10cc were one of those British bands, like XTC, that were simply too clever for their own good. One look at the names of these bands and you know they are made up of smartasses. Once 10cc had established themselves as a band of gifted songwriters with a knack for puns and a slightly warped sense of humor as well as instrumentalists who could play in almost any popular musical style, their more genuine, pop-oriented work was viewed with suspicion. Yet those lured in by the pop songs could never quite warm up to the group's cynical humor and offbeat musical stylings.
That the group’s more offbeat tracks sound rather dated today is testament to their “art rock” credentials. A song like “Life Is a Minestrone” is one of those things that is clever the first time you hear it, ingenious the second time, slightly annoying the third time, and then just ghastly after that. But the group was experimenting with pop forms from their first days on record-witness their #1 UK hit (only #73 in the US) “Rubber Bullets” (very sadly not included here), a jail riot drama set to 1950s musical pastiches. “I’m Not in Love” was included on their third LP, The Original Soundtrack, and it was certainly a pop song, despite its studio virtuosity (256 vocal overdubs). Of course tracks like the eight minute “Une Nuit a Paris” certainly led some listeners to expect music vastly different than that on the group’s fourth album, How Dare You! That album, represented here by “Art for Art’s Sake”, the beautiful “I’m Mandy Fly Me”, and “Don’t Hang Up”, seemed to disappoint a lot of folks, though I would argue that the album overall was a significant improvement. Whatever the case, founding members Kevin Godley and Lol Crème (who would later go on to produce masterful, groundbreaking music videos for the Police, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Herbie Hancock as well as their own “Cry”, which was the first video to prominently feature morphing) left the group. They initially marketed a guitar modification gadget that they called the “Gizmo”, which was none too successful.
Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman continued to record as a duo utilizing the services of various studio musicians and hiring a band to tour with. The first post Godley & Crème album was perhaps the group’s best ever. Deceptive Bends contained their highest-charting single in the US, “The Things We Do for Love” (included). But there was lots more—“People in Love”(included), “Good Morning Judge” (included), “Modern Man Blues” (not included), and the multi-part “Feel the Benefit” (not included). Deceptive Bends demonstrated that Godley & Crème were at the heart of the group’s “art rock” classification, but it also demonstrated that Stewart and Gouldman were a talented songwriting team capable of producing beautiful and memorable melodies and still retaining much of the humor of the group’s earlier output.
Bloody Tourists was effectively the swan song of the band, and it was equally as accomplished as Deceptive Bends. Stewart and Gouldman basically hired their touring band to flesh out the group and record this album, highlighted by the catchy and hilarious “Dreadlock Holiday”, which hit #1 in the UK and was fairly successful stateside as well. “For You and I”, the last track included on this collection, comes from the same album and revisits the lush ballad territory of “I’m Not in Love” and “People in Love”. While Stewart and Graham recorded another album in 1983, reunited with Godley & Crème for 1992’s Meanwhile, and released another 10cc album in 1995, no one could doubt that it wasn’t really the same band.
With the inclusion of the early UK hits “Donna” and “Rubber Bullets” this could have been an ideal collection of 10cc material, but I suppose that’s quibbling. If you don’t mind some of the dated music, you’ll find this a pleasant trip through the career of a clever band.
// Notes from the Road
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