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.
I’m Not In Love, co-written by Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart, features prominently in the soundtrack to the 2014 blockbuster film Guardians of the Galaxy, which grossed $635 million in its first two months in US cinemas and spawned a No 1 album. Meanwhile, a key element of the soundtrack to 2010’s Facebook feature film The Social Network is Dreadlock Holiday, which is also the Sky Sports cricket reports theme in Australia.
10cc has sold more than 30 million albums around the world and the band’s longevity is testament to their timeless songs, and reflecting Gouldman’s status as one of the world’s leading songwriters, he was inducted into America’s Songwriters Hall of Fame at a ceremony in New York in June. Previous inductees include Noel Coward, Burt Bacharach, Neil Sedaka, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Elton John and Sting.
The band continues to traverse the globe and play countries as disparate as Iceland and South Africa, Latvia and Japan, as well as across Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Canada and the US.
Following a 26-date UK tour in October-November, early 2019 will see the band play three concerts in Japan, before touring Denmark, Sweden and Norway, followed by a 15-date major city UK tour and the band’s first concert in Moscow.
10cc returns to the UK’s prestigious, 5,200-capacity Royal Albert Hall in London on 2 May 2019.
Gouldman attributes 10cc’s lasting appeal 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 simply 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.
10cc ruled the pop world at a time – the 1970s – when the charts were dominated by some of the most creative and colourful artists 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’s energies were not centred on image or celebrity-status, but on creating highly sophisticated rock masterworks with mainstream appeal.
Early influences on the band included The Beatles and the Beach Boys, but their palate proved wide. Says Gouldman: “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 into more artistic and avant-garde acts including Jacques Brel. 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 breakthrough hit Donna in 1972 to their final No 1, Dreadlock Holiday in 1978, via landmark releases including 1975 worldwide hit I’m Not In Love, 10cc stood for the kind of heightened pop sensibility achieved only by the very greatest music practitioners. As Rolling Stone magazine put it in 1975, ‘There is more going on in one 10cc song than on the last ten Yes albums.’
With hit song-writing credits with bands including the Yardbirds, Hollies and Herman’s Hermits under his belt, the early 1970s saw Gouldman and his compatriots reach new levels of creative endeavour.
He spent time in New York writing for bubblegum kings Jerry Kazenetz and Jeff Katz., 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 Studios in Stockport.
Back in Manchester, Stewart, Godley and Creme had also been busy, with Stewart testing a new four-track record that led 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.
In 1972 Gouldman’s manager Harvey Lisberg (later to become 10cc’s manager) 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, produced by Gouldman, Stewart, Godley and Creme, with Stewart acting as engineer.
“We all learned so much from those sessions. Neil’s sheer professionalism, musicianship and song-writing were inspiring,” 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,” says Gouldman.
A Godley and Creme song, Donna, was chosen. “We didn’t 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.”
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.
Whether it’s the eight-minute pop opera Une Nuit a Paris, or the No.1 hit pop masterpiece I’m Not In Love, both from The Original Soundtrack (1975) album, no two 10cc records sound the same,
“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.”
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.”
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 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.”
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 including 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,
In 2002, 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. The band have continued to regularly tour the world ever since.
In 2006, Universal Records released the TV-advertised, double CD 10cc: Greatest Hits … And More, and the following year national newspaper the Mail On Sunday produced a special 10-track, cover-mount Best of 10cc Live CD, distributing more than 2.4 million copies throughout the UK and Ireland. The paper reported that sales rose by 232,000 on the day of publication.
For the band’s 40th anniversary year in 2012, Universal Records released a new five-CD box set entitled Tenology, featuring 80 tracks chosen by the four original band members.
A world tour took 10cc as far and wide as Iceland and Australia, and saw them play London’s Royal Albert Hall for the first time. The landmark concert saw Kevin Godley guest on several numbers including a capella version of Donna.
After 50 concerts with 10cc that year, Gouldman decided to tour as an acoustic outfit, Heart Full of Songs, which included 10cc’s Rick Fenn, Mick Wilson and Mike Stevens. Their set included 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.
In 2013, 10cc joined Status Quo for a tour of UK arenas, including London’s 20,000-capacity The O2.
In the years since, the band have toured in Australia, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand across the UK and Europe and at London’s 60,000-capacity British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park.
“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.
With four decades of song-writing 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.”