Among the most inventive and influential bands in the history of popular music, 10cc are one of the very few acts to have achieved commercial, critical and creative success in equal measure.
Testament to 10cc’s ongoing appeal, the band can count a generation straddling array of fellow artists, everyone from Chrissie Hynde to The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie and Axl Rose to Sophie Ellis Bextor, among their many millions of fans. And now a new generation is discovering 10cc for the very first time.
2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the release of 10cc’s first single Donna, which reached No.2 in the UK charts and kick-started a remarkable career that has seen the band sell in excess of 30 million albums around the world.
Naturally 10cc are celebrating their 40th year in style and far from resting on their laurels they will be spending it breaking new ground.
An extensive world tour will see the band visit far-flung corners of the globe, including Iceland and South Africa, for the very first time. Closer to home an extensive UK tour finds 10cc undertaking another career first; their May 10 performance at the Royal Albert Hall.
10cc has never performed at the venue, in any previous incarnation, and the gig sees former 10cc member Kevin Godley joining co-founder Graham Gouldman and the band on stage for the first time in many years.
Godley has also teamed up with Gouldman and 10cc’s other original members to help produce a 5-disc CD box set that houses approximately 80 tracks from across the band’s hugely successful career together with a DVD containing rare live footage and promo videos.
“Where did the years ago? It is hard to believe that it has been 40 years since we were in the studio recording Donna – but I am delighted that the music of 10cc is alive and well in 2012,” says Gouldman.
Gouldman puts the 10cc’s longevity down to the quality and individuality of the band’s songs. “They don’t seem to date; they are original, we never followed any trend we simple wrote for our own pleasure. The fact that the songs are being played as often on the radio today as they ever were shows how true that is,” he says.
The missing link between The Beatles and the Gorillaz,10cc ruled the pop world at a time – the 1970s – when the charts were dominated by some of the most creative and colourful artistes in pop history.
Unlike David Bowie, Queen, Elton John or Rod Stewart – all of whom they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with for a decade – 10cc worked not on image or celebrity-status, but on the art of making highly sophisticated rock masterworks into simple-sounding pop hits.
As Gouldman says, “Our main influences were The Beatles and the Beach Boys. Then there was all the other stuff …
“For me it was people like Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Jimmy Webb, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. Eric [Stewart] was more rock ‘n’ roll, the blues and R&B; while Kevin [Godley] and Lol [Creme] were sort of Jacques Brel, more artistic and avant-garde.
“It’s what happened when we put all those things together that made 10cc.” The result was some of the greatest pop records of the 20th century.
From their breakthrough hit Donna in 1972 to their final No 1 – Dreadlock Holiday – in 1978, via such landmark releases as I’m Not In Love, their worldwide smash in 1975, 10cc stood for the kind of heightened pop sensibility achieved only by the very greatest music practitioners. As Rolling Stone put it in 1975, ‘There is more going on in one 10cc song than on the last ten Yes albums.’
In truth, they could have come from any era. 10cc would have been as at home in the dynamic early days of pop in the 1950s, as they would have been in the instant-gratification download culture of today. As Gouldman points out, “It was all about the songs. Not the image or who the singer was or who played which instrument.”
It wasn’t anything the group built towards either, it was all there on their very first record Donna. You didn’t have to be conversant with the doo-wop-channelled-through-Frank Zappa influence to appreciate its inventiveness.
“We were just trying to amuse ourselves,” says Gouldman now. “That was why it worked. The fact was we had our own recording facility, Strawberry Studios in Stockport. We actually started writing together just for a laugh, really. We weren’t consciously trying to make hit records.”
The early-’70s was an intense period of creative activity for the guys, on multiple fronts, with Gouldman having already notched up hit song-writing credits with groups such as the Yardbirds, Hollies and Herman’s Hermits.
When the studio wasn’t being used, Gouldman and song-writing partner and studio co-owner Eric Stewart – a talented multi-instrumentalist and recording whiz, formerly of Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders – along with Creme and Godley, who Gouldman had known since school days, would use the downtime, “to mess around and make our own sounds”.
They also became the studio house band.
Gouldman even spent time in New York, writing for bubblegum kings Jerry Kazenetz and Jeff Katz (“don’t ask …,” he says). But, fed up with being away from home, he returned to the UK to record the songs he had written Stateside, with his friends at Strawberry.
Back in Stockport, Stewart, Godley and Creme had also been busy, with Stewart testing a new four-track recorder that lead to the recording of Neanderthal Man, a track that went on to enjoy 14 weeks in the UK charts in 1970, peaking at No 2. The band was called Hotlegs and comprised Godley, Creme, Stewart, and briefly Gouldman.
As if that wasn’t enough, in 1972 Gouldman’s manager Harvey Lisberg (later to become the band’s manager too), met Neil Sedaka who was playing a residency at Batley Variety Club in Yorkshire. Sedaka’s career was in decline and Lisberg suggested he worked with the guys at Strawberry.
The result was Sedaka’s hit comeback album Solitaire, with Top 30 singles in the UK and US, produced by Gouldman, Stewart, Godley and Creme, with Stewart acting as engineer.
“We all learnt so much from those sessions,” says Gouldman. “Neil’s sheer professionalism, musicianship and song-writing were inspiring.”
As the four worked together more, says Gouldman, “We’d done a few tracks and we needed a B side for Waterfall [a Gouldman/Stewart composition]. There was a possibility that it would come out on the Apple label, which we were very excited about, because any connection with the Beatles was great.”
A Godley and Creme song, Donna, was chosen, “but as we were recording it, we sensed that we were doing something special. Really, all these things came together by chance. We didn’t even have a name for the band and weren’t bent on world domination or anything. But Donna made us sit up and notice ourselves, that we actually had something special here.”
And so 10cc was born, Donna became the A side and reached No 2 in the UK charts. Right from the start it was obvious they weren’t like other groups. All four could sing, were adept in the recording studio, and were seasoned musicians more interested in pleasing themselves than writing to a formula.
Not long after Donna was released, Sedaka returned to Strawberry to record a second album, The Tra-La Days Are Over, with the same team, and his career took off again.
10cc comprised essentially two song-writing camps, Gouldman and Stewart, plus Godley and Creme, although they would sometimes intermingle. “Our principle was always the music,” says Gouldman, “whatever’s best for the song. That means if I can sing better than you on it, that’s what happens. Or if Lol can play lead guitar better than you, he’ll do it. Consequently we had four singers in the band, four instrumentalists and four producers, plus Eric also engineered the sessions.
“The other thing was whoever wrote the song, it kind of became the property of the four of us. You couldn’t say, ‘That song is crap, I don’t want anything to do with it’. What you had to say was, ‘I don’t like that part of the song, but I think we could make it better by doing this’. You always had to come up with something positive.”
“It was the combination of all four of us that made the difference, not only in the song-writing, but in the production values as well,” says Gouldman.
No two 10cc records ever sounded the same. Gouldman chuckles, “There were so many influences flying around and they all found their way onto the records and we loved pastiche.”
The result might be the eight-minute pop opera Une Nuit a Paris, which opened their third album, The Original Soundtrack (1975). Or it might be a landmark pop masterpiece, from the same album, like I’m Not In Love, which spent two weeks at No 1 in the UK and three weeks at No 2 in the US.
“A very important element,” explains Gouldman, “was we were completely self-contained. There wasn’t even a producer. If Eric was singing one of us would work the board. We used to just give the tracks straight to the record company.”
The only comparable situation previously had been with The Beatles – and they had producer George Martin to help them. “We didn’t even have an A&R man,” says Gouldman. “No one was going to tell us anything.”
Indeed, they didn’t even have a recognisable frontman. “Eric was a very good-looking guy who took on the role quite often, and Lol was also brilliant out front. But you’d never know on the record who was playing guitar or even who was singing sometimes. We weren’t like Queen, where you knew instantly it was Brian May on guitar and Freddie Mercury on vocals.”
The first time 10cc played live, at the Isle of Man Casino in 1973, they were taken aback at the response. “We went onstage and girls started screaming! It was like, what the f**k is going on? We imagined ourselves as professors of pop who were going to give a lecture on pop music, but it wasn’t like that at all.”
The critical plaudits also rolled in. Rolling Stone calling The Original Soundtrack, “better than anything the Beach Boys have done of late”. The NME described I’m Not In Love as “a John Lennon song with a Paul McCartney vocal”. In an age where critics spent an inordinate amount of time trying to identify the new Beatles, 10cc increasingly seemed to fit the bill.
“Because we existed in our own world, we didn’t need anyone to tell us how good we were. We listened to the records and went, this is everything we want it to be and more.” Even after the astonishing success of I’m Not In Love, they refused to play the game and followed it up with the acidic Art For Art’s Sake – and scored another Top 5 hit.
“‘Art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake’, was something my late father used to say to me, although he wasn’t cynical like that at all – he was very artistic. But it’s such a lovely phrase. Eric had this riff and I just started singing that, and the song came.”
The biggest surprise of all was the departure of Godley and Creme after their next album, How Dare You? “It was horrible,” Gouldman confesses. “It was an absolute disaster. Like getting a divorce.”
Godley and Creme had become preoccupied with the Gizmotron – from the word ‘gizmo’ – a device they had invented which when applied could bring new sounds and textures out of an electric guitar. Obsessed with devising a showcase for it, they began recording a triple album together, Consequences.
Says a reflective Gouldman now, “Kev and I, who stayed quite close, have talked about this since and have decided what should have happened; he and Lol should have gone go off and done their thing for a year or so, then allowed 10cc to resume.
“But that’s just not how things were done in the ’70s. No one had a year off. Plus I think the record company were probably expecting another album, tours were booked and so on.”
Instead, Gouldman and Stewart continued as 10cc and scored more notable successes with their next two albums, Deceptive Bends (1977) – featuring their next worldwide hit single Things We Do For Love – and Bloody Tourists (1978), which spawned another international hit, Dreadlock Holiday.
“We were on a mission to prove ourselves,” says Gouldman, “This wasn’t like a couple of guys leaving the band who just played their instruments. This was two of the producers going, two of the singers going, two of the songwriters going. So it was a real 50 percent gone.”
Ultimately, the split took its toll and when Stewart was badly injured in a car crash in 1979, the writing was on the wall.
“It flattened me completely,” Stewart later recalled. “I damaged my left ear and damaged my eye very badly. I couldn’t go near music. I couldn’t go near anything loud and I love music and motor-racing. I had to stay away from both things for a long time [and] the momentum of this big machine that we’d had rolling slowed and slowed and slowed. And on the music scene, the punk thing had come in a big way.”
As history now records, all four original members enjoyed very successful post-10cc careers. Godley and Creme continued as a partnership, recording their own hit records and becoming Grammy-winning video directors for acts such as Ultravox, The Police, Duran Duran and Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
Stewart collaborated on three Paul McCartney albums in the 1980s and continues to record sporadically as a solo artiste, his most recent collection being Viva La Difference in 2009.
Meanwhile Gouldman spent the 1980s concentrating on recording soundtracks for films such as Farah Fawcett’s Sunburn and the American animation Animalympics. He also worked as a producer with The Ramones and Gilbert O’Sullivan.
He then formed Wax with American songwriter Andrew ‘Lonely Boy’ Gold and had hits with Right Between The Eyes and Bridge To You Heart.
There were two final Gouldman-Stewart directed 10cc albums in the ’90s, the first …Meanwhile (1992), featured contributions from both Godley and Creme, while the last, Mirror Mirror (1995), despite featuring contributions from McCartney and Gold, was more a collection of Gouldman and Stewart solo songs.
That same year, 10cc received a BMI citation for three million plays on US radio for I’m Not In Love (since risen to five million). This followed the BMI citation for two million plays (since risen to 3.5m) of Things We Do For Love,
Then, with 2002 being the 30th anniversary of the band’s debut hit, Donna, 10cc began to creep back into the national consciousness. With Gouldman fronting a new touring band, a 28-date UK tour was followed by a series of one-off events across Europe.
10cc has since toured the world again, including shows in Australia, New Zealand and Japan and appearances at numerous festivals. In 2006, Universal records released the TV-advertised, double CD 10cc: Greatest Hits … And More, featuring the obvious band numbers, plus hits Gouldman wrote for others, and collaborations including two new tracks written with Kevin Godley.
In June 2007, the Mail On Sunday newspaper produced a special 10-track Best of 10cc CD, distributing more than 2.4 million copies throughout the UK and Ireland. The paper said sales rose by 232,000 on the day of publication.
During 2010 the band toured Australia and Japan again, played more festivals and toured Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Belgium, with national TV shows in Sweden and Italy thrown in for good measure.
In 2011, Gouldman led 10cc through a 33-date UK tour, various festival appearances and shows in Holland, Germany and Scandinavia.
For the band’s 40th anniversary year, 2012, Universal Records released a new five-CD box set entitled Tenology, featuring 80 tracks chosen by the four original band members.
Touring through the year took the 10cc live band to Australia, Austria, Canada, Europe, Iceland, Scandinavia, South Africa and the US, as well as setting another landmark, the first performance by 10cc at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 10 May, also Gouldman’s 66th birthday. Kevin Godley guested on several numbers and even suggested they did an a capella version of Donna, which resulted in yet another standing ovation. Another special guest that night was Paul Carrack on I’m Not In Love.
Having given 50 concerts in the UK that year, Gouldman decided it was time he fulfilled a long-held desire to tour as an acoustic outfit. As well as 10cc performing in Russia (for the first time), Belgium, Holland and Scandinavia during the first six months of 2013, he took Heart Full of Songs on the road for 15 concerts, culminating with a sell-out at London’s Union Chapel. His band mates were 10cc’s Rick Fenn, Mick Wilson and Mike Stevens, singing and performing on acoustically. Ther set featured 10cc classics, hits Gouldman wrote for The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, the Yardbirds and film soundtracks, along with material from his new solo album Love And Work.
The summer of 2013 say festival dates in the UK, Norway and Germany and the year culminates with 10cc joining Status Quo for a tour of UK arenas, including London’s The O2 – another landmark for a band whose music seems to be taking them to ever larger and wider audiences.
“Year on year we get busier and busier. It’s great, we love touring and playing together and we get on really well. The audiences these days are very gratifying. You get the people you would expect, who grew up with 10cc, but you also get young kids who know the songs too,” says Gouldman.
“Now whether they’ve discovered 10cc for themselves, via the internet or radio, or just grown up with their parents playing it in the house, I don’t know. But we get a great mix of people from the generations.
“Also the band, as it stands now is absolutely fantastic. Our main strength and what we’re selling is the songs, nothing else.” With four decades of songwriting excellence and a crack band of musicians behind him Gouldman confidently promises, “This is as near as you’re ever going to get to hearing the perfect 10cc. Hit after hit after hit. It’s relentless. We show no mercy.”
The live band’s line-up is:
- Graham Gouldman – bass, guitars, vocals
- Rick Fenn – lead guitar, vocals, bass
- Paul Burgess – drums, percussion
- Mick Wilson – vocals, percussion, guitar, keyboards
- Mike Stevens – keyboards, guitar, bass, sax, vocals
Paul has worked with 10cc from the beginning and Rick joined the live band in the mid-’70s. Mike is occasionally replaced by Keith Hayman, when Mike tours as musical director with Take That.
Some additional information:
- 10cc has sold more than 15 million albums in the UK.
- 10cc has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide
- I’m Not In Love has been played over five million times on US radio.
- A YouTube video clip about the making of I’m Not In Love circulated the globe in late-2010, resulting in increased name-checks by bloggers and DJs.
- Things We Do For Love has been played over 3.5 million times on US radio.
- Dreadlock Holiday is featured on the soundtrack of the 2010 film The Social Network, about the founding of Facebook
- I’m Not In Love was part of the soundtrack of the film Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
- Gouldman, Godley and Crème won two Ivor Novello Awards for the 1973 hit single Rubber Bullets. The Ivor Novello Awards, established in 1955, are the highest song-writing accolades in the UK.
- In 1993, Will To Power hit the Top 10 in the UK with its version of I’m Not In Love. It has also been recorded by, among others, The Pretenders (for the film Indecent Proposal), Peggy Lee, Richie Havens, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, and most recently The Flaming Lips.
- Axl Rose of Guns N’Roses says of I’m Not In Love, “that song messes with my life, man. It’s one of my favourite songs of all time.”
- Bus Stop (written by Gouldman for he Hollies) has been played over four million times on US radio. He also wrote the Yardbird’s hit For Your Love, which has been played over two million times on US radio.
- Wax, featuring Gouldman and the late Andrew Gold, has sold more than two million albums worldwide, spawning the hit singles Right Between The Eyes and Bridge To Your Heart.
10cc – Top UK Chart Positions
- I’m Not In Love 1
- Dreadlock Holiday 1
- Rubber Bullets 1
- Donna 2
- Art For Art’s Sake 5
- Good Morning Judge 5
- The Things We Do For Love 6
- I’m Mandy Fly Me 6
- Life Is A Minestrone 7
- The Dean And I 10
- The Wall Street Shuffle 10