Johnny Don't Do It/Sand In My Face/Donna/The Dean And I/Headline Hustler/Speed Kills/Rubber Bullets/The Hospital Song/Ships Don't Disappear In The Night (Do They?)/Fresh Air For My Mama
This was the debut album from the innovative, ground-breaking and quirky 10cc, one of the seventies' most interesting bands.
The follow-up, Sheet Music, was a better album overall, but this was a curious, impossible to categorise introduction to a group who would perplex and beguile and occasionally annoy and infuriate.
The album begins with a bit too much fifties pastiche for my liking, in the "motorcycle crash" spoof of Johnny Don't Do It and the odd, but attractively riffy (borrowed in places, slightly, from Atomic Rooster's Devil's Answer, I'm sure) Sand In My Face. Then there is the rock 'n' roll ballad take-off of Donna (which was the group's first big hit) and the Beach Boys-influenced The Dean And I, (also a hit single), featuring singer Lol Creme's toe-curling cod-US accent. Despite that, it was a good song though. Very "hooky".
Things change, though, with the rocky, rhythmic Headline Hustler as the fifties are thankfully left behind. The lyrics become far more cynically witty now. Speed Kills recycles the old drum intro from Hotlegs' Neanderthal Man and is a mysterious, powerfully punchy number. The album has got interesting now. It has a great bass line, synthesised brass sounds and searing electric guitar near the end too.
The huge number one hit, Rubber Bullets returns briefly to the late fifties, although it is simply a very catchy pop song and pretty much irresistible, despite some vaguely irritating bits. One listen to that "rubbery" intro, though, and it's 1973 again. As a fourteen year-old, I loved this single. The version on here is the five minute plus album version, with some excellent, fuzzy guitar in the final minute or so. "We all got balls and brains, but some's got ball and chains..." was one of their many tongue-in-cheek, humorous lines.
The Hospital Song, with its deliciously thumping bass line is another example of 10cc black humour, about being in hospital for an operation. As Headline Hustler targeted the media, this song takes on the subject of health and hospitals. Underneath the wry lyrics, it has a great sound to it too. It is all very clever. "Too clever for their own good" many said at the time, and since, maybe, but that shouldn't detract from the material's appeal. Ships Don't Disappear In The Night (Do They) has a lot of echoes of Paul McCartney's Wings about it, sounding a lot like Helen Wheels or Junior's Farm from the same period. This may have come first, though, it has to be said. The final track, Fresh Air For My Mama also has airs of McCartney about it, and The Beach Boys' early seventies transcendental-influenced stuff.
Hot Sun Rock is an excellent, heavy-ish instrumental bonus track and 4% Of Something is also really rocky in a seventies, proggy sort of way. Personally I would rather both these tracks had been on the album at the beginning.
Sheet Music (1974)
The Wall Street Shuffle/The Worst Band In The World/Hotel/Old Wild Men/Clockwork Creep/Silly Love/Somewhere In Hollywood/Baron Samedi/The Sacro-Iliac/Oh Effendi
10cc were an odd group, completely impossible to categorise. Arty, clever, smart-ass, wry, witty, Beach Boys and Beatles influenced, but also having very much their own unique identity. Personally, I always found them somewhat pretentious and contrived, and that cod-American accent of singer Lol Creme bugged me no end. To be fair, though, they wanted to push the boundaries of contemporary pop music and they certainly did just that. They could all play and they had a priceless knack for a catchy tune and witty lyric.
In amongst that, though, they produced great singles. They had two absolute killer on here - the muscular and riffy The Wall Street Shuffle with its lyrics about high finance and the similarly dynamic Silly Love with more guitars to the fore. The rest of the album is full of all sorts of diverse stuff - the calypso-influenced goofy fun of Hotel and the funk rock of the self-deprecatory The Worst Band In The World (which even has hints of dub reggae before it even existed) are highlights.
Tracks like Old Wild Men, however, are frustrating. Good passages lie side by side with indulgence and over-production. I always got the impression that 10cc were trying to be just too clever. It never quite worked for me, but I do understand why many people still love this album (and others of theirs) today. The frenetic Clockwork Creep reminds a lot of the sort of thing Sparks were putting out at the same time and I could never quite get into them either. Look, there are great bits to these tracks, but so much of them annoy me. Maybe it was the vocals, maybe the constant changes of mood and tempo, the layered on cod-Beach Boys harmonies. I don't know. I remember trying to get into the album back then and failing and falling short again now, when trying again. I am certainly having more success now than I did at fourteen, though.
Somewhere In Hollywood is a six-minute piece of quirky indulgence that never raises itself above walking pace but has a strange sort of appeal, as indeed does the proto-Talking Heads-ish, rhythmic Baron Samedi, with its Santana-esque guitar breaks and percussion. Apart from the two singles, this is my favourite track on the album.
The Sacro-Iliac is a goofily appealing "dance-craze" song (about a joint in the back) and I quite like the Band-like rock of Oh Effendi. The country rock of bonus track Waterfall is impressive too, as is 18 Carat Man Of Means.
10cc certainly caused a bit of a stir with this album and more and more people got into them. Their next few albums were successes (and many singles too) and they had considerable credibility for nearly ten years. This album definitely merits more than just a few listens, even for me.
The Very Best Of 10cc
10cc were a most innovative, ground-breaking group, and one who were virtually impossible to categorise. Their music was a veritable cornucopia of influences from The Beach Boys to The Beatles to Sparks to Paul Simon and even some heavy rock riffage at times. They were exceptionally talented musicians and had a real knack for coming up with a killer, commercial hook to match their wry, witty and clever lyrics. They produced some genuinely quirky albums that need many listens to fully "get" them, but what was never in doubt was that they could come up with absolute copper-bottomed quality singles, all of which are on this excellent compilation.
Their time in the limelight was 1973-1981 and during that time they garnered considerable critical acclaim, although they also had to fend of accusations of being "too clever", "too smart for their own good" and the like. An arrogance and a feeling that they were superior to many of the other chart acts around at the time didn't help their case. Personally, I also found singer Lol Creme's cod-American accent on tracks such as The Dean And I intensely irritating. That was 10cc in a nutshell, very talented, very interesting, but a tad annoying at times.
The compilation here is a superb litany of great, quirky, inventive hit singles - the huge number one rock'n'roll influenced Rubber Bullets; the riffy majesty of The Wall Street Shuffle and Silly Love; the lyrical lunacy of Life Is A Minestrone; the delicious, smoky romance of I'm Not In Love; the rocking, catchy Art For Art's Sake and the epic, many mood changes of I'm Mandy Fly Me.
The pure pop rock of The Things We Do For Love and Good Morning Judge are excellent later hits, and then there is their final big number one, the reggae pastiche of Dreadlock Holiday.
Also included are some of Kevin Godley/Lol Creme's appealing later solo hits - Under Your Thumb, Wedding Bells and Cry and also, enjoyably, the pre-10cc and deliciously bonkers Neanderthal Man (recorded under the name Hotlegs). The sound quality is good and if you don't wish to delve further into the challenging world of 10cc's albums, then you can't go far wrong with this, some of the seventies' most ground-breaking pop music.