10cc: Viability Of New Marketing Techniques Illustrated

What’s this? A band with no image. They’ll never shift the vinyl, insists STEVE TURNER firmly. But 10cc prove that there’s more to the art of selling records than sequins and glitter

IN THE WORLD of advertising they rather like the quote that’s attributed to a cosmetics tycoon and which runs: ‘We don’t sell lipstick, we buy customers.’ Can’t you just feel the brashness of the admission! The very essence of a modern advertising technique stated with the precision of a copywriter!

In rock-biz terms the sentiment could be translated into ‘We don’t sell music, we buy fans’ and could have fallen from the lips of Colonel Tom Parker, Andrew Oldham, Brian Epstein and Tony DeFries to name but four. And, asked to say more, the quartet would probably let you in on the fact that the currency for buying fans and customers alike is precisely the same. It’s what they call ‘image.’

It all makes absolute sense when you realise that people are more interested in reaching out for mythical lifestyles than obtaining quality goods when they go out shopping.

Hence, for example, the way in which these products are advertised. Cigarette commercials have always said more about sex, sunshine and tumbling waterfalls than they have about the merits of inhaled smoke.

In the world of rock-biz the artist is the advert. He has to be the sex and the sunshine…or the bi-sex and the glitter. He has to exploit the lifestyle that intrigues the fans who will in turn part with cash in order to get closer to the mystique. Ultimately, in the case of a successful exploitation, the music will be coloured by the mystique itself, and vice-versa, until the two can’t be separated and each would die a commercial death if left on its own.

All this might seem like heavy stuff with which to start a 10cc feature but then again it might have something to say about why the band aren’t yet quite as popular as they deserve to be.

10CC’S STORY is that they’re bestsellers as far as one-off singles go (‘Donna’, ‘Rubber Bullets’, ‘The Dean And I’, ‘Wall Street Shuffle’), that they’ve been playing live gigs for only eight months after a previous incubation period in the studios, and that they’ve got two albums out (10ccSheet Music), both of which received ecstatic reviews.

Bearing in mind the superb quality of the music and the originality of their sound, I asked them whether their comparitive lack of recognition might not have something to do with this question of image.

“We wouldn’t know how to start,” confesses a, frustrated Lol Creme. “It depends on what you mean by an image. Do you mean an actual physical thing by which people could say that we represent a certain kind of person, like perhaps you can with Slade?

“You mean like in the first place The Beatles dressed in a certain way and they had this whole style with the haircuts and the Pierre Cardin jackets which might have got to the kids before the music?”

Yeh Lol, that’s exactly what I mean. They didn’t sell lipstick even though it was fantastic stuff. They bought customers first of all.

“I think that it’s time people started listening to music as opposed to watching for images;” says Creme somewhat idealistically. “People should let their ears take over from their eyes. OK, so we’ve got an image of being boring people. But for us the music is far more important.

“There are groups who rely solely on theatrics and they do it very well and that’s very good.

“I mean, there’s Genesis and there’s Bowie and Gary Glitter…it’s theatrics! We’re more into the musical side though. That sort of thing isn’t us anyway. It’s no good competing against it.

“That market’s fulfilled but we think there’s a gap in the music side of things and that’s what we concentrate on.

“But maybe it wouldn’t hurt just to move around a little on stage because rock-biz can’t be totally divorced from good old entertainment now, can it?

“We’re not very outgoing people,” Creme says by way of explanation. “You see, we rely on our sound exclusively. We spend too much time getting the music together to bother about minor details. We’re not actors, anyway.”

And so, on to the music and, more specifically, Sheet Music.

Are they as a band aware of the musical acknowledgements that appear throughout? A touch of ‘Band On The Run’ on ‘Wall Street Shuffle’, a nod at The Beach Boys on ‘The Worst Band In The World’, a possibly unconscious mock Ray Dorset vocal on ‘The Sacro-Iliac’ and second-hand Santana on ‘Baron Saturday’ par example?

“What happens,” explains spokesman Creme, “is that we listen to a lot of music, assimilate it all and then regurgitate it in our own work. That’s learning isn’t it?”

Both Lol Creme and Kevin Godley explain that it’s very unfair for journalists, such as myself, to pigeon-hole music in this way.

But, I argue, it’s only done as an aid to those who haven’t heard the recording, and the best verbal descriptions of music come from comparisons. I say it’s rather like describing someone as looking like Robert Mitchum rather than launching into a detailed physical breakdown. Creme and Godley disagree. It’s not right to describe someone as looking like Robert Mitchum. It leaves nothing to the imagination.

Ah well.

The comparison thing started when ‘Rubber Bullets’ was released and the Beach Boys were cited as an…er…influence.

“That’s been a bit of a drag actually,” confesses Creme.

“You see, we have got exactly the same set-up as the Beach Boys. We’ve got our own studios, four guys that do all the singing with a voice range from high to low and we all write and produce our own sounds.

“We also play all the instruments and engineer the sessions. It’s inevitable when four guys do all that in the same way that there are going to be similarities in the sound somewhere along the line.”

When discussing 10cc’s album as a whole, however, comparisons are really a red-herring, because the originality alone is overwhelming.

For a start they’re out and out pop in the purest, most creative sense of the word.

As Kevin Godley puts it: “We play a sort of music which is very alive, bright and progressive but not in a heavy boring way. It’s progressive but sweetening the pill a bit so that it’s easy to listen to.”

Or as Lol Creme sees it: “All the best stuff is pop. It should transcend black music, it should transcend folk music…That’s what we’re after really.”

And added to that they’ve carried out some interesting experiments in some structure – possibly a result of having their own studio and lots of time to doodle in it. It’s something that McCartney too has explored particularly on “Band On The Run.”

“It’s trying to get rid of the old assumption that a song has to be two verses, a middle eight and a verse,” says Godley. “It’s trying to push a particular form.”

“We’re trying to learn about music,” adds Creme. “We’re not trying to cater for a particular market. The only way to learn about it is to try different things.

“I’ve got a theory that if a thing is too relaxed and too normal it becomes almost muzaky. It has to have some tension in it somewhere whether it’s in the voices or in two rhythms vying with each other – just something that makes you sit up and gives it that brightness.”

But, musical excellence aside, how do 10cc hope to break through to the widest possible market?

“I reckon it’s down to the whole structure of the pop business,” philosophises Creme. “Because if you’re writing to the kids then you’re writing to children that have been educated by the BBC. Now I don’t want to go into that thing again but we all realise the damage that the BBC are doing to kid’s minds.

“So, the BBC is helping to promote the worst side of the music business and if you want to sell to kids you have to pander to that side. So what do yon do if you want to bring the whole music business back round to the music side of things? How can you get through to kids who’ve been brainwashed by the Sweet and by Gary Glitter and that side of the music business? You can’t.”

Image, I should have explained to Godley and Creme, isn’t to be confused with flash. I’m sure young Godley could do it with his plastic knee-length raincoat and a deep-pile beard, if he could only…project a little.

Image is tied up with identity and at the present moment 10cc sadly don’t have one outside of their music and even that is defined by Creme as: “What is typically 10cc is that nothing is typically 10cc.”

So if you were a journalist, I ask Godley, how would you write about 10cc?
“I think they’re a bloody good band meself,” he says, “but they just don’t get the recognition they deserve.”

Creme responds to the same question but waxes more eloquent: “I’d try and concentrate on what we’re doing musically and let the image come through – the way we’ve thought about things as opposed to the way we look.”

© Steve TurnerNew Musical Express, 29 June 1974

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