It was 10cc’s second album Sheet Music which would see the band brought to national recognition. But by now the Manchester quartet of Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley, and Lol Creme were starting to perfect the art of marrying songwriting that veered between irreverent and genial, with mercurial studio productions.
Eric Stewart had also become an investor in (what would later become) the legendary Strawberry Studios in Stockport back in 1968. In time, the studio would see the likes of Paul McCartney, The Smiths and The Stone Roses record there. But by 1975, the years Stewart invested into studying the art of engineering and complex vocal arrangements, would pay dividends.
While Sheet Music is an instant go to favorite of many 10cc fans, including Graham Goldman himself, it was it’s follow up The Original Soundtrack that would see a leap forward in studio innovation and propel the band into the stratosphere. Despite Sheet Music’s success, the band were struggling financially. Earning just 4% royalties in a bum deal from Johnathan King’s UK Records label. However, when The Original Soundtrack was nearing completion, Mercury Records began sniffing around, with an interest of buying out the band’s five-year deal. Stewart invited some Mercury execs down to Strawberry Studios to have a listen to what they’d been up to. A deal was offered right there on the strength of one song alone. The towering, I’m Not in Love. A few weeks after the paperwork was signed, The Original Soundtrack was released.
As the album opens, the sound effects painting the scene for Une Nuit A Paris sound more like an excerpt from sitcom Allo’ Allo’. In this nine minute, three-part, prog-operetta penned by Godley and Crème, a British tourist bounces around Paris before finding comfort amongst the Ladies of the Night. All three parts are packed to the gunwales with cultural stereotypes, cod French accents and tongue in cheek lyrics. Despite this album being the commercial hit that propelled them to global acclaim, this isn’t the most accessible 10cc number for the newcomer. It is however, a prelude the sumptuous suite of production that’s coming your way over the next 49 minutes. It is also said to have been the influence for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
As track two’s choral tones rise in perfect blend with the acoustic guitar and organ, you’ll recognize global smash I’m Not in Love. You’ve probably heard this tune hundreds of times but it’s a song that almost never was. Written by Stewart, Godley was underwhelmed, Crème flat out hated it and the project was abandoned. But it was Godley that suggested resurrecting the track and re-recording it with a wall of vocals. After three weeks of singing Ahhhinto a microphone and using tape loops to build it into a chorus of over 600 voices, I’m Not in Lovewas born again. Strawberry Studios Receptionist Kathy Redfern was coaxed into proving the spoken word “Big boys don’t cry”in the middle twelve to complete the track. And it was this very track that Mercury Records execs were sat down to on their visit to Stockport and immediately prompted them to offer whatever contract 10cc wanted.
If you’ve heard this track too often, do yourself the favor of taking 6 minutes out of your day, slip on some headphones and appreciate the majesty of songwriting and production that this track is. You’ll soon realize why those execs were willing to hand over whatever brown envelope of cash it was going to take to get 10cc on the books. At well over the radio friendly time limit, Mercury initially balked at releasing the six plus minutes of I’m Not in Love as a single. This decision would of course be ultimately reversed. Much to the delight of Mercury records and the band’s Bank Manager.
The fat full toned bouncing bass of third track Blackmail is a sound that’s more representative of 10cc’s Deceptive Bends album but the track is textbook 10cc. Lyrics that are comical, daft, but still manage to be genial, tell the tale of a shady Paparazzo and is filled with great guitar licks and funky breaks. A straighter up rocker comes your way in Second Sitting for the Last Supper with overdriven bluesy guitars and honky-tonk pianos rising to a crescendo while we wait for the second coming. If for any reason you think that’s a futile act, then Brand New Day will do its best to clue you in further on the futility of life as a whole. But there’s nothing like a beautiful melody telling you terrible things. The wah-wah guitar and vocal harmonies build this tune like a shimmering skyscraper, strengthening the case that this album set the new bar for production values. Flying Junk is a great little number where the fuzz soon gives way to the acoustic guitar that drives this tune but resurrects for the full, bluesy guitar licks that gives this track some real weight.
The fade in of tremolo topped guitar takes us into the other big hit from this album. Life is a Minestrone was the lead single from this record. I’m Not in Love being considered a risky move. The title of this song was evolved from a radio announcement misheard by Creme and Stewart while driving back home from Strawberry Studios. Its four minutes of pun filled, pop nonsense but it’s catchy as hell and crafted to perfection. The Film of My Love returns to a Parisian pavement feel with a vaudeville piano that takes us on this Godley and Crème written poke at the cinematic portrayals of romance. Originally the B side to Life Is a Minestrone, Channel Swimmer sounds musically ahead of its time but also has a vocal melody that harks back to a doo-wop era, together with the layered vocal harmonies and the fat guitar sounds that are the calling cards of this record. However, once I’m Not in Love was released on a United States who were yet to hear of 10cc, Channel Swimmer was trotted out as a B-Side once again. The record then gently drifts out with Good News. Starting out sounding like a straight up ballad but instead turning into a rolling chorus, cornered with harmonies that provide a perfect ending.
Is this the best 10cc album? That’s debatable. But what makes this a classic is what it did for everyone else at the time. This is album was the impeccable triangulation of Prog, production and pop and light-years ahead of their contemporaries. Much like The Smiths’ Meat is Murder, in isolation, probably not your favorite. But listen to it again in detail and you’ll hear shades of everything that followed in its wake and the springboard from which a thousand great records leapt. Now please excuse me while I slip on my cans and listen to I’m Not in Love one more time.