Sunday, January 6, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: 10cc - TENOLOGY
I've already written about the Clapton Slowhand set, and now I've just finished the 4-CD, 1-DVD 10cc collection. Now here's a band we've all heard of, and know a couple of songs, but that's it. One of the biggest Top 10 groups in England in the 70's, they never really broke down the doors here. Now, a sentence like that is usually followed by: "..and I don't understand why." In this case, it's perfectly obvious. For the most part, they made complicated, overly-intelligent pop, defied a ton of rules, and were very British about the whole thing. Their music was fused with humour and irony. These are all the things that radio programmers avoid in North America, so despite a dozen or so major U.K. hits, only the easily-digested I'm Not In Love and The Things We Do For Love found them any love here. But such was the high quality of those numbers, including the brilliant production and studio mastery, they were hug hits at least.
And so it was with 10 CC, real wizards of the studio, and the pop song craft. They were one of a kind, a four-headed set of equally-talented chaps, with some 60's pedigree and experience, who then teamed up to knock the U.K. scene on its head, post-Beatles. Each of them (Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Lol Creme, and Kevin Godley) could sing, write, play any number of instruments, and in Stewart they had a sonic specialist who could engineer and produce. They had their own studio, Strawberry, so they were in effect a self-determined bunch, with no one else in the mix. Plus they were equals, democratic, and supportive. The perfect band as it were, the mythical one every group hopes to be but never is. The only group I can think of that comes close is our own Sloan.
They were also quirky and mischievous. They didn't just want to create great songs, they wanted to subvert the process. Their goal was to throw out the rules, whether it was song topics, structure, tradition, you name it. If it could be turned upside down and monkeyed around, they'd do it. Being 60's guys and studio boffins, they could write in all the classic styles, and therefore, re-write in them as well. Starting out, it was early American rock and roll that was the target. English hits Donna, Rubber Bullets, and Johnny Don't Do It were genre songs, remodeling Jailhouse Rock, car-crash numbers, and teen idol dramas. But they'd roll different ideas into each, even different singers. Sweet and Slade were listening, obviously. It quickly became obvious that this was a group with a big sense of humour, as they came up with gems about Charles Atlas-type adds for body-building (Sand In My Face), and even took the piss out of themselves and the rest of the rock scene (The Worst Band In The World).
Not satisfied putting out pastiche-rock, the group soon challenged themselves even further, coming up with epic productions and grand story lines, like the tail of a hooker in Paris and a tourist out of their depth, Une Nuit A Paris. This type of track featured all four of them coming up with grand elements, technological advancements, and an attention to detail that few could afford; but then, they did own the studio, and really preferred it over touring. Plus, they were having a ball. The fine essay that comes with the hard-bound book in the box points out they paved the way for many, including Queen, and I'd have to agree with that, as well as the observation that they weren't really rock star material. They had no set lead singer like Freddie Mercury, no theatrics on stage, no glamour or sex appeal. Even though they were often singing about American topics (The Wall Street Shuffle), the U.S. pop world really wasn't made for a song about insider trading. As for one called Life Is A Minestrone, that's British wit that still doesn't translate.
I'd say you get all you need from this box. Disc one has all the early hits, from the original four days. Disc two gets into the band as led by Gouldman and Stewart, after Godley and Creme decided to get out of that rat race and became a successful duo on their, their biggest hit being Cry. There was still good material for the two-piece 10 CC (The Things We Do For Love, Dreadlock Holiday), but into the 80's things sputtered out. Disc three gives us the best of the album tracks, and the fourth is devoted to b-sides, some clever numbers equal to the rest in ingenuity.
The DVD is jammed with 25 cuts, including a bunch of their (mimed) Top Of The Pops appearances, some live concert stuff from TV shows (better for sure), and their 70's promo videos. These last ones are pretty forgettable, as they stand miming the song or do some silly acting of the plot, typical pre-MTV stuff. That's surprising considering Godley and Creme went on to become one of the most in-demand directing teams of the MTV era. But it just goes to show that anything this talented bunch tried, they mastered, once they dissected it, and put their own spin on it. 10 CC remain a hard nut to crack with casual listening, but sitting down and paying attention to all the talent was a good project for my holiday season, and I certainly developed a much stronger appreciation.