10cc: 10cc

WITH THIS DEBUT ALBUM, 10cc are well on their way to becoming the true studio wizards of the seventies. It’s a startling record, bursting with astonishing melodic shifts, almost irreconciliable extremes of ethereality and raunch, vocals ranging from piercing falsetto to the deepest basso profundities, and sufficient admirably-integrated gimmickry to satiate the most demanding aural fixation. The marvelously complex songs provide a constant jolt, keeping your attention firmly fixed upon what’s transpiring on the record; but the group’s evident delight in parody and sly humor keep things light and amusing. At different times they sound like Ritchie Valens or the middle period Who (around Sell Out), the Beach Boys or the synthetic schlock troops of the early 60’s; you never know what’s coming up next, but it’s almost always mind-boggling.

Who are these mysterious paragons of popdom with the even more mysterious moniker? A couple of fairly famous names turn up, at least as far as the Anglo files are concerned. Eric Stewart came out of Manchester with Wayne Fontana, then led the Mindbenders through their descending career from ‘Groovy Kind Of Love’ on. In 1970 he formed Hotlegs with Kevin Godley and Lol Creme; they went on to ephemeral success with the implacably imbecilic ‘Neanderthal Man’ and just before breaking up were joined by fellow Mancunian Graham Gouldman. Gouldman, aside from a stint with the unsuccessful Mockingbirds and a pleasant solo album later on, wrote numerous hit songs for the Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, Yardbirds, Cher, the soloing Wayne Fontana and others (‘Heart Full Of Soul’, ‘Bus Stop’, ‘No Milk Today’, ‘For Your Love’, ‘Look Through Any Window’, etc.).

Hotlegs evolved into 10cc in 1972, landed a contract with Jonathan King’s UK label, and scored first time out with ‘Donna’ in the latter part of the year. The single was a blatant parody of 50’s teen ballads (most specifically Ritchie Valens’ blockbuster of the same name), with an overly affected falsetto vocal, but the tune was quite appealing and it reached No.2.

The follow-up, ‘Johnny Don’t Do It’, was a more ambitious attempt in a similar vein, a satire of the motorcycle hoodlum/teen trauma/collision death genre (not nearly so outlandish as the Detergents, however). Unfortunately it was issued at the same time as the rerelease of the Shangri-Las’ ‘Leader Of The Pack’, which went into the Top 10 while ‘Johnny’ failed to make the charts. The third single, however, was a masterpiece, and went straight to Number One. ‘Rubber Bullets’, with an updated ‘Jailhouse Rock’ theme about a dance at the local county jail and the consequent heavy-handed police retaliation measures, was an irresistible hit single, with an exhilarating melody line and great Beach Boy harmonies, a fine dual-guitar lead break and plenty of dazzling changes – a brilliant record (now showing signs of becoming an American hit).

The uncut version (with more instrumental, an extra chorus, and a few additional lyrics, those being “We all got balls and brains/But some’s got balls and chains”) is one of the showcases of the album, but every track is undeniably arresting. ‘Sand In My Face’ is vocally and thematically reminiscent of the Who’s Charles Atlas ads; ‘Ships Don’t Disappear (Do They?)’ possesses coruscating complexity and shimmering harmonies; and ‘Speed Kills’ pits a big horn arrangement on a bluesy base agains the airiest vocals imaginable – it shouldn’t work but it does.

The new British hit, ‘The Dean And I’, is a blithe nostalgic tale about romancing the principal’s daughter, again somewhat reminiscent of the Beach Boys. But ‘Fresh Air For My Mama’, the stunning closing track, is an uncanny bit of Beach Boys mimicry, utilizing characteristic Brian Wilson production tricks (the heavenly choirboy harmonies and the distantly echoed piano runs) to create a reflective and melancholic “flowerpot” (in Nik Cohn’s useful term) which sounds at times amazingly like ‘Surf’s Up’ (except you can understand it).

There’s enough going on here for five albums. By the middle of side two you should be completely dizzied from following the group’s lightning musical legerdemain; yet it all holds together quite impressively. 10cc is the most fascinating new group to emerge in ages, and no true pop connoisseur can afford to miss their album.

© Ken BarnesPhonograph Record, 1973

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