Released in May 1975, 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” became the band’s breakthrough hit. With its tape-loop vocal choir and Moog-generated beat, the ballad reached #2 on Billboard’s pop chart and helped inspire the British synth-pop movement of the early ‘80s.
Recently, co-writer, electric pianist and lead vocalist Eric Stewart ; co-writer, guitarist and bassist Graham Gouldman ; drummer Kevin Godley ; pianist Lol Creme and receptionist Cathy Redfern talked about the song’s evolution. Mr. Stewart’s latest album is “Anthology” (Cherry Red), Mr. Gouldman’s is “Play Nicely and Share” (Wienerworld) and Mr. Godley’s is “Muscle Memory” (PledgeMusic). Edited from interviews.
Eric Stewart: One morning in the fall of 1974, my wife, Gloria, and I were having breakfast at home in England. At some point, she said, “Why don’t you say you love me so much any more?”
We had been married nine years by then. I said, “Look, if I say that every day, the words will lose their meaning, won’t they?” She said, “No, they won’t.” We left it at that.
After breakfast, I went off to the living room, where I had a grand piano and my acoustic guitar. I began writing a song about saying “I love you” without actually saying it.
As I worked on the lyrics, I tried to balance what Gloria wanted me to say and how saying it would trivialize how much I loved her. At first, I tried a contrast. I sang, “I’m not in love” followed by things like “It’s because I adore you.” But on paper, it seemed clichéd and trite.
Instead, I wrote about the conflict between feeling a certain way and avoiding expressing it. I created the melody by strumming chord arpeggios on my guitar.
For the first eight-bar bridge, I wrote a contrasting line: “Don’t feel let down, don’t get hung up, we do what we can, do what we must.” But it sounded a little lame.
When I arrived at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, about 20 minutes from my home, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley were busy on another song. So Graham Gouldman and I worked on “I’m Not in Love.” He came up with masterful chords.
Listen to the shorter version of ‘I’m Not in Love’ without Kathy Redfern in midsection.
Graham Gouldman: For an intro, I played an A-major 6 with a B on the bottom on my guitar, shifting to a B-major chord with the B still in the bass.
To set up the first verse, I went to a G-sharp 7 with a G on the bottom, and then a C-sharp minor with an A in the bass. When Eric started to sing, I used an E-major chord with a G-sharp in the bass followed by a G-sharp 7, C-sharp minor and C-sharp minor 7.
We also needed a second eight-bar bridge. All at once, Eric and I came up with, “Oooh, you’ll wait a long time for me” along with the music and chords.
Mr. Stewart: When Graham and I finished, Kevin and Lol joined us, and we recorded our first run-through using a light bossa nova beat.
But during the playback, Kevin wasn’t happy with the bossa or my “Don’t feel let down” lyrics for the first bridge. Lol agreed and suggested we drop them entirely and he’d simply play the bridge’s melody on the piano.
Mr. Gouldman: One of the best things about 10cc was that no matter who wrote a song, the others had the right to make it better. That gave all of us creative freedom.
Kevin Godley: For me, the bossa thing wasn’t daring. We needed something bigger and more atmospheric and evocative. What I heard in my head was a wash of voices, a choir that would hover above the music, like the one I had heard in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”Listen to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’
Lol Creme: Kevin’s choir idea was great but it would be costly. Instead, I suggested we record the voice parts ourselves. I said we could do it by singing 13 notes in a chromatic scale and recording them onto 13 different tape loops. Then we’d record the loops individually onto our 16-track tape machine.
Mr. Stewart: It was ingenious. But first we had to record the song’s basic rhythm track and my lead vocal as a guide. We knew our choir notes would take up 13 of the 16-tracks on our recorder. This meant we had only three left for the rhythm track.
On one track, I played the electric piano and sang the lead vocal. Graham played rhythm guitar on the second track. On the third, Kevin used a mini-Moog set to sound like a bass drum. He tapped out a ballad groove on the Moog’s keyboard that sounded like a heartbeat.
Once we recorded the rhythm track, we spent weeks recording our voices and transferring them onto our recorder. Then the four of us worked the mixing console’s 24 volume faders with two hands to create a choir behind the rhythm track and my lead vocal.
We loved the background voices so much we left all the faders up a little throughout the song to provide a white-noise atmosphere.
To be sure our vocals were always there as background, I put a long strip of Gaffer tape below all the faders to prevent them being brought down accidentally to zero.
Mr. Gouldman: We were taking a big chance on the choir concept. It had never been done this way before. But when we finished, the result was exciting. Our voices sounded like they were from another planet.
Mr. Creme: Even with the choir, the song needed texture. I suggested Graham overdub an eight-bar bass solo on the first bridge. Someone said, “A bass solo in a love song, in a ballad?” We decided it was worth a try. I also suggested we have a female voice whisper, “Get it together.”
Mr. Stewart: At that very moment in our conversation, Cathy Redfern, the studio’s receptionist, stuck her head in. She whispered, “Eric, there’s someone on the phone for you,” and left. Lol said, “That’s it! Let’s get Cathy to speak the words.”
Mr. Creme: I went down the hall after Cathy. When I told her what we wanted, she protested a bit, saying she had never recorded anything before.
Cathy Redfern: I was 21 then. I adored the boys, and they treated me like their sister. When Lol told me their idea, I thought it might be a prank. They were always kidding around. But Lol picked me up and threw me over his shoulder.
In the control room, the guys were serious. They told me it was a love song and that my line should sound like I was trying to convince my boyfriend to think clearly.
Mr. Creme: But the more I thought about that line, the more “Get it together” sounded harsh. So I changed it to “Be quiet, big boys don’t cry,” which felt softer and more comforting.
Ms. Redfern: I went into the studio with Kevin, who was there to steady me and give me a cue. We both put on headphones so we could hear the song. Kevin touched my arm when it was time to say the words.
Mr. Stewart: At first, Cathy’s delivery wasn’t musical enough. We said, “Go softer, go softer, Cathy. Whisper. Get closer to the mic.” Then she got it. We were using a Neumann U67 mic and had put a foam ‘pop shield’ over it to prevent the mic from picking up any pops when Cathy got close and said the words “Big boys.”
Ms. Redfern: Hearing my voice after was surreal. I couldn’t believe it was me. I was thrilled.
Mr. Stewart: After, we overdubbed Graham’s bass guitar solo leading into Cathy’s words and then playing among them. It was another beautiful atmospheric touch.
Lol’s piano melody opening that bridge came next. The slap-back stereo echoes I added to the notes gave them a haunting sound. Still, Lol thought we needed one more twist.
Mr. Creme: I went out and bought a child’s plastic toy music box. When you pulled the box’s string, it played the English nursery rhyme, “Boys and Girls Come Out to Play.” We set up two mics in the studio about 12 feet apart, for a stereo effect.
Then I swung the little box over my head between the two mics as it played the tune. We wound up with an eerie sound, shifting from one speaker to the other. After Eric added stereo echo, the effect at the song’s fade-out was like someone whistling in a tunnel.
Mr. Stewart: Finally, I mixed everything we recorded. The electronic-sounding ‘”ah-ahhhs” throughout are single notes I used from the tape loops for a punctuation effect.
When we finished the album, I drove Gloria to the studio. The wives of the other guys joined us. We turned out the lights and listened to the whole thing, playing it over and over for what seemed like hours. Everybody loved it.
On the drive home, Gloria asked what “I’m Not in Love” was about. I told her, “It’s my answer to your question about why I didn’t say ‘I love you’ more often.’”
Gloria said the song was so beautiful and unforgettable. Then she said, “I’d still love if you’d say ‘I love you’ more often.” From then on, I’ve said ‘I love you’ to Gloria every night.