Friday, February 11, 2011

The Wiseacre Duos: 10cc, Part One

For the next in our very occasional series, we'll focus on an outfit that began as a comprisal of not merely one but two sets of wiseacre duos. First off, let's attend to what the band's name is supposed to represent. A cursory search of the Internet will primarily lead you through the Garden of Legend, the place where rumours are conceived and cultivated for perpetual misbelief. In this case, you'll find that "10cc" is the average sperm count in a male ejaculation. Such a story provides great press and the four musicians who made up this group did nothing to discourage it. Snarky quartet, this outfit.

One story floating around on both sides of the Atlantic was that the name 10cc actually appeared in a dream (involving the famed UK venue Hammersmith Odeon) of one Jonathan King, manager of said musicians. He awakened, recalled it, and his new charges had a catchy name. Whatever the truth, the name 10cc would eventually be synonymous with ingenious jokery. Brilliant melodies, rhythm (and anti-) and generous avant garde stylings.

Each member had a rich musical history behind him. Bassist Graham Gouldman was probably the most successful, having written the 60s tunes "For Your Love" (The Yardbirds) and "Look Through Any Window" (The Hollies), among many others. Drummer Kevin Godley and guitarist/keyboardist Lol Creme had met Gouldman during childhood in grade school. The three recorded and/or produced singles in the 1960s that did not exactly set The Top of the Pops on fire. Godley and Creme did begin a rather symbiotic relationship in those days that would be cemented in 10cc and continued for many years through a myriad of ventures we'll cover.

10cc's 4th member was guitarist Eric Stewart, who had worked with Gouldman in the ill-fated band The Mindbenders, and with Godley and Creme in Hotlegs, which produced the hit single "Neanderthal Man", a hypnotic, drum driven tune. Stewart was also a producer and all-around studio whiz. By 1972 the four musicians had crossed paths enough (including at the famous Strawberry Studios) to recognize potential as a unit.

10cc's first single was "Donna", sung by falsetto-voiced Lol Creme. It is a campy, very tongue-in-cheek stab at doo-wop and other 50s/60s bubblegum. It was pulled from the group's debut album, 10cc. It was written by Creme and Godley, another early indication of things to come. Their songs were loopy, experimental. 10cc's other half, Gouldman and Stewart, wrote more traditional, yet still wry, tuneage. Other spoofy doo-wop was featured on 10cc, including "Johnny Don't Do It", an appropriately sappy-sounding aural equivalent of an old American International Pictures cheapie, complete with a B-movie scenario of a James Dean-like hero.

Godley and Creme's compositions dominated this inaugural album, though Gouldman is also co-credited with some of them. One is the hit, "Rubber Bullets" a bouncy tune about prison riot control. Great harmonies and even danceable. "The Dean and I" is also rather peppy as it describes first love and later apathy. Gouldman and Stewart composed "Headline Hustler", an amusing tale that is a straightforward yet still stinging attack on media outlets, though not as melodious as some of their later tracks (these guys would be the more commercially minded of the band, as we'll see).

What really sets the dividing line between Godley/Creme and Gouldman/Stewart songs at this stage is the formers' "The Hospital Song", a very bizarre, angry rant told by a patient who plots revenge on his nurse. The singing is staccato, the lyrics filled with, uh, piss and vinegar. It would be the first of several G/C compositions that set them apart from their bandmmates quite dramatically, and perhaps set the rocky course that was not to last too long.....

To Be Continued
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