10cc: Mondo Perverts Flail Out With The Original Sound Track

When they raided my club that night
They ruined my act with the leather umbrella
The Chief de Police got a fright
He was up in my boudoir with some other fella.

– from ‘Une Nuit A Paris,’

THEIR LYRICS betray them as cavemen of the moviehouses’ darkened balconies. Their voices reveal them as cartoon figures with three fingers and a thumb on each gloved paw. They are romantics, lunatics, poets, peasants and ordinary 130-pound weaklings.

Late in the winter of 1975, these four certified rock ‘n rollers took to the road in England. Within days the tour was totally sold out, and ecstatic crowds greeted that band, 10cc, at every stop. Each member had a history of 15 years in rock ‘n roll behind him. One was, in large part, responsible for the bubblegum music that inundated the American charts in the late 60s; songs like ‘Yummy, Yummy, Yummy’ and ‘Sugar, Sugar’, which seemed so horrible then, and sound like pure pop masterpieces now. The guitarist had been in one of the original British invasion groups, the Mindbenders, had written ‘A Groovy Kind Of Love’. Two other members had done time in the almost required-for-rock art schools, and they had all grown up, sort of.

But this tour had nothing to do with nostalgia. It wasn’t a 60s revival or a grand return for old conquering heroes. 10cc is a new hand, playing dazzling new music, music that for a few years seemed to float on a cloud of sophistication way over the heads of most listeners. They did things on record no one else ever imagined, but at first, their “quiet” performances and lack of popular recognition left them virtual unknowns. The tune ‘Rubber Bullets’ and others, shot straight to the top of the British charts, recounted a 10cc-er, but “it is a milestone in British history, because it went to #1 with hardly anybody noticing.”

But since then, 10cc’s professionalism, their background and their downright perverted quirkiness have drawn increasing numbers of new fans and allowed them to release an album in England that’s soared to the #6 mark in two days. That LP, The Original Soundtrack (on Mercury-Phonogram), is now being released in America. 10cc is certain that with its U.S. release movie houses will have to close down temporarily while hip listeners listen to the movie recorded on vinyl by one of the most unique and technically polished bands to emerge in the 1970s.

Yardbirds’ song: The saga of 10cc begins in the early 60’s in Manchester, England, where, according to Alan Bet-rock, editor of The Rock Marketplace (one of the best rock fanzines), Kevin Godley, Lol Creme and Graham Gould-man caught the rock ‘n roll fever in their early school days when local bands rehearsed in the music room of Manchester’s Jewish Alliance Brigade.

Graham’s success as a songwriter probably provided the financial glue that held the various bands he formed together. Writing for The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits, Graham churned out international hits with an almost Goffin-King like precision. But his own band wasn’t happening, and eventually, Kevin left and went off to college, studying art like so many other soon-to-be British popstars, along with Lol.

Meanwhile, another local Manchester boy, Eric Stewart, had found fame as a member of Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, and then as the de facto leader of The Mindbenders after Fontana split to go solo. Their hit, ‘Groovy Kind Of Love’, remains a classic of the 60s. Touring America a number of times in the mid 60s, Eric got a taste of rock life that left him hungry for more. Somewhere along the way, Eric met a man named Jonathan King, who wanted to get into the music business by making The Mindbenders stars. When they showed no interest in his proposal, King went off and recorded ‘Everyone’s Gone To The Moon’ and became a star himself, eventually creating UK Records, a company which would meet with the protean 10cc-ers years later.

In the middle of 1966, The Mindbenders were still on the road, and The Mockingbirds were in the process of falling apart, victims of chronic hitless-ness, although Graham was still penning charttoppers for others, and getting involved in production as well. He began, after The Mockingbirds’ official funeral, to write, produce, and play on songs by one-shot bands, formed to create singles, like ‘Bony Moronie At The Hop’, by The Manchester Mob. Yet, Gouldman was slowly becoming a music biz hack. He signed a publishing deal with an American firm, and none of his songs went anywhere. Graham, however, was rekindling a friendship with Eric Stewart, and began writing and producing for the faltering Mindbenders, helping them refind their musical feet with hits like a cover of The Boxtops’ ‘The Letter’, ‘Schoolgirl’ and ‘Blessed Are The Lonely’, which, according to Betrock, pictured Graham on the sleeve even though he only helped set up the sesion.

The mistake didn’t matter, because Graham became a Mindbender in their terminal home stretch, a period during which according to Lol, “Eric got a bit fed up with being a Mindbender.” The Mindbenders broke up soon afterwards (not to be revived until the mid-70s, with Wayne Fontana again leading them) and Graham released a solo album filled with (other people’s) hits that he’d written, The Graham Gouldman Thing (on RCA)

Strawberry studio forever: “Eric decided to open a studio,” Lol recalled during a transAtlantic phone call with Circus Raves Magazine, “so he got some friends together and started working on Strawberry Studios. Me and Kevin came on the scene then. We’d finished college and were doing session work in London and writing songs.” Graham, working on a number of abortive and neo-abortive projects, had Kevin and Lol come help him with one. Eric, free from his commitments, was asked to join on lead guitar, and for the first time, the four future members of 10cc were together in a studio. The album they were working on never appeared, though some of the material from those sessions did, by one-shot groups named things like Graham and Kevin. “In a way,” Graham once told Betrock, “it was really 10cc.”

“A song called ‘Donna’ was a smash for us in England, and that started 10cc,” Lol continued. “We’d all sort of moved in parallel lines and came together around Hotlegs. We were always friends, for like fifteen years” Needing a record company, the four men approached Jonathon King with ‘Donna’. “It was up to him to put it out and put a group name to it,” Lol explained. “He put the name 10cc on it, and when it was a hit, he asked us to do more records. So we did more records under that name. He says the name came to him in a dream, but I don’t believe him for a minute. It was obviously a wet dream. Then, 10cc could be a very small motorbike. We recorded a few more tracks, ‘Johnny, Don’t Do It’ which did nothing, and then we made ‘Rubber Bullets’ which went to #1. Then we put the album out with another seven tracks.

Rubber Bullets was released in America to ecstatic critical raves and only a little commercial response. “We’re into America,” Lol said. “It knocks us out. Once you’ve seen America you can’t help but want to reflect on it. Musically, it’s a source of a lot of inspiration. We had to edit ‘Rubber Bullets’ because it was offensive. But the tours of America have been great. For an unheard of band, it went down well. It’s such a big place to get known, but we’re not impatient people and we refuse to pander to the taste of AM stations or use gimmicks. America is the only place where you can make it purely on your own moral values. That’s why we’ll keep doing it as best we can, because we believe it’s important.”

10cc’s second album, Sheet Music, was released in 1974, and again the critics pounced on their quirky, delightful sound. Cuts like ‘Worst Band In The World’ and ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ only served to prove further that the band were without doubt, the most innovative pop amalgamation to come along in years. But again, commercial success did not follow logically. ‘Shuffle’, like ‘Bullets’ before it, was a regional hit in some areas of America, but its lyrical incisiveness scared off many AM programmers, and its unabashed pop sound kept it off progressive radio. 10cc were stuck in the middle, and no one seemed to know where to put them, so most people tried as hard as possible to ignore them. The fact that both releases appeared on a small label, King’s UK, did not help, even though its distributors, London Records, launched a large advertising campaign. Half the critics seemed totally unable to cope with a band whose sound was, simply, so damned weird.

Brains vs. brawn: Their stage act was still a bit rough as well. “We didn’t claim to be God’s gift to the performing stage,” Lol said in answer to the British critics who bit unmercifully at their heels. “We were still learning. It took so long to recreate the studio sound onstage. We spent a fortune on equipment, virtually reproducing the studio in miniature on the road with a 30 channel desk, the PA is vast and it’s pure quality. It’s brains, not brawn. It’s so sophisticated. We use grand and electric piano, two drum kits, and guitars. There’s also The Gizmo, an invention Kevin and I came up with.”

The gizmo is a small device that attaches to the bridge of a guitar, covered with little buttons which give the sound of bowing the strings. It’s a mechanical device rather than an electronic one, and it gives the freedom of a six string section, and far more freedom than a mellotron (“Crap!” Lol spat) which operates with a tape delay system, and a set length of a note. “The mellotron is clumsy and primitive. The gizmo is absolute freedom to play runs, chords and even percussion,” Lol said in explaining the two years it took to build it. “We were sick of the electronic sound.”

Then, in the last year, 10cc were freed from their contract with UK Records and signed with the giant, worldwide Phonogram complex. “When we started with Jon, it was like we had nothing to lose. Then it escalated, and became, unfortunately, financially impractical to work with Jonathan. Even though we own the studio, we pay to use it, and the royalties we were getting didn’t even pay the studio time. Jonathan couldn’t afford to allow us to make records, and we won’t do it on the cheap. Then, London Records are a problem. We have friends there like Don Wardell, but as a massive team, they’re ineffective at the moment. We needed the American success and it wasn’t happening. We didn’t want to blow any more music on the faulty machinery of London Records. It came to a head and we had to change. Phonogram came out on top however you look at it. They’ve got the resources, and a happening team.”

Thus it is that The Original Soundtrack, “a very different sort of album,” is finally appearing in America. For 10cc it represents a logical progression. But for listeners, it’s like a hammer blow on the head. The first cut, ‘Une Nuit A Paris (One Night In Paris)’, is, according to Lol, “a section taken out of a musical written by Kevin and me, recorded as though you were listening to a film. You’ll see the picture if you close your eyes.”

‘I’m Not In Love’ features another device that builds a lush background orchestration out of voices. The tracks backing actually features 500 voices, turned by Kevin and Lol’s electronic madness into a celestial choir. It was recorded simply at first, and then redone as a showcase that carries the listener away. It’s followed by ‘Blackmail’, a typical piece of 10cc sarcastic fiction about porno kings. A man takes keyhole pictures of a woman, and sells them, and then:

He sold her to Hefner
Who put her in Playboy
He gave her a centerfold
I made a real blunder
She made it in movies
I made her a superstar.

Or, as Lol puts it, “there’s an aspiring Linda Lovelace in everybody.”

‘The Second Sitting For The Last Supper’ opens the second side. It is a dadaesque plea for a second coming, “such a lovely idea,” Lol laughed. Again, the lyrics are classic, vintage 10cc.

Two thousand years and he ain’t come yet
We kept his seat warm and his table set

“My wife and I just had a baby boy,” Lol said, explaining ‘Brand New Day’, “and I wanted to write them a song. It was in my head all through the pregnancy. Then I got together with Kevin and it developed strange, but still a lullaby to my baby, Lalo, to tell him to watch his ass. ‘Flying Junk’ was written by Eric and Graham and they get cagey about it, saying it’s about antiques. Kevin and I refuse to believe them. But each track is an entity, and this one came to life when we added a zither to it. Each track takes a lot of colors, like a painting.” And like a painting, the viewer or listener can read what they want into the double meaninged lyrics.

‘Life Is A Minestrone’ evokes the 60s concept, You Are What You Eat.

Life is a minestrone
Served up with parmesan cheese
Death is a cold lasagne suspended in deep freeze.

“It’s just a piece of complete lunacy that we wanted to record in an Italian restaurant, but we never got that far.” Finally, there’s ‘The Film Of My Love’, about a singer, whose identity Lol refused to divulge, but who is, according to Mr. Creme, “a total megalomaniac. It takes the piss out of his ego.” Leave it to 10cc to close an album with a piece of warped romantic schmaltz. “Verbal diarrhea,” Lol laughed, and then totally cracked up, in hysteria.

“As far as we’re concerned,” Lol went on once he recovered, “the music is there to be enjoyed. If you have to look deeper, then you’ve gotta understand that anything we rip down is something that has to be replaced. You have to start the argument first.” With that, Lol launched himself to the door, where a roadie told him he was already late for another sold-out concert.

One could easily imagine him, an hour or so later, standing on a stage in the English countryside, beaming at the screaming crowd, as the words of ‘Une Nuit A Paris’ poured out of the PA:

Oh, my cheri, wish you were mine
And I’ll show you a wonderful time
For the price of a cheap champagne
I’ll show it to you once again…

© Michael GrossCircus Raves, July 1975

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