Life at 33 1/3: 10cc: The Zappas of Pop

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10cc: 10cc (UK)

Oh dear, the British pop scene in 1972-73 was like a carnival.  The 45 had restored some of its old power and glory thanks to the world of glam.  Even album-stars like David Bowie and Roxy Music chose their single releases with care.  It was instant art.  Pop music was fun again. 

Glam took its inspiration from 50’s and 60’s pop, but they dressed it up in silk and glitter, hairdos and make-up, and injected more guitar, more punch, more of everything into this visual piece of kitch.  Even elements of prog and heavyrock.

Glam wasn’t one particular style, glam was overlaps, loads of it.  The sophisticated and the simple blurred into one another.  Even though the grown ups still preferred the album-format and despised  the theatrics of the single charts, they actually loved what was going on, they just pretended they did not.  Presumably they sent their younger brothers or sisters to the record store when they wanted singles.

Time was ripe for 10cc, the thinking man’s pop group.  The Manchester quartet were an experienced lot, they had very much been a part of the 60s scene in England.  Graham Gouldman primarily as a songwriter for Yardbirds, Hollies and Herman’s Hermits, to name a few – and now we’re talking big hits, like “For Your Love”, “Heart Full Of Soul”, “Bus Stop” and “No Milk Today”.  Eric Stewart had been a real pop star as a member of The Mindbenders who in 1966 hit #3 in the UK and #2 in the US with “A Groovy Kind Of Love”.  Kevin Godley and Lol Creme had played in several bands, they finally nailed it in 1970 as Hotlegs (with Stewart) and the original and unusual hit “Neanderthal Man”.

During the early 70’s they worked primarily as session musicians in Strawberry Studios in Manchester (Stewart and Gouldman were part-owners), backing among others Neil Sedaka.  In 1972 they wanted to try their luck as a band.

First attempt was the pastiche “Donna”, a stylish and extremely commercial parody of late 50’s early 60’s teenage heartthrob ballads.  Falsetto- and bass-voices galore.  It all sounded wonderfully authentic until the gorgeous satire of the lyrics hit you like a whip.  It’s as funny and well played as anything on Frank Zappa’s “Cruisin ‘With Ruben And The Jets”-album.  The opening stanza borrows from The Beatles’ “Oh Darling”, the song also introduces that very special 10cc guitar-sound, powerful and moaning, its like nothing you heard before.  “Donna” combined the old and the new in a tight and immensly addictable recording that hit you right between the eyes.  Out of nowhere, 10cc became pop stars .

The sequel “Johnny Do not Do It” – yet another piece of ’50s teenage drama, this time the death disc (or “splatter platter”), all about a youngster getting himself killed while riding his motorbike, the girl left behind crying her heart out and praying to the angels.  Too kitch even for 1973, but 10cc were on a roll, and they had an ace up their sleeve: “Rubber Bullets”, an exceptionally strong song with an infectious chorus.  The Beach Boys equipped with heavy armour and fierce guitar lines.  It ‘s so cheerful that it takes a couple of spins before you discover what the song is actually about: A party in the jailhouse erupts in violent riots, the guards can’t stop it so the police and the National Guard arrive loading up their rubber bullets.  Blood’s gonna flow.  All good fun from the sound of it.  A typical slice of 10cc’s dark humour.  And their first #1.

Riding high on the hit parade and in the glossy pop mags, and a fourth single, “The Dean And I”, on its way, 10cc were ready for the album market.  And what an album it is!  It sounds and plays like a “Greatest Hits”.  Not only because it contains the four singles, but because all the other cuts sounds like singles as well.  They cover almost every thinkable base of pop sounding all classy, tight and and tongue-in-cheek, – the satire is sharp and clever, sometimes hilarious, and they serve it completely deadpan.  And then there’s that mysteriously, wailing guitar sound.

Their musical versatility is breathtaking, and even if they wear smirks on their faces, they could only achieve what they do because they love and respect the music and the styles they play around with.  10cc is creative nostalgia.  It is like they transferred Zappa’s precision and ingenuity to pop music.  Both teens and adults loved them. They were a ready-made The Beatles.  Not bad for a debut album.

Released: July 1973

Produced by: 10cc

Side One:

“Johnny, Don’t Do It” (Godley/Creme/Gouldman) – 3:36

“Sand in My Face” (Godley/Creme/Gouldman) – 3:36

“Donna” (Godley/Creme) – 2:53

“The Dean and I” (Godley/Creme) – 3:03

“Headline Hustler” (Gouldman/Stewart) – 3:31

Side Two:

“Speed Kills” (Stewart/ Godley/Creme/Gouldman) – 3:47

“Rubber Bullets” (Godley/Creme/Gouldman) – 5:15

“The Hospital Song” (Godley/Creme) – 2:41

“Ships Don’t Disappear in the Night (Do They?)” (Gouldman/Stewart) – 3:04

“Fresh Air for My Mama” (Godley/Creme/Stewart)– 3:04

Personnel:

Eric Stewart – lead electric guitar, slide guitar, moog synthesizer, vocals

Graham Gouldman – bass, acoustic guitar, dobro guitar, electric guitar, tambourine, vocals

Lol Creme – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, grand piano, synthesizer, mellotron, percussion, vocals

Kevin Godley – drums, percussion, vocals