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Thursday, July 9, 2009

10cc: 10cc

10CC: 10CC (1973)

1) Rubber Bullets; 2) Johnny Don't Do It; 3) Sand In My Face; 4) Donna; 5) The Dean And I; 6) Headline Hustler; 7) Speed Kills; 8) The Hospital Song; 9) Ships Don't Disappear In The Night; 10) Fresh Air For My Mama.

An album so utterly brilliant and well-balanced that it comes off as no surprise that so few people actually know about it or remember it these days. You'd expect that when a skilled, experienced popmeister (Graham Gouldman) teams up with an inventive and innovative guitar player (Eric Stewart) and a couple of brilliant freakout weirdos (Lol Creme and Kevin Godley), the results should blow the roof off the public conscience. But no ­— public tastes are much too differen­tiated these days, and while the bold adventurous mind will want to shrug this stuff off as way too commercial, the unpretentious pop-loving spirit will shy away from it as way too odd. Those are the ways of the world, in which Captain Beefheart and Karen Carpenter will never shake hands.

This is pop music, very much so ­— in fact, this is inarguably the original 10cc's most accessible record — but thoroughly irradiated with Satire and Unpredictability. Listing all of its musical ingredients would take a sleepless night of research, but ones that are recognizable off the cuff include [a] the Beach Boys and surf stuff in general ('Rubber Bullets'), [b] doo-wop and its tribu­taries ('Johnny Don't Do It', 'Donna'), [c] psychedelic pop-rock (splattered almost everywhere), and more, much more. You keep recognizing the oddest touches in the oddest places. Why does the buildup to the chorus on 'Headline Hustler' sound so much like solo George Harrison, with its weeping slide guitar and pleading vocals? No idea. Just cool, without any easy logic to it.

No single melody overstays its welcome, indeed, most understay it: after a little while, you aban­don all hope of discerning between verse, bridge, and chorus, and simply begin treating every composition, including the shortest ones, as little independent mini-operas (although this is still way too timid compared to the band's even more radical approach on the sophomore album, Sheet Music). Normally, there's always a chance such mini-operas will devolve into unmemo­rable pretentious chaos, or will treasure the "story" far above the music, but not with Gouldman always steering the band into the "hook" direction: cleverly combining time honoured melodic phrasing with unexpected twists makes much of this unforgettable.

Besides, what's wrong with the stories? "Rubber Bullets" is about suffering for trying to amelio­rate your cell block conditions (' it really such a crime for a guy to spend his time at the local hop at the local county jail?' — indeed!). "Johnny Don't Do It" is about a wannabe biker with way too few braking experience. "Sand In My Face" is about getting your girlfriend back from the local beach bully ("dynamic tension make a man out of you!"). "The Dean And I" is about, oh well, the extreme forms of college romance ("it was no infatuation, but a gradual graduation"). And that's just the first side, and I haven't even mentioned "Donna", probably the sweetest, tende­rest parody on doo-wop ever made — Frank Zappa (who, by the way, is unquestionably one of the godfathers of 10cc-style music), for all his doo-wop affection, only wishes he could approach the same effect on his own tribute albums like Cruising With Ruben & The Jets.

Less you did think, though, that it's all about the stories and that the music comes in as an afterthought, there is also a special near-instrumental ("Speed Kills") which gives the band ample opportunity to showcase its playing skills and dexterity. It rocks with a vengeance, and, the title notwithstanding, would certainly sound cool even today blasting from one's car windows on the highway. The curious "synthesized guitar" riffage on it, produced by a special device that Godley and Creme called the "Gizmo", is a little outdated today, but since they play music with it rather than merely fart around, it doesn't really matter all that much.

Finally, one shouldn't forget about the immense diversity of ways they use to arrange and present this content. Vocal arrangements alone draw on almost the entire experience accumulated in that respect over the past several decades — solo crooning, group harmony, echoey Floydish back­ground, highest falsetto, deepest bass, opera, theatre, it's all in there (all of the group members happened to be vocally endowed, a rare blessing even for "supergroups"). Instruments range from basic guitars and pianos to just about everything I've still got to learn a name for. The only thing they don't bring in is the "wall of sound" à la Phil Spector, but I'm just mentioning it for the sakes of ending a paragraph with a negative, always the cool thing for a reviewer to keep in stock.

In the heart against brain battle, both sides come out equally satisfied — a rare feat indeed, as the heart just can't stop digging all the catchy melodies and singing along, either to "hum-drum days and a-hum-drum ways, hum-drum days and a-hum-drum ways" or to "he was an angel, such an angel", whereas the brain is simply left dumbfounded by how many wonderfully creative musical and lyrical ideas one can fit in per record inch, provided "one" means "four scruffy-looking guys from early 70s England" — then again, there also used to be those four scruffy-looking guys from early 60s England that did pretty much the same thing. A tendency at work? Hearty thumbs up, from both departments.

Check "10cc" (CD) on Amazon
Check "10cc" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. Man, this album always put me in a good mood. This really is just my kind of record, fun, catchy, silly, intelligent, energetic, unpredictable, eccentric, etc.
    Maybe it's not really catchier, sillier, funnier or more energetic than say, early Beatles or The Hollies, but the simple fact that it's all that and at the same time more, well, on my own intellectual level (or what I'd like to percieve as my intellectual level anway) is what really makes it such a wonderful record for me.

    One of the records in my collection I listen the most to in fact.

  2. I've been enjoying your original "Only Solitaire" website for a few years now, wishing you were still at it, and finally, today, I discover that you're back at it. AND you've included a 10cc album among the first reviews on your new(ish) site. Thank you!!

    Your original (old website) description of the band (and its sad fall from the heights) is very apt.

    10cc were probably my first favorite band, so long ago...and they spoiled me. I was young and naive and thought there were probably many other bands just as good. Sadly, such a talented combo is indeed very rare and I guess we should be grateful that they managed to keep things together as long as they did.

  3. Oh man, I love this record, I discovered it by your old site a couple of years ago. It's so perfect (now I even enjoy Fresh Air For My Mama hehe)and don't know how much I thank you for letting me know about this great forgotten band. My favorites: Speed Kills, Headline Hustler and of course, Rubber Bullets...

  4. It's a highly underrated album full of humor and energy.
    It's good to read you again, George!

  5. You know, 10cc used to be so awesome. Typical example- eponymous debut. I don't care if no one else wants to, but I wanna go through it track by track. "Rubber Bullets" is an AMAZING Beach Boys parody/imitation done PERFECTLY. I don't know how, but it's true. "Johnny Don't Do It" is doo-wop at its dumbest, but, you know, it's CLEVERLY dumb, like 10cc's lyrics usually are. "Sand in My Face" is one of my favorites on here, because I think it has the best lyrics on the album, and the "call and response" in the verses is very fun. "Donna" is FANTASTIC- I sing it all the time, very randomly. It's like "Johnny Don't Do It", but the stupidness is taken to a whole new level- there's not even an actual story, "Oh, Donna, you make me stand up, you make me sit down, Donna, sit down, Donna, sit down, you make me stand up...Donna I'd stand on my head for you!"
    "The Dean and I" has SO MANY different sections, and they're all so catchy...I think my favorite part is the "Awol, awol, awol, awol!" Then there's "Headline Hustler", which is country (or something like it), but I don't mind because there's an excellent buildup during the verse and the lyrics are extremely biting and sarcastic. "Speed Kills" is a nearly instrumental CHOCKFUL of great riffs. "The Hospital Song" is so much fun, and the lyrics are about a mopey hospital patient, of course, but what's with the "Here comes the dark..." section? "Ships Don't Disappear in the Night (Do They?)" is very weird, but it's got a fun piano riff! And "Fresh Air for My Mama", which is sometimes regarded is the worst song because it's too "serious", well, I think it's absolutely gorgeous. It's obviously a less rocking ripoff of Paul McCartney's "The Back Seat of My Car", but who cares? It's really really beautiful. I love it love it love it. Yep, awesome album!

  6. Echoing Ross Dryer's sentiments here. "The stupidness is taken to a whole new level." I'd never seen "Donna" that way before, but it's the key to appreciating the song. As for "The Dean and I," yes, "awol awol awol" is wonderful -- a great melodic turn -- but my favorite moment comes right after the line, "I'm throwing myself off this train:" "Meow!" I mean, what song has ever been recorded, in the whole history of recorded song, with "meow" in the lyrics, four times?? On an album ostensibly for adults! Brilliant.

  7. This album makes me feel incredibly dirty for some reason. I love it and yes, hate it too. What is this Donna for example? Who are you to sing in falsetto pretending yer in the fifties and combing back yer pompadour on the back of your motorcycle, yes, you are so cool. But beyond the fact it sounds like Grease but before it, it is a cool album. I hate it at times and when I do I go listen to the Raspberries and wish I could go all the way, but you know 10CC are really a great band. This might as well be yer start off album tho I like alot of their later stuff better. But then again, none of this is any Press to Play. Should be listened to by anyone who likes rock n roll. And I love that shit.