's Deceptive Bends. It may lack the devil-may-care wackiness that popped up on previous 10cc albums, but it makes up for it by crafting a series of lush, catchy pop songs that are witty in their own right. Deceptive Bends also produced a pair of notable hits for the group: "Good Morning Judge" told the comical tale of a career criminal over a hook-laden, surprisingly funky pop backing while "The Things We Do for Love" was an irresistible Beatles pastiche that showcased 10cc's mastery of pop vocal harmonies. "People in Love," a surprisingly straightforward ballad built on a gorgeous string arrangement, also became a modest chart success. The remainder of the material doesn't stand out as sharply as these hits, but each of the tracks offers up plenty of naggingly catchy pop hooks, oodles of catchy riffs, and surprising twists in their arrangements. Highlights among the non-hit tracks include "Marriage Bureau Rendezvous," a satire of dating services set to a lilting soft rock melody, and "You've Got a Cold," a portrait of illness-influenced misery set to a percolating pop melody. The only place where Deceptive Bends slips is on "Feel the Benefit," the lengthy medley that closes the album. Its excessive length and hazy lyrics make it less satisfying than the album's shorter tunes, but it is kept afloat by a catchy, mock-Spanish midsection and some lovely string arrangements. All in all, Deceptive Bends is the finest achievement of 10cc's post-Godley and Creme lineup and well worth a spin for anyone who enjoyed Sheet Music or The Original Soundtrack.
Words: Donald A. Guarisco
10cc's second album was the next phase in what guitarist Eric Stewart called the band's "masterplan to control the universe. The Sweet, Slade, and Gary Glitter are all very valuable pop," he proclaimed, "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." Sheet Music, perhaps the most widely adventurous album of what would become a wildly adventurous year, would more than justify that claim. "It grips the heart of rock'n'roll like nothing I've heard before," raved Melody Maker, before describing 10cc as "the Beach Boys of "Good Vibrations," the Beatles of "Penny Lane," they're the mischievous kid next door, they're the Marx Brothers, they're Jack and Jill, they're comic cuts characters, and they're sheer brilliance." Stewart certainly agreed -- he told that same paper, 10cc's music was "better than 90% of the sheer unadulterated crap that's in the charts" and, 20 years on, bassist Graham Gouldman continued, "Sheet Music is probably the definitive 10cc album. What it was, our second album wasn't our difficult second album, it was our best second album. It was the best second album we ever did." Three hit singles spun off the record, and most of the other tracks could have followed suit; it says much for Sheet Music's staying power that, no matter how many times the album is reissued, it has never lost its power to delight, excite, and set alight a lousy day.
Words: Dave Thompson
Displaying a command of pop styles and satire, 10cc showed that they are a force to be reckoned with on their first album. Hooks abound, harmonies shine, and instrumentation is dazzling without being overdone. Though charges of "self-consciously clever" could be leveled at the group, their command of witty, Anglo-styled pop is so impressive that even those criticisms must be weighed against the mastery of styles. All four members sing lead and are talented songwriters, and this leads to a wide variety of styles that add to their vision. Featuring their number one U.K. hit "Rubber Bullets," 10cc wade through ten selections of satire and parody. One of the best is "Johnny Don't Do It," a parody of all the "death discs" of the late '50s and early '60s (the misunderstood "bad but really good" guy who is killed in a wreck). More contemporary and bitingly sarcastic is "Headline Hustler," a commentary on the ravenous, scandal-hungry media. Medical facilities and the treatment afforded there is given ripe 10cc commentary in "The Hospital Song." ("And when I go, I'll die of plaster casting love.") Whether doing loving parodies of the music they grew up with or satirizing contemporary issues, 10cc show themselves to be top-level purveyors of pop on their debut recording. Some might criticize the group for being too self-satisfied with their own intelligence, but there is no denying the true craftsmanship and humor on their 1973 debut.
Words: Michael Ofjord
After proving they could keep 10cc alive as a duo act with 1977's successful Deceptive Bends, Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman pressed on in 1978 with Bloody Tourists. Although it scored some notable hits, it was a less consistent and less memorable affair than its predecessor. The problem with Bloody Tourists is that it feels like a group of session musicians trying to come up with songs in the 10cc style instead of a proper 10cc album. The eccentric humor that once flowed freely feels forced on this album: "Reds In My Bed" is a lame stab at Cold War satire that never really succeeds in saying anything while "Shock On The Tube (Don't Want Love)" tries to be daring with its tale of a subway sex fantasy and instead comes off as smutty and dull. Another problem is that the music propping up these narratives is lacking in both hooks and inspiration: the backing track for "Take These Chains" is a dull attempt at rockabilly that sounds like an especially poppy Eagles outtake and "The Anonymous Alcoholic" has a disco-parody portion that merely sounds like a mediocre example of the music it is supposedly sending up. However, the album's singles present a few bright moments: "For You And I" is a lovely ballad that fortifies its attractive melody with some strong vocal harmonies and "Dreadlock Holiday" chronicles the exploits of a hapless tourist in Jamaican against a catchy pop-reggae backdrop. Sadly, these are the first two tracks on the album so when they have passed there isn't much to look forward to. In the end, Bloody Tourists is competent enough to keep the 10cc's hardcore fans happy but the casual listener is advised to track down its hits on a compilation.
Words: Donald A. Guarisco
After scoring their commercial breakthrough with "I'm Not in Love" from 1975's The Original Soundtrack, 10cc continued to build on their good fortune with How Dare You. It didn't spawn another massive hit like "I'm Not in Love," but it is a well-crafted album that shows off 10cc's eccentric humor and pop smarts in equal measure. This time, the hit singles were "I'm Mandy Fly Me" and "Art for Art's Sake." The first tune is the fanciful tale of a plane crash victim saved from death by the stewardess of his dreams that plays out a poppy mock-exotica musical backdrop while the second is a tongue-in-cheek parody of commercial-minded artists set to a rocking, cowbell-driven beat. Elsewhere, How Dare You pursues a similar mix of zany humor and pop hooks: "Iceberg" brings its tale of a frigid romantic partner to life with an incredibly intricate and jazzy vocal melody, and "I Wanna Rule the World" is a witty tale of a dictator-in-training with enough catchy riffs and vocal harmonies for two or three songs. How Dare You loses a bit of steam on its second side when the songs' tempos start to slow down, but "Rock 'N' Roll Lullaby" and "Don't Hang Up" keep the listener involved through a combination of melodic songwriting and typically well-crafted arrangements. In the end, How Dare You never hits the giddy heights of The Original Soundtrack but it remains a solid album of witty pop songs that will satisfy anyone with a yen for 10cc.
Words: Donald A. Guarisco
With 10cc's last album, Bloody Tourists, having spun off the monster hit "Dreadlock Holiday," it would be a very brave person indeed who could argue that the most consistently inventive band of the previous eight years had finally run out of steam. But there were clues; no follow-up hits on the last album, a certain lack of pizzazz on their most recent tours, and an incapacitating car accident that kept Eric Stewart immobile for almost nine months. Put all that together and, when Look Hear? did finally materialize, the surprise might have been that it was as good as it was. Which, to be honest, wasn't much. It was old news now that the departures of Godley and Creme had robbed the band of the left-field experimentation that made the earlier records such classics; this was the surviving duo's third album since then. But the enthusiasm, too, had gone. Songs on Look Hear? either struggled half-heartedly to amuse (the disco semi-parody "One Two Five," the odd "I Hate to Eat Alone"), or else they didn't do much of anything, beyond nailing a pleasant melody to some gentle words dripped slowly onto the rug. You listened and half of it went in one ear and out the other, and that is still the problem today. It's "OK." It's "not bad." It's "a bit bland." It's "ho hum." Two bonus tracks on the 7-Ts reissue include the single edit of "One Two Five" and its B-side, "Only Child." Neither adds nor subtracts anything from the main attraction, apart from further beautifying what is, surprisingly, the album's first domestic CD release.
Words: Dave Thompson
In the fall of 1991, it was announced that 10cc's original quartet of members had reconvened in Woodstock, to begin work on their first album together in 16 years. Of course it didn't happen like that; Kevin Godley and Lol Creme both had other careers to consider at that time, and the bulk of the new record was left to Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman -- whose own tenure at the helm ended when they split the band in 1983. And it shows. Although the prodigals did contribute to the album by way of backing vocals, their presence was scarcely felt. Neither did producer Gary Katz add anything to the brew, as songs that sounded terrific as demos ("Welcome to Paradise" in particular) were simply plastered over with studio lushness by session men that the 10cc-ers themselves did not even know. The result is a polished piece of nothing, an album that owes nothing to the 10cc that listeners know and love, and not much to anything that was going on elsewhere on the music scene at that time. It simply sits in the corner humming quietly to itself, and it's easy to forget that it even exists.
Words: Dave Thompson
After the success of Bloody Tourists, and the artsy excess of Look Hear?, Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman gave the rest of the band their walking papers, and recorded this album as a duo. Sounding fresh and energized, this was by far 10cc's best album since 1977's Deceptive Bends. Maintaining a mild case of the quirkiness of old, Stewart and Gouldman embrace some of their finest melodies on this release, allowing the songs to speak for themselves. "Don't Ask" is one of those great little pop songs that you think you've heard somewhere before, but haven't, and it should have been a massive single, but wasn't. "Memories," "Les Nouveaux Riches," and "Overdraft In Overdrive" all utilize a reggae backbeat, but are even more carefree than their 1978 single "Dreadlock Holiday!" Both members share the spotlight throughout, trading off lead and backing vocals with ease. Gouldman's vocals sound more confident than ever, while Stewart still sings like an angel (he'll melt your heart on "Don't Turn Me Away," and "Lying Here With You"). The only weak track in the bunch is the barroom blues track, "Listen With Your Eyes," which was probably written in their sleep. The U.K. and U.S. versions of the albums differ by a few tracks (the U.S. version replaces three songs with tracks recorded with Andrew Gold). Quite possibly the last great 10cc album, and certainly the last to sound like a true collaborative effort between Stewart and Gouldman.
Words: Steve "Spaz" Schnee
After the rejuvenated excitement of 10 Out of 10, Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman pulled in studio heavyweights like Steve Gadd and recorded this ambitious, but ultimately lukewarm album in 1983. All of the usual 10cc trademarks were in place: great melodies, heartbreaking harmonies, and inventive arrangements are in great abundance here. Unfortunately, the 10cc sense of humor is sorely lacking in this jungle, which casts a gray cloud over the whole album. Eric Stewart, one of rock's most sincere vocalists, sounds bored with the material, although he certainly does give it his best shot. There are some fabulous songs here, including the singles "Feel the Love" and "24 Hours," the finger-pointing "American Panorama," and the dramatic "Taxi Taxi," but with only eight songs to choose from, there's less margin for error. Not that there are any real errors here, but half the album sounds uninspired. To think that this was their 'swan song' until their reunion album nearly a decade later makes perfect sense. Perhaps they had run out steam, and couldn't take the band any further? And where is Graham Gouldman on this album? He's in there somewhere, handling various instruments and backing vocals, but surprisingly, does not handle any significant lead vocals on the album. (When one of your two vocalists does not sing lead on an album, there is some cause for concern). There are some scraps of Gouldman floating about, but not enough to satisfy the diehards. If you are an Eric Stewart fan, rejoice, because this is practically a solo album. If you are a Godley and Creme fan, then go back ten spaces because they left the band six years prior to this album!
Words: Steve "Spaz" Schnee