Thursday, August 11, 2011

10cc: Art for Art's Sake

It's really hard to discuss 10cc without coming off as, say, a Steely Dan or Zappa fan (guilty, both counts). To earnestly love a band and simultaneously feel an almost compelling need to convince others that, if they have patience, they may acquire a taste for it. And all this coming from someone himself who has said more than once that he doesn't like to work at music in any way.

Well, I've already started digging the hole so here goes anyway.

10cc was never work for me (nor was Steely Dan, for that matter). Intricate, detail-oriented musicianship that manages to be hooky and clever without being snotty or silly (well, yes, they cross that line from time to time) simply appeals to me at the most basic level. No, it doesn't rock in any conventional way but, much like Zappa and hard rock, one cannot help but think "if these guys simply wanted to be a pop hit machine, they could do so with little effort." The songs make me smile, stick in my head and keep me thinking long after the record stops.

How Dare YouI came to 10cc, like so many bands I love, via cover art. A longtime Hipgnosis fan, How Dare You! caught my eye again and again from a small college record shop in 1992. A limited budget and other demands kept 10cc off my buy list for a few years until one of the record clubs had their Island/Mercury Very Best Of collection on clearance and I snatched it up. I immediately grabbed the '97 Mercury remasters along with the band's first two records, 10cc and Sheet Music, available on a budget-priced two-disc set chock full of bonus tracks, The Complete UK Recordings. I have grabbed latter-day records since then and there exist a few interesting tracks here and there but, for anyone with an interest, the first six records (four, really) are the sole essentials and will undoubtedly add an interesting and original element to your music library.

While I have since owned the first two records in their individual incarnations, I would recommend The Complete UK Recordings as the one and only source as it sounds fantastic, has comprehensive liner notes by Dawn Eden and adds era-specific singles and b-sides. With tracks like "The Dean and I," "Rubber Bullets" and "Donna," 10cc laid the foundation as original reimaginers of a number of musical styles and seemingly effortlessly knocked off some of the most memorable Britpop of the 1970s. My sole complaint is the absence of pre-10cc hit, "Neanderthal Man," by three-fourths of the 10cc bandmembers, Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme (released on the Philips label). "Neanderthal Man" was released under the band moniker Hotlegs and is available on some compilations as well as the proper LP Thinks: School Stinks. It's a fun track, albeit a novelty number. As the Hotlegs record goes in and out of print and only seems regularly available as an overpriced Japanese mini-LP replica, I would opt for checking it on on

The Original Soundtrack is considered by most to be 10cc's finest moment and it is hard to disagree. The mini-opera, "Une Nuit a Paris," predates "Bohemian Rhapsody" by several months and leaves the latter feeling like a bit of a copycat. Proceed, then, to "I'm Not in Love," a UK #1/US #2 hit which remains incredibly effective to this day: I keep your picture / on the wall / it hides a nasty stain that's lying there... "The Second Sitting for the Last Supper" effectively prods the notions of Christianity while managing to work as a proper rocker at the same time. "The Film of My Love" offers one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek lyrics the band ever presented in a close-up of yours / a long shot of mine / superimposed together / I'll zoom in on you.

I am still partial to How Dare You!, though, and that is simply due to the presence of "I'm Mandy Fly Me."  A sequel of sorts to "Clockwork Creep" from Sheet Music (a tale told in part from the perspective of a bomb on a jetliner), "I'm Mandy Fly Me" is a dreamlike paean to a mystical stewardess who apparently guides a victim of a midair calamity from a freefall to safety on the surface of the sea before disappearing altogether. It's a marvelous story song whose dynamic is massively effective in its change at 2:42 complete with brief guitar solo and then another shift at 3:45 to I felt Mandy / give me the kiss of life / just like the girl in Dr. No-no-no...ahhhh, when they pulled me from the wreckage / and her body couldn't be found / was it in my mind it seems / I had a crazy dream / I told them so but they said 'no, no, no.' Perfect. Just flawless.

Deceptive Bends and Bloody Tourists have their moments but with the band reduced to Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman following Godley and Creme's split, it certainly feels like exactly half of what came before. I advise of their purchase only as they are still reasonably priced and complete the Mercury Remasters collection. Additionally, there are a number of top-quality tracks to be found ("Dreadlock Holiday" and "The Things We Do For Love," especially) though neither album can even compare to anything that preceded it. Following Bloody Tourists, Stewart and Gouldman limp along with several sub-par releases until 10cc reunited in 1992 for ...meanwhile but the magic was never replicated again and, at present, only Graham Gouldman continues on as 10cc. Still, with a half-dozen good albums (four of 'em just great), 10cc is certainly better than your average band.

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