This is the pre-history of 10cc, a novelty number that sits somewehere in time between John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” and The Kinks’ “Apeman.” The mix today sounds remarkably stifled, like a bad case of mono, with a barely audible chant of “I’m a Neanderthal man / You’re a Neanderthal girl / Let’s make Neanderthal love / In this Neanderthal world” behind strummed acoustic guitars and a thumping drum beat that throbs like a headache. Not the most immortal piece of plastic on the planet, but even in this early incarnation Godley, Creme and Stewart had a knack for grabbing your attention with something different. That they would evolve into challenging pop auteurs is evident on the B side, “You Didn’t Like It…,” which mixes elements of Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney into a, qu’est-ce que le mot juste?, mélange. (And, yes, I’m making fun of myself for using the word “mélange,” not showing off my crappy French.)
Kronomyth 1.0: COME TO MY ARMS, MY BEAMISH BOYS. This is a seminal work from three-fourths of 10cc, designed to cash in on the surprise success of “Neanderthal Man” and featuring songs originally intended for Godley and Creme’s first album, which was to be produced under the name of Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon. Little of it sounds like “Neanderthal Man” (mercifully, since forty minutes of chanting, drums and lazily strummed guitars would have made for a boring history lesson), some of it sounds like 10cc (compare “How Many Times” and “Take Me Back” to “The Hospital Song” or “Fresh Air For My Momma”), and parts of it are clearly patterned on The Beatles (“Suite F.A.” is their response to the second side of Abbey Road), the Beach Boys (“All God’s Children”) and CS&N (the harmonies on “How Many Times”). In other words, just the sort of studio pop tinkering you would expect from the boys, but which hadn’t quite coalesced into the quartet’s vision of over-the-top doo wop and pop. It wasn’t, however, what fans of “Neanderthal Man” were expecting, if they were expecting an encore at all, and so Hotlegs’ first (and last) album met with a chilly reception. Today, the record is primarily of interest to 10cc fans, who number not a few, and for their archaeological efforts will be rewarded with clever concoctions that would have felt at home on the B side of a 10cc single. That said, it’s not a work of genius, at least not in a world where Paul McCartney’s Ram, The Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One and Harry Nilsson’s Aerial Ballet already existed. It is, however, a better bet to please 10cc fans than some of the later godleyless and uncremed efforts (Look Hear, I’m looking at you).
10cc derived their name from the average amount of semen in a male’s ejaculation, and despite an overabundance of commercial pop potential it’s this kind of willfull strangeness that presents a uniquely sticky problem to appreciating their music. Their eponymous debut splits its time between doo-wop sendups (“Donna” is far and away the best of these) and defiantly unconventional stories that find veins of pure pop gold amidst complex but not entirely effective narrative structures. Case in point: “The Hospital Song” applies a wonderful melody to the story of a man in a hospital who takes revenge on his caretakers by peeing his bed. In addition to “Donna,” the album features such 10cc classics as “The Dean and I” (awfully catchy, but the shifts in arrangement are hit or miss) and “Rubber Bullets” (a retro rock tune with a futuristic guitar solo). There are some obvious references to the Beatles here: “Headline Hustler” recalls the work of George Harrison, “Ships Don’t Disappear in the Night (Do They?)” and “Fresh Air for My Momma” sound like Wings, and “Speed Kills” feels a lot like “Blue Jay Way.” Similar to Sparks, 10cc’s sense of humor and love of unlikely heroes undermine their melodic craft at times, but it adds some artistic integrity in the bargain. Pop fans may feel the band’s estimable talents are misdirected, but even they’re bound to be intrigued by much of this record.
Kronomyth 2.0: 10cc GETS THEIR SHEET TOGETHER. This might be the most perfect piece of plastic pop in the universe. It might also just be a brilliant record from a brilliant band; I suppose there’s some wiggle room there. Unfortunately, 10cc never released an album so good as Sheet Music again. Of course, Paul McCartney never released an album as good as Abbey Road either, and I kept buying his albums. The magic of Sheet Music is that you get the melodic genius of Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart and the art-pop sensibilities of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme swirled together, resulting in songs like “Silly Love,” “The Sacro-Iliac” and “The Worst Band In The World” (my favorite 10cc song, despite long-held loyalties to “The Things We Do For Love”). By the time the third track (“Hotel”) rolls around, you’re either a lifetime member of the 10cc fan club or you’re not. Of course, I was hooked after “Donna,” but not everyone gets excited by doo-wop sendups. The only complaint I have against Sheet Music is that the band never tried to duplicate it. The album’s closing line, “there’s no more goodies in the pipeline,” while not exactly prophetic, marks the end of an era; from here on, the band would struggle to get their big ideas into succinct pop packages. But that’s a problem for another day. Here, oddity and melody lope along happily: “Somewhere In Hollywood,” “Baron Samedi,” “Clockwork Creep,” “Wall Street Shuffle.” Their first album was also wonderful in spots, although it sometimes felt like a novelty record. Sheet Music is strange, but it’s no novelty; we’re clearly in the realm of inspired genius here. If you enjoy pop music with a sense of humor and adventure, you’re gonna love this Sheet.
One hour with 10cc is like a day with any other band. So many different avenues are taken on The Original Soundtrack: languid ballads, crank rock and loopy stories. The result is indigestion of the senses. “Une Nuit A Paris” and “Brand New Day” are the sort of wanky stuff that made Godley and Creme a real bore sometimes, while the three Gouldman and Stewart tracks (or two of them anyway) offer welcome relief. The wondrous “I’m Not In Love” and the clever “Flying Junk” are highlights here, since I look to 10cc for left-of-center pop with unforgettable hooks. When the art and pop camps come together (“The Second Sitting For The Last Supper,” “Life Is A Minestrone”), the songs are agitated, slightly sugarcoated nonsense. Listening to this record, I can hear where a critical backlash was inevitable. Starting the record with the three-part “Une Nuit A Paris” is just so pretentious that you’ll either love the move or hate it. Closing the album with the loungey “The Film of My Love” is almost a bittersweet reminder of what could have been: clever pop music that twists stereotypes into humorous parodies. Some have suggested that “Une Nuit A Paris” is a parody of French music, but it ends up maligning the French in the process (I know, you’ll say, they’re used to it). It underscores a problem with 10cc’s parodies: they’re more mean-spirited than they need to be. “The Second Sitting For The Last Supper” is almost offensive; that their humor was never misinterpreted like Randy Newman represents a dodged rubber bullet indeed. As with How Dare You!, this is a difficult album; difficult in the way that a moody three-year-old can be difficult. I’d hold that all of albums from the original quartet are worth owning, but among them I might give The Original Soundtrack the lowest score.
How Dare You! might be a concept album about relationships, might be a pop album with artistic aspirations, an experimental album with pop sensibilities, etc. One thing’s for certain: it’s the last album from the original quartet, and thus the last album to feature the usual tug-of-war between Godley and Creme’s unpredictable artiness and the pop songwriting craft of Gouldman and Stewart. The album generated another pair of UK Top 10 hits – the ironically titled “Art for Art’s Sake” and “I’m Mandy Fly Me” — and continued to confound American listeners. It’s not their most enduring work, but 10cc can produce good music even in an atmosphere of acrimonious auto-pilot. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lullaby” is an adorable song about waking up Dad in the middle of the night, “Iceberg” and “Head Room” play with past musical idioms a la The Kinks, “I Wanna Rule the World” is interesting if a little demented. The trouble here is that the songs don’t pack a collective punch like Sheet Music; there are simply too many lulls in between all the good ideas (case in point: “Don’t Hang Up”), and either the momentum dissipates or the listener simply gets distracted. It’s obvious that a group with this much talent should have more to show for it than How Dare You! Lol and Kevin would continue to make music like this while experimenting with sonics on albums like L and Freeze Frame; Eric and Graham ironed out the weirdness (with wonderful results) on Deceptive Bends. 10cc was always an uneasy alliance of styles, but they left some good music behind them.
I’ve always heard this as a pale successor to “The Things We Do For Love.” THAT song was a roller-coaster ride; this is more of a swan ride. Still it’s a lovely track, fit if not for a king than at least one PM I know. Like most of their singles, the B side is a nonalbum track, promisingly titled “Don’t Squeeze Me Like Toothpaste.” It’s not as silly as it sounds, but a country-pop song with some sweet guitar playing and a good melody. Toothpaste or not, the band lost most of their teeth when Godley and Creme dropped out, as these two tracks confirm.
Kronomyth 7.1: DREADFULLY FUNNY. I read on the Internet (probably Songfacts) that this song was inspired by an incident that happened while Graham Gouldman and Justin Hayward (of The Moody Blues) were on holiday in Barbados. This would probably be considered racist today; ah, for the 70’s, when we all had longer hair and thicker skins. (The band also released an early music video for this song; now that was racist.) The B side is a nonalbum track, “Nothing Can Move Me.” It’s a bland rocker that one can only assume is very, very subtle irony. Because one shudders to think otherwise.
The last of the melodic money shots, if their next album is any indication. 10cc had swelled to a sextet following their last tour, though the focus remains the sharp songwriting of Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart. Bloody Tourists isn’t the adventurous 10cc of old, having settled into a kind of Kinks/Wings pop quirkiness since Deceptive Bends. It is the last album to contain what could be considered essential 10cc songs: “Dreadlock Holiday” (the best pro-marijuana reggae novelty song you’ll ever hear) and “For You And I” (immaculate pop in the vein of “I’m Not In Love”). Just a notch below them are intelligent album cuts like “From Rochdale To Ocho Rios,” “Life Line” and “Reds In My Bed” (sung by Stuart Tosh, who sounds like a lost Davies brother). The rest of the album is less memorable but still ambitious for pop music, and the only way 10cc can fail is when they lack ambition. There is no unifying theme on Bloody Tourists that I can find, though the narratives are often written from the perspective of someone in a dangerous environment: an englishman in Jamaica, an alcoholic at a bar, a reluctant spy in Russia. And one track, “Life Line,” feels like a leftover from How Dare You? (albeit a tasty leftover). If you enjoy the melodic craft of 10cc minus the spills and thrills, Bloody Tourists is a bloody well done pop album in spots. It’s a little like riding the “safe” rollercoaster at the amusement park, but not everyone pined for the queasy contributions of Godley and Creme.
Look Hear? is another unpredictable delight. Oh, wait, I must have fallen asleep face down on the Warner Bros. promotional insert again. Said insert also claims that this is the first album from the new lineup, a distinction that actually belongs to Bloody Tourists. And did you know that Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman wrote the majority of 10cc’s hits? I’ll bet Lol Creme and Kevin Godley didn’t. Okay, enough of picking on Warner Bros., who got what they deserved when Look Hear? tanked like a wet sweater in a swimming pool. As sheepish a collection of pop songs as they’ve recorded, this album audibly retreats into the ‘70s at a most inopportune time. 1980 produced a quantum leap in popular music thanks to albums like Remain In Light, Scary Monsters and Peter Gabriel III. Not that anyone expected 10cc to keep pace, but Look Hear? isn’t even running in the right direction. Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart still deliver a few pleasant melodies on songs like “I Hate To Eat Alone,” “How’m I Ever Gonna Say Goodbye” and “I Took You Home,” but nowhere (except possibly “Lovers Anonymous”) is there a hint of the playful subversion that made their music so palatable in the past. It was enough to end their brief affair with Warner Bros., who could now correctly claim that Look Hear? was the last album recorded by the new lineup. Granted, 10cc wasn’t the only intelligent band to sputter into the ‘80s (Camel and Gentle Giant come to mind). A few limp nods to reggae also slip into the mix, at no time recapturing the cuteness of “Dreadlock Holiday.” If you want to know where 10cc’s talent went, don’t look here; pick up Godley & Creme’s Snack Attack instead.