The things he does for love

The founder of ’70s giants 10cc and the writer of many classic 1960s hits, Graham Gouldman recalls his journey from playing at the Manchester Jewish Lads’ Brigade, to scaling the top of the charts.

Gouldman 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gouldman 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For most people, it would have been their career pinnacle. By the age of 20, Graham Gouldman, raised in an observant Jewish home in Manchester, England, had already penned a host of classic Top 10 hits for a who’s who of British Invasion giants: “Heart Full of Soul” and “For Your Love” for The Yardbirds, “Look Through Any Window” and “Bus Stop” for The Hollies and “No Milk Today” for Herman’s Hermits, among others.
“I tried to write songs like The Beatles, but like anyone trying to write like someone else, the songs always come out differently,” said the 65-year-old London resident earlier this month as he recalled falling under the spell of the Fab Four.
“The Beatles opened the floodgates for everybody, they provided inspiration that if they can do it, so can I. I was one of thousands, if not millions who came under their influence and picked up the guitar. They were the pinnacle – and still are – of what I wanted to do. Not only did they inspire, but they gave people confidence that they could do it too.”
Gouldman was clearly overflowing with confidence – and talent. But it turned out that writing songs for others was only the tip of the iceberg. Within a few years, Gouldman would step out from behind the relative anonymity of being the name behind the song to cofounding one of the most successful mid-1970s bands, 10cc, whose long line of hits included “Rubber Bullets,” “Donna,” “The Things We Do for Love,” and the oft-covered “I’m Not in Love.”
For a while, the band was a Fab Four itself, with Gouldman and bandmates Kevin Godley, Lol Crème and Eric Stewart all multi-instrumentalists, singers and songwriters, seemingly able to freshen up any musical genre and provide a comical twist along the way. They picked up their musical chops from years of playing – individually and collectively – as house producers and studio musicians at their own Abbey Road – Strawberry Studios – for everybody from bubblegum-era favorites the Ohio Express to Neil Sedaka.
It was working with Sedaka on his 1972 album Solitaire, in fact, that provided the impetus for the quartet, who had been releasing one-off singles here and there under assumed names, to get serious and form their own band.
“We said to each other, ‘You know what, we’re doing so much work for other people, maybe we could be a band ourselves.’ Until then, whenever there was downtime in the studio, we would write and record our own stuff for our amusement, but there was no master plan to speak of. We just decided to pool our creative talents,” said Gouldman.
Gouldman, Godley and Creme had all known each other since attending the same Manchester high school and performed in various bands with names like The Whirlwinds and The Mockingbirds. One of the places they honed their chops was a steady gig at the local Jewish Lads’ Brigade, a social club in Manchester.
“We weren’t active members, we went there because they let us use the rooms there for rehearsals with the band we were in,” said Gouldman.
“The deal was we would play for their dances. It was quite a good deal, I thought.”
GOULDMAN’S AFFINITY for music, and his drifting away from his family’s religious traditions might have caused some tension with his parents, but he said that on the contrary, they were supportive of his growing obsession.
“My parents actually encouraged me to get into music.
They were both artists and recognized that I had a gift and encouraged it,” he said.
“That was fortunate, because I was terrible at
school and there was no way I was going to university or anything like that. I think that had I shown acumen in that direction, they might have objected to my musical involvement, but as I didn’t and I was good at music, I was encouraged.”
That encouragement paid off with his string of hit songwriting credits, but it didn’t douse his ambitions to be a performer himself even with the relative lack of success his first bands enjoyed.
“I was really happy with the songwriting credits because I thought at one time that I would be a songwriter.
But I also always knew I would be in a band. I didn’t care if it was successful or not, because I just love playing, and the camaraderie one gets with being with fellow musicians,” said Gouldman.
“Even when my bands weren’t successful, I never thought of packing it in. First of all, it was the only thing I could do, and the other thing is that I knew something good was going to happen.”
That’s an understatement, considering 10cc’s meteoric rise to fame and success following their decision to pool their talents. One of their first joint efforts was a song called “Donna,” which epitomized the eclectic direction the new band would take – a Frank Zappa-influenced '50s doo-wop parody, with a sharp mix of commercial pop, irony with a chorus sung in falsetto.
Quirky British producer Jonathan King signed the band to his own label, UK Records, and coined the quartet 10cc, allegedly representing a volume of semen that was more than the average amount ejaculated by men – a sly nod to the band’s ‘super group’ status.
10cc quickly became one of England’s top bands with its first two albums Rubber Bullets and Sheet Music, featuring satirical rockers like “The Wall Street Shuffle” and “The Dean and I.”
“There was a lot of chemistry involved in the band. I went from writing my straight-ahead pop melodies to working with Kevin and Lol, who in particular, more than Eric, were very off the wall and more experimental,” said Gouldman.
“That chemistry of the four musical influences and personalities is what made 10cc. Plus the fact that we did share some common influences as well – in the back of our minds were always The Beatles and The Beach Boys.”
Despite Rubber Bullets and Sheet Music being among the most innovative and satisfying pop albums of the early 1970s, 10cc only achieved cult status in the US. But all that changed with 1975’s The Original Soundtrack, which in addition to including trademark spoofs like “Life is a Minestrone,” also featured their first bona fide timeless song, “I’m Not in Love.” The song hit number one in the US and cemented 10cc’s commercial status.
Their next album – 1976’s How Dare You! featuring “Art For Art’s Sake” – would be last to include the original quartet, as the duos of Godley and Crème and Gouldman and Stewart began pulling in different directions EVER THE experimentalists, Godley and Crème had invented something called a “Gizmotron,” an electric guitar effect which bowed the guitar strings, producing notes and chords in endless sustain. They began working on their own project – a triple LP set Consequences showcasing their new device – and neglecting 10cc, the forerunner of them leaving the band.
“It was a big blow when Kevin and Lol left. But they wanted to do their own thing. 10cc wasn’t fun for them anymore – it was predictable, and they didn’t like predictability,” said Gouldman.
“Eric and I were the more business-minded, and we were like ‘it’s got to be this way. We’re involved in this big machine now and we have plow ahead and do things.’ We told them, ‘look, we have to get on with 10cc.’ And they said, ‘well, we need to finish this first.’ We finally told them they had to choose, and they chose to finish their project and leave the band.”
“We thought they were mad because they were pretty much leaving a gold mine, but at the same time, there was a grudging admiration there that they had the gumption to do it. Kevin and I have always remained friends through the years and have often discussed how that could have played out differently.
“One way would have been for me to say, ‘go ahead and finish your album, take as long as you want and we’ll survive, and then we’ll come back together as 10cc.’ But we had pressure from the record company to make another album and that’s linked to a tour and all sorts of other obligations. So, it turned out like it did.”
Godley and Crème went on to become innovative directors in the then-new art form of music videos in the 1980s. 10cc’s partially clipped sails started to drift and despite another successful album with 1977’s Deceptive Bends featuring “The Things We Do For Love,” and 1978’s Bloody Tourists with the reggae-tinged “Dreadlock Holiday," the band had run out of gas by the early 1980s – a combination of serious injuries Stewart sustained in a 1979 automobile accident and the changing face of music which had been taken over in part by the late ‘70s punk/new wave explosion.
Gouldman went on to various projects including releasing a handful of solo albums, producing an album for The Ramones, and teaming up with singer/songwriter Andrew Gold in the synth-pop group Wax. By 1999, he had formed a new 10cc lineup consisting of many of the band’s original tour and studio support musicians: Paul Burgess on drums, guitarist Rick Fenn, and multi-instrumentalist Mike Stevens and Mike Wilson.
“Rick joined 10cc in 1976 and Paul was out on the road with us from the very first tour in 1973,” said Gouldman.
“They were on the records too, so it’s really the sound of 10cc. It sounds fantastic, better than the old band in a way. You can argue that you can’t sound better, because the old band is the band. But I still think it sounds great.”
Local audiences will be able to take the 10cc taste test themselves when Gouldman brings the band here for two shows – June 27 at Hechal Hatarbut in Tel Aviv and the following night at the Shuni Fortress in Binyamina.
Gouldman has visited Israel many times as a tourist but this will be his first working trip here. And even though he’s earned the right and posted the credentials to begin taking it easy, the show comes hot on the heels of intensive Dutch and UK tours.
“I choose not to take it easy. I like working,” he said.
“I haven’t got any hobbies or anything – I don’t play golf. So I have my family and my music.”
He’s also working on a new album which he plans to release next year on 10cc’s 40th anniversary.
At 65, he’s still brimming with musical ideas.
“I hope I can sit down and still write a great pop song.
But it’s not for me to say, it’s for other people to say.”
With his music of the last five decades burned into our collective consciousness, it’s clear what the verdict would be.