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What happened to 10cc, The Beatles' art rock successor?

BY Brendan Sainsbury

15th Dec 2022 Music

What happened to 10cc, The Beatles' art rock successor?

10cc wrote the definitive slow dance song in the 1970s, but their musical innovation goes well beyond school discos. We look back on 10cc's underrated legacy

School discos in the late 1970s usually followed a relatively predictable format: an hour of frenetic pop hits followed by a couple of slow ballads danced clumsily beneath the sparkle of the mirror ball, one of which was invariably “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc.

"I’m Not In Love"

But, while most Seventies ballads were schmaltzy and formulaic, “I’m Not In Love,” released in 1975, marked a bold leap into the future.

Over six minutes in length and devoid of drums, it used tape loops and studio innovation to turn three voices into a 256-piece “virtual” choir that provided a lush backing track to the song’s cynical lyrics.

"It used tape loops and studio innovation to turn three voices into a 256-piece 'virtual' choir"

Simply put, it was a work of musical genius crafted by a group who, when it came to originality and individual talent, picked up the baton dropped by The Beatles.

The Seventies' most underrated band?

Lacking the glamour of David Bowie or the excessive rock antics of bands like Led Zeppelin, 10cc often get short shrift. But in the annuls of music history, their work stands out for its uniqueness and experimentation.

Bereft of anything resembling a signature sound, they were a band ahead of their time, with no precedent and no descendants.

With four equally competent lead vocalists, every song they recorded was radically different. 50 years after the release of their first album, they remain curiously underrated.

Behind the music

To understand 10cc, it is first necessary to understand the individuals behind the music, an accomplished quartet whose pedigree was formulated during the countercultural years of the 1960s.

Bass player, Graham Gouldman was a gifted songwriter who provided worldwide hits for the likes of the Yardbirds, The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits while he was still in his teens.

Guitarist and keyboard player Eric Stewart was an alumni of successful British invasion band The Mindbenders, for whom he sang lead vocal on “A Groovy Kind of Love”, a number two hit in the UK and US in 1966.

Drummer Kevin Godley and guitarist Lol Creme were precocious art school students who logged a handful of minor hits with 1960s Lancashire band, The Sabres.    

The undeniable musical chemistry between the 10cc members

Black and white photo of band 10cc playing together onstageCourtesy of  / The National Library. Concert in Drammenshallen, 18 April 1980. From left: Graham Gouldman (bass), Eric Stewart (guitar), Rick Fenn (guitar)

The essence of 10cc was the interplay between these four component parts, all of whom could sing, compose, produce and play practically any instrument.

On one side sat the polished pop of Stewart and Gouldman and, on the other, the experimental art school sensibility of Godley and Creme.

Like Lennon and McCartney, the two songwriting teams acted as perfect counterpoints. Apart they were good. Together they were electrifying.

The origins of 10cc

The band first came together as a unit in Strawberry Studios in Stockport, a self-built recording studio co-founded by Eric Stewart in 1968.

Starting as a house band for revival acts like Neil Sedaka, they quickly discovered a rare musical chemistry and ultimately decided to branch out on their own.

During five intense years between 1972 and 1976, 10cc (the name was suggested by record company mogul, Jonathan King) released nine top ten singles and four seminal albums, any of which could have acted as worthy follow-ups to The Beatles’ White Album or Abbey Road.

10cc greatest hits: The band's creative peak

While their eponymous debut in 1973 contained the doo-wop pastiche “Donna” and the number one glam-rock stomper “Rubber Bullets”, it was the albums Sheet Music in 1974 and The Original Soundtrack in 1975 that caught the band at its peak.

"The mini-operetta, 'Une Nuit A Paris' was an avant-garde precursor to Queen’s 'Bohemian Rhapsody'"

As well as stretching musical boundaries with the angelic refrains of “I’m Not in Love”, 10cc toyed with black humour in the “Sgt Pepper”-esque “Clockwork Creep” (a song about a time-bomb on an aeroplane written from the perspective of the time-bomb).

Melodrama could be found the mini-operetta, “Une Nuit A Paris”, an avant-garde precursor to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which it predated by eight months.

Genre confusion

Not surprisingly, critics struggled to categorise them, while hip kids of the era couldn’t work out whether the band was cool enough.

Clever, complex songs like “The Wall Street Shuffle,” with their facetious lyrics and extended middle-eights, were too experimental for pop, yet too frivolous and tongue-in-cheek to be considered “prog”.

Art rock was the closet moniker that stuck.

The beginning of the end

The hits continued to emerge from the musical laboratory of Strawberry Studios stretching into 1976 with the release of “How Dare You!”, the last 10cc album with the original line-up.

Hindered, perhaps, by too much talent in one band, the corners had begun to fray.

"Godley and Creme broke away to experiment with an ingenious guitar attachment they’d invented called the 'gizmo'"

Feeling trapped in a business machine, Godley and Creme broke away to experiment with an ingenious guitar attachment they’d invented called the “gizmo”.

Meanwhile, Stewart and Gouldman continued as 10cc, scoring two more mega-hits—the richly harmonic “The Things We Do for Love” and the reggae-influenced “Dreadlock Holiday,” which prophetically predated the British ska boom by over a year.

But with Godley and Creme absent, a vital edge was missing.  

Life after 10cc

Ironically, considering 10cc’s low-key image, Godley and Creme went on to create extravagantly glamorous images for others.

In the 1980s, the former art school graduates became acclaimed videographers, directing ground-breaking videos for Duran Duran, The Police, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and more.

At the same time, Stewart, solidifying his Beatles credentials, graduated to writing material with Paul McCartney, while Gouldman, his voice still flawless at aged 76, continues to perform as 10cc today.

By the 1980s, the band’s creative lair, Strawberry Studios, had become a recording centre for a slew of other independently minded Manchester bands, including Joy Division, The Smiths, and The Stone Roses.

It closed in 1993, but today a blue plaque on the wall marks its importance as a historical landmark and its association with the remarkable music of 10cc.

Banner image credit: AVRO, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL, via Wikimedia Commons

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