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How Herman's Hermits and 10cc challenged The Beatles' reign

BY Becca Inglis

2nd Aug 2023 Music

How Herman's Hermits and 10cc challenged The Beatles' reign
Music manager Harvey Lisberg recalls a life spent digging up some of pop's most surprising icons to rival Beatlemania, including Herman's Hermits and 10cc
The Beatles may have led the charge to America, but Manchester’s pop bands made up the muscle in the British invasion.
Acts like Herman’s Hermits, Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders and The Hollies all flooded the US through the 1960s, with some even labelling Britain’s pop music dominion “the Manchester invasion”. 
At the centre of it all was Harvey Lisberg, a restless accountant turned maverick music manager whose nose for a hit act dug up pop sensations like Herman’s Hermits and 10cc.

Discovering Herman’s Hermits

When it became clear that The Beatles had struck gold in the early 1960s, a wave of copycat bands attempted to replicate their formula in the charts. 
“There were lots of middle range pop hits that weren't great Beatles tracks, but they were very catchy and nice,” says Lisberg, who was musical himself—he’d been taught to play guitar and piano by a skiffle musician in a local jazz club, and was soon writing his own songs.
“I thought, Well, I could do that. Well, I couldn't. I couldn't get them placed with anybody.”
Undeterred, Lisberg decided to recruit his own band to perform his songs. One July evening in 1963, he headed for Davyhulme, where a promising young five-piece were playing in a church hall. 
“They did ‘Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter’, just as a bit of a joke. Peter got dressed up with a schoolboy outfit,” says Lisberg.
“But after every number, the whole audience charged the stage. I thought, I've won the lottery here. This is fantastic. This is the new Beatles. I found out later they'd planted friends in the audience, so they baked a cake for me.”
"The Rolling Stones and the Beatles must have thought, good God, what's all this?"
Charmed by Herman’s Hermits’ cleancut boy-next-door persona, Lisberg set them to work immediately.
While his friends were left scratching their heads at what he saw in the group—“They kept telling me what an idiot I was wasting my time with this band”—Lisberg rustled up a packed date sheet, which had Herman’s Hermits playing seven nights a week before they’d even secured a record deal.
By 1964, they’d spent two weeks in first place in the UK singles chart with their cover, “I’m Into Something Good” (earning a tidy sum for Lisberg, whose track “Your Hand In Mine” comprised the B-side). 
The following year, they tied with The Beatles for the most top ten hits in the US, including the tongue-in-cheek numbers “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry VIII, I Am”.
“We outsold the Beatles for a month, keeping ‘Help’ off number one for four weeks,” says Lisberg.
The Rolling Stones and the Beatles must have thought, good God, what's all this? It's incredible. Herman's Hermits, who didn't write their own material—they just did pop songs with a cute face and lovely protruding tooth.”

Graham Gouldman and The Yardbirds

Credit: KRLA Beat/Beat Publications, Inc., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Graham Gouldman's song catalysed a rift between Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds, with Clapton finally leaving the band
As a frequenter of the Jewish Lads’ Brigade in Manchester, Lisberg regularly caught its house band, The Whirlwinds, in rehearsals. The group’s guitarist, an aspiring musician called Graham Gouldman, caught his eye. 
“Graham was extraordinarily musical,” he says. “I approached him and I said, ‘Look Graham, you've done all this time and nothing's happening. Would you like to join me and have a go?’ Then I suggested he do songwriting.”
The pair spent everyday holed up at Gouldman’s house, where they teased out more pop hooks that might rival The Beatles. “I said, ‘We all love “House of the Rising Sun”. Why don't you write a song with those chords?’” says Lisberg.
“He very surreptitiously changed the final chord slightly—it's ‘House of the Rising Sun’ backwards—and he started doing ‘For Your Love’.”
Lisberg, with a number of Herman’s Hermits hits already under his belt, knew they had landed on something special.
"Eric Clapton blew his fuse. He wasn't going to stay in the band if they were going to do music like that"
As for who should record it, he would settle for nothing less than pop music’s elected chieftains. “I said, ‘Right, I'm going to get into the Beatles,’” he said. “They all laughed at me.”
Still, Lisberg and his Mancunian crew trooped down to London, where the Fab Four were performing live at the Apollo Odeon.
Music publisher Ronnie Beck sat behind them during the concert, but when Lisberg thrust the demo into his hands, Beck informed him that The Beatles only sang originals, not other people’s songs. 
As luck would have it, another band caught wind of Gouldman’s demo. “I didn't know who the opening act was particularly. It happened to be The Yardbirds,” says Lisberg.
“For Your Love” became The Yardbirds’ first ever top ten hit, both in the USA and the UK, and marked an evolution from their original blues sound to one more closely aligned with pop—though it came at a cost. 
“Eric Clapton blew his fuse,” says Lisberg. “He wasn't going to stay in the band if they were going to do music like that, because he wanted to do straight R&B and soul.” 

10cc's birth as a session musician band

Credit: AVRO, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL, via Wikimedia Commons. 10cc first came together as a band of session musicians for Strawberry Studios
The Beatles may not have sung other people’s songs, but there were plenty of others willing to take the bait. Lisberg sought out new ways to cash in on the trend. 
“The songwriters were having a bonanza, so my idea was, get as many songwriters as we can,” he says. In a newly minted studio in Manchester, Lisberg gathered a crack team of writers and had them churning out reams of potential pop hits each week.
Strawberry Studios would be the fateful meeting place of four session musicians—Kevin Godley, Lol Creme, Eric Stewart and Gouldman—who began tinkering around with their own songs under the name Hotlegs. 
“They put their own tracks out under different names, all alarmingly unsuccessful,” says Lisberg.
“Their real success came with weird things like ‘Neanderthal Man’, which was Kev, Lol and Eric experimenting on drum sounds just to get the studio right. Somebody came up and said, ‘We'll have that. That's a hit.’”
"In my opinion, some of the tracks are probably better than the Beatles"
So began a slew of, in Lisberg’s words, “off the wall” numbers, which snuck their way to the top of the singles charts.
“Neanderthal Man” reached number two—kept off first place by Elvis Presley’s “The Wonder of You—as did “Donna”, the doo-wop parody that announced the group’s rebrand as 10cc. 
But it was “I’m Not In Love” that enshrined 10cc’s name in the pop music canon.
Originally conceived as a bossa nova track, it later morphed into a tape loop choir, with Stewart recording Godley, Creme and Gouldman’s voices 16 times to build an ambient swaddle from 48 vocal tracks. 
“They were easily compared to the Beatles. In my opinion, some of the tracks are probably better than the Beatles,” says Lisberg. 
But talent wasn’t enough to give 10cc longevity. While contemporaries like David Bowie, Marc Bolan and Freddie Mercury were cultivating eccentric, onstage theatrics, 10cc remained at heart a studio band.
“The coup de gras was when they were offered the Eagles tour, they wouldn't do it,” says Lisberg. “That would have taken them into a different stratosphere.”

"I'm Into Something Good"—Harvey Lisberg's legacy lives on

The heyday of the British pop invasion may have ebbed away, but Lisberg’s stamp remains on some of the most historic moments in music. 
In 1976, he had the gratification of seeing the opening of “Evita”, written by one of his early discoveries, Tim Rice
He went on to manage Barclay James Harvest, who played “Berlin—A Concert for the People” in 1980.
But one moment that sticks out for Lisberg is an afternoon watching the Manchester United football team with his grandson, Eddie.
“The crowd started singing ‘I'm Into Something Good,’” he says. “This is 50 years after the event. You sit there going, ‘Wow, I was partly responsible for that.’”
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