All the single hits (1970-1986) and ‘Une Nuit A Paris’ from Manchester’s art-pop maestros, famously named after the average volume of the male ejaculation. Plus hits before and after the classic line-up.
IT LOOKED LIKE A NOVELTY. IN THE GLITTER-laden early ’70s a decidedly unglamorous, denim-clad quartet of pasty-faced studio-nics appeared on TOTP singing a doo-wop pastiche that sounded like The Beatles’ ‘Oh Darling’ – unfeasibly high and low voices, limp hair, squinty drummer, moderate hit, goodbye. But no; ‘Rubber Bullets’, a cheeky shuffle about prisoner suppression, complete with sadistic jokes (“I love to hear those convicts squeal/It’s a shame these slugs ain’t real”) and a super-dumb hook, was a Number 1 hit. How could they sing that sweetly with their tongues stuffed so firmly into their cheeks?
Next, ‘The Dean And I’ – three minutes of multi-themed, all hook, multi-textured, tireless ingenuity – signalled these were musicians of extraordinary gifts. ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ and ‘Silly Love’, from the maddeningly inventive Sheet Music, proved they could also riff big, jump-cut into a rumba and make awful puns. It was Beatles, Beach Boys and Beyond; virtuosic, cinematic, brilliant. And the albums were even worse. Too smart, no heart, sure, but pop musicians with these kind of chops are rare, pop music this good is a miracle. Respect due, listen and learn, we’re in the presence of greatness. The achingly vulnerable ‘I’m Not In Love’, one of pop’s crowning achievements, gave them warmth as well. Perfect.
Inevitably, four head boys trying too hard to impress each other had to end in tears, with Gouldman/Stewart becoming a 10cc (5cc?) of dogged craftsmanship and Godley/Creme going on to make silly Duran Duran videos and odd, sporadically amazing records. This collection takes in some of those disparate aftermath releases too, and they’re fine, if a bit like listening to Venus And Mars after Abbey Road.
A chat with Graham Gouldman
What was it like being in the cleverest pop band of its generation?
Tremendous fun. We couldn’t go wrong. No cliche was allowed unless it was so obvious, we wanted it like that. It was a long time before we let ourselves write a love song. We were writing songs inspired by the film Angels With Dirty Faces, Americana songs, Disneyesque scenes. We came close to sixth-form humour but it was too smart. Kev and Lol were better at that than me and Eric, but we got infected with it and I think we pulled it off. Our whole attitude was, “Let’s do it!” We never said, “We can’t do that.”
How did four full-on writers/singers/players manage to last four albums together?
We’d known each other for quite some time, the personalities worked so well together, we were bursting at the seams with ideas. We also felt we were fighting the system from the provinces with our own studio, getting out of the London rut. We had a common goal, an innate understanding, a self-imposed isolation. We didn’t need anyone else.
You and Eric got together as 10cc a couple of years ago, with Kev and Lol guesting.
That was very unsatisfactory. We were made an offer we couldn’t refuse. The record company insisted it was 10cc reunited. We kept saying it isn’t. We know people are more interested in the four of us than the two of us. It caused a lot of problems and disillusion.
Was a full four-way reunion ever on the table?
It never was and it never will be.
© Chris Ingham, MOJO, April 1997