Thursday, May 31, 2007

Considerable Sounds: 10cc Draws from Diverse Influences and Redefines "Popular" Music

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By DC Music Editor Benjamin New

In 1968 Eric Stewart became co-owner of Strawberry Studios

Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, who wrote and recorded together for about three years before taking on the name of 10cc in 1972 created some of the freshest most intelligent pop music of their time. Drawing from cabaret, show tunes, rock, pop, and the avant garde the band was completely unique.

All four songwriters injected their songs with an incisively sharp wit and lyrical dexterity that no one has ever quite matched.

The experimental half of 10cc was Godley (vocals, drums, percussion) and Creme (vocals, guitar, keyboards), who brought an "art school" sensibility and a more "cinematic" writing style to the group. Of course Stewart and Gouldman were brilliant songwriters as well. Gouldman made a name for himself long before 10cc as a hit songwriter. The Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul" and "For Your Love", and The Hollies' "Look Through Any Window" and "Bus Stop" were all Gouldman-penned hits. Other notable Gouldman hits of the era included Herman's Hermits' "No Milk Today", "East West" and "Listen People". Each member of the band took turns being the lead vocalist.

And when Brian Eno & Phil Manzanara wanted "Heavenly Vocals" for their 801 "Listen Now" album, they rang up Godley & Creme.

In 1968 Eric Stewart became co-owner of Strawberry Studios, and the "gang of four" pretty much moved in. They released material under the names "The Yellow Bellow Boom Room" & "Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon". Around this time all four members of the original 10cc line-up were working together regularly at Strawberry Studios. American bubblegum pop writer-producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz of Super K Productions came to England and commissioned Gouldman to write and produce formula bubblegum songs.

These were either augmented or performed entirely by varying combinations of the future 10cc lineup. These songs included "Sausalito", a US hit credited to Ohio Express (Yummy Yummy Yummy),"Susan's Tuba" by Freddie and the Dreamers (which featured lead vocals by Gouldman), "There Ain't No Umbopo" by Crazy Elephant, "When He Comes" by Fighter Squadron and "Come On Plane" by Silver Fleet (these featured lead vocals by Godley.)

Lol Creme said “Singles kept coming out under strange names that had really been recorded by us." Kevin Godley adds, "We did a lot of tracks in a very short time – it was really like a machine. Twenty tracks in about two weeks – a lot of crap really."

They also were the backing tracks producers and engineers for Neil Sedaka's "Solitaire" and "The Tra La La Days Are Over".

Grahm Gouldman said, "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."

Don't Hang Up

10cc was born.

Their 1st album was "10CC" which featured parody's of rock & roll like "Rubber Bullets" a send up of "Jailhouse Rock". Their second effort,"Sheet Music" became the band's breakthrough success album in 1974 with the memorable songs "The Wall Street Shuffle" and "Silly Love".

OH EFFENDI (lyrics)
from Sheet Music

In the middle of a caravan
On a four wheel drive oasis

There's a man with a thought in mind
To cash in on the desert faces

He's got a truckload of yorkshire girls
For your harem going places

And the border bums never saw
The guns in the whiskey cases

There's a real, big demand
And it's written in the palm of his hand

He's gonna change the face of the desert
He's gonna sweep away the sand

Hang on sheik, I've got a yellow streak
I ain't here; I'm a mirage.

Get back des, keep it under your fez.
And don't give us away in the massage

Look what i did for the pyramid
I put a pool in and made it pay

I built an elevator and a film theater
And i shipped it to the USA
`cos there's a real big demand
And it's written in the palm of my hand

I'm gonna change the face of the desert
I'm gonna sweep away the sand

Hang on friends!
There's a lot more goodies in the pipeline
So this ain't the time to close the deal

Here's the deal
Ooh, now you've got a howitzer all of your own
Ooh, and a panzer division to chauffeur you home
Gun running is fun
But hang on, friends, hang on friends

Allah be praised, there's a whole new craze
We're gonna shoot up the foreign legion

And it's up with the sheik
And down with the frog

We're gonna liberate the region!

Oh effendi, we're gonna bury your head in the sand
Oh effendi, you better get off my doggone land
Hey, prince of the moonbeams
Son of the sun,
Light of a thousand stars
Your gorillas are urban
And there's bourbon on your turban
And the sun shines out of your ass
Oh effendi, i'm gonna grovel in your wake
Oh effendi, it's all been a big mistake

You're gonna cut out my liver If i don't deliver
Things are getting out of hand
I'm going to ride off into the sunset
make a deal with the promised land
Goodbye friends
There's no more goodies in the pipeline...

Music & Lyrics By Eric Stewart & Kevin Godley

No this is not about current affairs (Though it could be) it was penned in 1973.


Then the masterpiece "The Original Soundtrack" was released with my personal choice for best group vocals of the era, Godley & Creme's "Une Nuit A Paris", an eight-minute, multi-part "mini-operetta" that seems to have been a fairly large influence on "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical "Phantom of the Opera" also paraphrases the melody in it's overture.

Imitation is indeed a sincere form of flattery.

The perennially popular "I'm Not In Love" has heavenly vocal tracks. How did they do them? They sang each note in the chromatic scale, one at a time and made tape loops of them. Then they were hand faded in and out of the mix creating the lush bed of voices you hear in the background. This was studio wizardry at it's very best. Here is Eric Stewart's account from Sound on Sound Magazine:

"So I had the first six chords or so of the verse figured and I had the melody already figured in my head, as well as the first verse lyrics 'I'm not in love, so don't forget it, it's just a silly phase I'm going through...' so I took this to the studio, played it to the other guys and asked 'Would anyone like to finish it with me?' GG, the bass guitarist, said he would. We usually wrote in pairs, and while the major hits came out of Godley and Creme or myself and Graham Gouldman, we were a very incestuous bunch — we used to swap partners all the time.

I wrote 'Life Is A Minestrone' and 'Silly Love' with Lol, and we did swap around a lot just to keep the writing freshness going. It worked beautifully for us. Anyway, at that time Godley and Creme were writing the mini musical 'Une Nuit à Paris' [which would open the album], so they went into one room to finish that, and GG (Grahm Gouldman) and I went into another to work on the 'I'm Not In Love' idea with two guitars. We developed the song pretty quickly. I usually wrote on the keyboard, but 'I'm Not In Love' was written on two guitars, and the ironic thing is that there is no featured guitar on the finished product, just a little DI'd Gibson 335 playing a light rhythm pattern. In the end, we must have spent about two or three days writing before completing it.

Well, we recorded 'I'm Not In Love' as a bossa nova and Godley and Creme didn't really like it! Kevin was especially blunt. He said "It's crap". We threw it away and we even erased it, so there's no tape of that bossa nova version. It pissed me off no end at the time, but it was also very democratic and so we turned our attention to the recording of 'One Night In Paris'.

Then the studio secretary Kathy said 'Why didn't you finish that song? I really love it. It's the nicest thing you've ever done.'

This didn't really impress Kevin, of course, but we discussed it again, and believe me, it was Kevin who suddenly came up with the brainwave. He said 'I tell you what, the only way that song is gonna work is if we totally fuck it up and we do it like nobody has ever recorded a thing before. Let's not use instruments. Let's try to do it all with voices.'

I said "Yeah. OK. That sounds... different."

So a simple bass drum sound was played by Kevin from a Moog synthesizer as the rhythm track. It was Lol who thought of recording tape loops to layer the voices. it took me a couple of hours to get my head around the idea. But then I figured how we could physically make the loops and set up the studio to do that. I rigged up a rotary capstan on a mic stand, and the tape loop had to be quite long because the splice edit point on the loop would go through the heads and there'd be a little blip each time it did.

So, I had to make the loop as long as I could for it to take a long, long time to get around to the splice again. That way you wouldn't really hear the splice/blip. We're talking about a loop of about 12 feet in length going around the tape heads, around the tape-machine capstans, coming out away from the Studer stereo recorder to a little capstan on a mic stand that had to be dead in line vertically with the heads. It was like one of those continuous belts that you see in old factories, running loads of machines, and we had to keep it rigid by putting some blocks on the mic stand legs to keep it dead, dead steady.

It worked, but the loop itself — and this is where it gets interesting — had to be made up from multiple voices we'd done on the 16-track machine. Each note of a chromatic scale was sung 16 times, so we got 16 tracks of three people singing for each note. That was Kevin, Lol and GG standing around a valve Neumann U67 in the studio, singing 'Aahhh' for around three weeks.

I'm telling you; three bloody weeks. We eventually had 48 voices for each note of the chromatic scale, and since there are 13 notes in the chromatic scale, this made a total of 624 voices." Eric recorded the lead vocal and Rhodes piano. The band sat in the studio for 3 days just listening to the playback. Kevin suggested the Bass solo in the middle. Lol remembered he had said something into the grand piano mics when he was laying down the acoustic piano. He'd said 'Be quiet, big boys don't cry' — heaven knows why, but I soloed it and we all agreed that the idea sounded very interesting if we could just find the right voice to speak the words. Just at that point the door to the control room opened and our secretary Kathy looked in and whispered 'Eric, sorry to bother you. There's a telephone call for you.' Lol jumped up and said 'That's the voice, her voice is perfect!'

"We got Kathy in the studio just to whisper those words, and there it was, slotted in just before that bass guitar solo. And it fit beautifully. Again, another little twist of fate, an accident that wasn't on anybody else's songs. We'd never heard that before. It just clinched it and made the song even more original. Poor Kathy was bemused. She didn't want to go in the studio, we had to drag her in, but she was very, very sweet and we eventually persuaded her: 'You've just got to whisper. Just whisper, don't worry. You're not singing, just talking. Use your best telephone voice.' She had a gorgeous voice, and there it is; it's on the recording... and she got a gold record for it, too."

Kathy Redfern, The studio secretary whose voice you hear saying, "big boys don't cry" in "I'm Not In Love."

The entire album was masterful, even the lighthearted "Life Is A Minestrone".


"How Dare You!", their next album was another completely original work. With "Art for Art's sake" still an FM radio staple in my listening area (N.Y. - Philadelphia). When I purchase audio equipment I bring "How Dare You" and Steely Dan's "Aja" as the benchmark source for fidelity. I think both of these bands had similar production values. (Perfection or bust).

Sadly, no one has supplanted 10cc in the past 20 years. There is nothing remotely like it. I still go back to The Original Soundtrack when I want to hear something completely original, and it still gets my blood pumping, after all these years.

I will do another story in the future about the amazing contributions to both music and film these 4 gentlemen have amassed since Godley & Creme left the band. I leave you with a bit of news; Kevin Godley and Graham Gouldman recently launched a web site and have new material available for downloads! Here are some samples:




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Duly Consider and Considerable Sounds are TM of this publication and are subject to liabilities thereof


Dan said...

You're absolutely correct. 10cc continues to be totally unique 30+ years later. They could toss off pop singles and concept albums with ease. And they pioneered music videos as an art form with their great song "Cry." It's great to hear they're still making music.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I read this and went off into a dream state remembering what it was like back when there was music.

10cc was so special. Being of pea brain and musically myopic, I always confused 10cc with Queen until I read this and first realized "One Night In Paris" was the precursor that sparked Queen and got them off on "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Both were rare gems.

So where is 10cc today? Or any of its members?

I've got to go dig through my LPs and find what 10cc albums I may have and crank up the old Victro . . . oops! -- I mean Dual turntable.


Harper in Tejas

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. The story about 'I'm not in love' is pure magic. I've always loved these guys, together and a part. And, Son of Man the new Godley / Gouldman song about how 10cc came to be is right up there with anything they've done. A cool track with a 'jackhammer beat' and a delightful lyric. Nobody beats those guys in being silly and sensilble at the same time. Check it out on (it's their site).
- Trismegistus

Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

10cc was perhaps my favorite band of the 1970s. It's hard to choose "The Original Soundtrack" or "How Dare You" as their masterpiece since both are so great in their own ways.

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