10cc weren’t like most bands. Not for them the instant hit single or even the years spent touring together in the back of a van. Instead they all met up first while they were in different bands, ‘borrowing’ each other’s material when they’d run out of their own or drafting each other in as last minute replacements when somebody or other left. Between them Stewart, Gouldman, Godley and Creme played on 47 different singles and made six albums before recording under the 10cc name – and that’s without counting the so-close-to-10cc-it-may-as-well-be-a-10cc-LP ‘Thinks…School Stinks!’ which was released under the name ‘Hotlegs’ in 1970 and has already been reviewed here at the AAA elsewhere. Interestingly the band members start playing on each other’s records as early as 1968, with Graham (by far the most prolific of the four in these early days) a mutual friend of everyone’s, while it helped that almost all of these bands and acts were Manchester based. We’ve listed the songs here not in complete chronological order but by band solo career or weirdly-named one-off (why didn’t Godley and Creme keep the moniker ‘Frabjoy and Runciple Spoon’?!), whichever happened to come earliest in the story. Looking out all of these records is hard work – even as big a group as The Mindbenders were in the 1960s haven’t been properly served on CD at the time of writing and mainly exist on compilations – but one way of tracking down many of these items in one go (and a few guest appearances outside our scope) is to buy the compilation ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ (2003), which rounds up 23 typically esoteric and zany choices.
Eric Stewart (Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders)
By far the most successful of all the many pre-10cc bands were The Mindbenders. The group were formed in 1963 as yet another one of Manchester’s answers to Merseybeat and were at first very much a backing band for their lead singer, the charismatic Wayne Fontana (actually his name was Geoffrey Glynn Ellis; he probably got his ‘new’ name from Elvis’ drummer D J Fontana – funnily enough the band were on Fontana records, though this seems to be a coincidence rather than a case of Wayne being teacher’s pet!) Eric was at first the solemn guitarist with the blonde fringe who stood behind him, but as the 1960s moved on he got more and more power within the band, finding that he had a natural knack for writing songs. It took the band longer than some to get going – their first single just missed the top forty and the next three all missed the charts – but breakthrough ‘Um Um Um Um Um Um’ peaked at #5 in Britain and did well in America too. Follow-up ‘Game Of Love’ was unlucky to lose out to The Seekers for the #1 spot and the band were at last ‘allowed’ to make their first LP. Unfortunately things went downhill after this – the new material didn’t quite make it, the big change of 1966 that caught out so many other early 1960s acts spelt doom and Wayne Fontana got cold feet, quitting for a solo career that blazed nicely but briefly. Rather than hiring a replacement, The Mindbenders carried on as a trio with Eric given much more space for his compositions and singing and the period 1966-1969 really helps his confidence no end. Especially because the first hit the Mindbenders have without Wayne was their biggest: ‘A Groovy Kind Of Love’, which used to be a hugely popular song in the days before Phil Collins slowed it down and wrecked it. The Mindbenders tries to grow with the times and even released a concept LP (10cc’s first and a sign of things to come?!), though it was centred around women rather than un nuit en paris and clockwork creeps. By 1967 the band’s fortunes were fading (even though the had the perfect band name for the psychedelic period! They got it from a rather staid 1950s film as it happens) and even a big cameo part in 1967’s hit film ‘To Sir With Love’ (they get a song of their own and back Lulu on ‘To Sir With Love’) couldn’t reverse the band’s fortunes. The band broke up in November 1968, after fulfilling their contractual obligations and an endless package tour with The Who, Arthur Brown and Joe Cocker. Bassist Bob Lang joined one-hit wonders Racing Cars soon after; drummer Graham Foote joined Herman’s Hermits. As for Wayne, he scored a hit single ‘Pamela Pamela’ by some guy named Graham Gouldman and carried on releasing singles with sixteen to his name up until 1976. After that he joined the ‘Solid Sixties’ tours but struggled for money and ended up in prison for pouring petrol on the bonnet of a car belonging to a bailiff who was about to re-possess his home. He deserved far, far better out of life. A rather good compilation, inevitably called ‘A Groovy Kind Of Love’, collects together all the recordings from the period when Eric was lead singer – sadly the Wayne years are thinner on the ground, with the early singles particularly hard to pin down.
June 1963: A raucous start, Fats Domino cover ‘Hello Josephine’ sounds remarkably like the early Searchers with a scruffy but exciting song built around one fast-played chord and some wild drumming. Eric doesn’t get much to do for most of the song except throw in some ‘bop bops’ while Fontana appears to have a nervous breakdown in the middle with an endless ‘ha ha ha’ chorus, though his blistering guitar solo in the middle is easily the song’s highlight. This simple song about trying to ask a girl out and things going wrong deserved to do far better.
B-side ‘Road Runner’ is a little more ordinary, though just as wild with Eric clearly coming from the Pete Townshend/Dave Davies school of guitar playing, albeit a year early. This sort of thing must have sounded so mad and dangerous for 1963, but you can only be so wild and the song lacks the slow-burning menace of Bo Diddley’s original.
October 1963: If the debut single was more Stonesy then follow-up’For You, For You’ is pure Beatles, complete with an ‘oh oh oh’ chorus lifted straight from their cover of ‘Anna’. The writer was Peter Lee Stirling, who more usually used the name Daniel Boone and came up with deeper material than this rather soggy throwaway. The Mindbenders turn in a strong performance though, with Eric’s harmonies a great foil for Wayne’s lead vocal.
A lot slower and more mournful than The Searchers’ recent hit version, ‘Love Potion Number Nine’ is another strong cover, with Leiber and Stoller’s words of a spooky romance played as a tragedy rather than a comedy. The moment when the drums suddenly burst into life in the middle and the band find a great throbbing guitar riff is terrific, though Eric’s guitar solo is very eccentric.
January 1964: Oh dear.Third single ‘Little Darlin’ is too obvious a cover, being a big hit for The Diamonds only a couple of years before. It doesn’t help that the band seem to have been inspired to record it by listening to ‘Speedy Gonzales’, with an irritating screechy falsetto over the opening (one I fear might be Eric having a bad idea, though as he never used it again – at the public’s request one senses – we can’t be sure). The Mindbenders were never the neatest of bands, but this song has crossed over the line from fun and energy into mayhem.
The B-side by songwriting team Mat Maurer and Tony Powers, ‘Come Dance With Me’, is calmer but also a lot more boring. Wayne shines on a song that has a slight Elvis touch about it crossed with a flamenco part and The Drifters’ ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’, but the rest of the band sound bored and seem to do the least amount possible to get through to the end of a song they’re clearly not enjoying. Eric’s crystal-clear picked guitar solo is a step further to the sound he’d find with 10cc though.
May 1964: The next single ‘Stop, Look and Listen’ is a fun song with a variation on tradition with Wayne playing it cool and the Mindbenders playing it manic. The song memorably stops whenever the word ‘stop’ is sung, which is a great hook, though the rest of the song sounds suspiciously like everything else around in 1964. Good enough to return the band to the top 40 anyway. Flip ‘Duke Of Earl’ is an oddity: what other song do you know that starts with an acapella ‘Too Too Too Kar Velm’ chorus? Thankfully, just as the track seems to be about to evolve into ‘The Birdie Song’, the track settles down into a fun doo-wop song that’s sung with more care and seriousness than most and a vocal that’s clearly inspired by Motown. Goodness knows what the lyrics are about though- you can be a duke or an earl, but not both…
September 1964: At last the breakthrough and The Minbenders have found their sound by calming down and going for character and catchiness rather than raw energy or cuteness. Clearly based on Manfredd Mann’s similarly nonsensical but cheerful ‘Do Wah Diddy’ from a couple of months earlier, ‘Um Um Um Um Um Um’ is a fun Curtis Mayfield song about a man humming. It’s hard not to admire a song so audacious it doesn’t even bother to include lyrics in the title or main hook, but it’s catchy upbeat and original enough to catch the ear and stand out even in a packed chart of 1964. Eric’s flamenco guitar is the star of the show, adding pizazz and exotica to a song that’s really about enjoying the mundane. Foote’s final tongue-in-cheek cymbal roll is also delicious, summing up the song’s cheeky humour.
Here, on the B-side, is where things start to get interesting for 10cc fans. ‘The First Taste Of Love’ is the first taste of Eric as a writer and it’s a strong debut almost equal up to the A-side. A better update of ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ (clearly The Mindbenders’ favourite single of the era), Wayne sounds right at home on another slightly exotic song about an unexpected brush with romance. The middle eight (‘Your lips upon my face, your arms around my waist’) proves that Eric was great at writing them even this far back in his career. If anything it’s Eric’s slightly chunky and aggressive guitar work that doesn’t fit. Foote’s cymbal drumming through is fantastic. All in all a fine single.
‘Too Much Monkey Business’ was the only new song released on the EP titled ‘Um Um Um Um Um Um’ (and currently available on CD as a bonus on ‘Eric, Rik, Wayne and Bob’). It’s a shame this Chuck Berry isn’t better known as it’s one of the best Mindbenders rockers, manic and wild if not quite as manic as The Hollies’ cover. Wayne’s comedy vocal doesn’t quite cut it, but the combination of Eric’s eccentric guitar, Rik’s wild bass and thunderous drumming even by Bob makes for one hell of a backing track.
‘Late’ 1964: ‘Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders’ (LP) (She’s Got The Power/You Don’t Know Me/Git It!/Jaguar and The Thunderbird/Certain Girl/One More Time//Where Have You Been?/Keep Your Hands Off My Baby/Too Many Tears/The Girl Can’t Help It/Cops and Robbers/I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday) Despite being delayed by around 18 months, The Mindbenders still don’t sound quite ready to make their first album. They’ve only just found out what their style is and now they have to replicate it several times over, making for an album that sounds a little timid in places and a tad behind the popular movement (this many cover songs on an album in late 1964 is a big no-no after The Beatles have shown the way). Like the singles, though, there’s a certain charm about the mixture of cute harmonies and wild playing and there are some under-rated gems here. Of the songs not already released on single ‘She’s Got The Power’ is a fun, driving, handclapping rocker right in the middle of Beatles and Stones, safety and danger. The slow and falsetto-filled ‘You Don’t Know Me’ might well be the single worst thing The Mindbenders ever did though – Wayne spends the whole song trying to get a girl’s attention, but it’s no surprise she doesn’t answer – she’s probably calling the police. The title of ‘Git It!’ must have raised a few eyebrows in the more innocent days of 1964 but actually it’s a silly childish song mostly made up of the line of ‘Willow Whopping’ whatever that means. Nice tune though and Eric’s loud on the backing vocals. Chuck Berry’s ‘Jaguar and The Thunderbird’ is played in a rush, which is rather fitting given the lyrics about the drivers getting a speeding ticket and the chorus ‘slow down little thunderbird’. The low-key, almost unplugged performance is before it’s time but doesn’t quite come off. Naomi Neville was a pseudonym for Allen Toussaint and ‘Certain Girl’ sounds much like his masterpiece ‘Fortune Teller’, with a great driving guitar part from Eric and a fun backing vocal counterpart as Wayne’s narrator tells a shaggy dog story about a bird he’s just pulled (‘What’s her name?’ ‘Can’t tell ya!’ Yeah right, this story’s true…). The album highlight might well be Eric’s second ever song, the slow weepie ‘One More Time’ which again sounds like ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ and sports a weird Wayne falsetto, but is a very pretty and romantic song. Listening to this you can see where all those future glorious Stewart ballads came from, with ‘Don’t Turn Me Away’ perhaps the closest in feel in the 10cc catalogue. Goffin and King’s over-covered ‘Where You Been?’ again shows how similar The Mindbenders were to The Searchers (who covered this song almost identically just a few months earlier). Goffin and King appear again with a ragged cover of ‘Keep Your Hands Off My Baby’ which is a trifle dull. ‘Too Many Tears’ switches gears too many times between slow and manic, but Wayne’s in good voice and Eric’s in great guitar. ‘The Girl Can’t Help It!’ was the manic theme song of one of the most influential rock and roll films and the Mindbenders are faithful to it here, with a revved up version that’s a lot of fun. Bo Diddley’s ‘Cops and Robbers’ gives the band a chance to show off a different side, as Wayne throws in lots of funny stories and the group groove rather than thrash. It’s nice, they should have done more covers like this. Finally Fats Domino’s ‘I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday’ is one of the 1950s’ more oddball numbers (‘I’m gonna be somebody’ is what the song really means) and one of the band’s more oddball covers, slowed down and given more of a Buddy Holly makeover. It’s a rather undistinguished way to end a mixed album. Some say this debut is one of 1964’s hidden treasures: it isn’t, not really, but it deserves to be far better known – and easier to track down! That’s Eric on the far left of the original record cover by the way, now growing into his haircut and looking how we all know him later while all four men are the epitome of what 1964 considered ‘cool’. Actually some of us still do…The album was re-issued soon after though with a lesser cover, two new hit singles and a ridiculous title (‘Um Um Um Um Um Um It’s The Mindbenders!’)
January 1965: You can see why’The Game Of Love’ became the band’s second biggest hit in the UK and the biggest in the US (#1 in fact) – it’s the Mindbenders song that most catches the ear, with a manic opening drum part, some comedy vocal parts that 10cc will use a lot later on and a catchy chorus. The song was written by Clint Ballard Jnr, who was a favourite of The Hollies (he wrote their biggest selling 1960s hit ‘I’m Alive’) and features the songwriter’s typical style where a track grows from nothing into several peaks across the song. The nagging staccato chorus is unusual though, while the lyrics are more playful than usual with a ‘la-la-la-la-la-la-love’ that Eric seems to have remembered when co-writing ‘SSSSSSSSSSilly Love’ with Lol.
For the second time in a row Eric wrote the B-side, with help from his rhythm section colleagues. ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ sounds as if it features his first lead vocal too, though Eric’s voice is very close to Wayne’s in these early days. A moody gloomy piece that still keeps threatening to break into Martha and the Vandellas’ ‘Heatwave’, it’s not quite as distinguished or as original as ‘The First Taste Of Love’. However the echo on Eric’s voice works nicely and his chunky urgent guitar riffs work well on a track that’s desperate to re-set the clock and put things back how they once were.
June 1965: A slight step backwards,’It’s Just A Little Bit Too Late’ sounds more 1964 than 1965 and sounds even more like fellow Mancunians The Hollies than normal, with some tidy guitar work and a slight bossa nova-ish feel to the track. Eric’s playful solos run rings around the straight-laced narrator whose full of self-pity and almost seems to be laughing at his fate, carefree and wild while he finds himself stomped on by an oddly bass and drum-heavy production. The end result isn’t quite as memorable, despite being a second straight Clint Ballard written A-side and is perhaps a little too angular and awkward to be as strong a hit. It would have made for a great album track, though.
Wayne and Eric wrote the far more commercial B-side ‘Long Time Comin’ which is a great R and B number about a relationship that’s been going slow and steady for years and has now finally exploded into the real thing. The Mindbenders can’t believe their luck and play with their original joyful abandon and excitement that the day they’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. One of the band’s more overlooked tracks.
August 1965: The Mindbenders suddenly leap from still sounding like they come from 1964 to the psychedelia of 1966 on 1965’s ‘She Needs Love’. At least for the opening which is exotic and unusual, with some great fuzz-box guitar from Eric and some wild drumming. This final Ballard Jnr track soon settles down into something more ordinary though with a typical 1950s tune about treating your girl right because she’s ‘special’ even though at times she can be a ‘funny thing’. Offering her your love will make her act sensible, apparently. I don’t think you’ve really thought this through guys…
Rather fittingly Wayne’s last song with the group in singles terms gives him the last word with his only solo-composed song for the band. ‘Like I Did’ is a good one, moody and sombre and unplugged and with lyrics about ‘dying a little inside’ when the narrator’s girl goes out with his rival. The highlight is the gorgeous and spooky harmonies from Eric that add real depth and beauty to the song, while Lang ignores his usual drums for some manic tambourine playing that’s really quite affective. All in all one of the very best Mindbenders recordings.
‘Late’ 1965: ‘Eric, Rik, Wayne and Bob – The Mindbenders’ (LP) (Some Other Guy/She’s A Rebel/Like I Did/Memphis Tennessee/It’s Just A Little Bit Too Late/The Shadow Knows//I Remember Love/Skinny Minnie/Honey and Wine/Your Hoochie Coochie Man/Please Stay/Long Time Comin’) Album number two was recorded at an interesting time for the band, recorded just as Wayne was abpout to leave for a solo career, hence perhaps his reduction to third billing with Eric given the biggest picture on the album’s original front cover (the CD uses the American version which is just a band shot with Eric at the back). If the first Mindbenders album felt a little bit behind the times then this second seemed aeons behind: a contemporary of ‘Rubber Soul’ ‘The Beach Boys Today’ and ‘Aftermath’, this album still insists on being full of cover songs performed in the old Merseybeat sound. It’s not a great surprise that it sold poorly on release, but it’s more of a surprise that the record hasn’t been given a similar sort of re-appraisal to the first LP. It’s certainly of huge interest to 10cc fans as it’s the first album where Eric is firmly in charge and you can hear early attempts at the sort of unusual arrangements and production excess that the band will go on to make their name with. Skipping the songs previously reviewed… ‘Some Other Guy’ is a rather low-key opener, played at about half the speed of normal and with several seconds before any vocals come in and played with sadness rather than anger or manic energy. ‘She’s A Rebel’ – more usually ‘He’s A Rebel’ and performed by girl groups starting with The Crystals – is rather flat too. Chuck Berry’s greatest song ‘Memphis Tennessee’ was played by just about every band in the 1960s but never like this: Eric’s early use of bottleneck sounds almost chirpy while the band’s rhythm section play like they’ve just invented heavy metal. ‘The Shadow Knows’ is an oddball original that seems to tell the story of a Jack The Ripper style killer who hides in the shadows and waits for his prey. However the performance is more uneasy comedy than bodice-ripper tragedy. ‘I Remember Love’ is a silly little bluesy shuffle that returns the band back to their earliest days with some daft falsetto harmonies and cutesy pie lyrics. The year 1965 seems a bit early for nostalgia for 1963, but ok…Bill Haley’s ‘Skinny Minnie’ features Rick making his vocal debut and this much-covered tale of a really thin girl has lots of enthusiasm but still falls flat as a pancake. Goffin and King’s gorgeous ‘Honey and Wine’ is the most Mindbenders like of all the songs of his they covered and while the Mindbende3rs can’t compete with The Hollies’ marvellous version theirs is a strong one, with a clever walking guitar part from Eric. ‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man’, though, is a disaster – The Mindbenders were never the type of band to play blues from the heart and most of this cover is just four minutes of wild guitar that still isn’t quite wild enough to let itself go. ‘Please Stay’ though is a lovely song, a sweet ballad that’s more like a Gerry and the Pacemakers song as Wayne finally drops to the full rich bass voice he was gifted with instead of singing a bit higher to be commercial. Though the song isn’t that advanced or original, the melody is quite lovely and The Mindbenders add some fine backing harmonies. All in all, then, Eric, Rik, Wayne and Bob come up with rather a mixed second LP that’s all too obviously rushed in places but is pretty strong in others.
January 1966: One final product of the Wayne era was the EP ‘Walking On Air’, which was released a month after ‘Groovy Kind Of Love’ proved the band didn’t need their ‘leader’. The EP included the previously released single ‘She Needs Love’ and three new tracks: ‘Remind My Baby Of Me’ shows off both sides of the Mindbenders: it starts as a very bass-heavy dramatic weepie where Wayne implores a mutual friend to pass on his best wishes to an ex, before ending up in a comedy chorus full of daft falsetto voices and a Hillbilly guitar riff. Both sides are quite nice separately, but really don’t belong in the same song. ‘Walking On Air’ is a truly bonkers oom-pah song that sounds melodically as if it belongs in a Laurel and Hardy film soundtrack, though Wayne doesn’t seem to notice as his head’s up in the clouds. Finally ‘I’m Qualified’ is as good way to bow out as any, a return to the Searchers style of earlier years with a sweet tale of devotion and promises played out as an early rock and roll waltz with a sweet tune and another strong Fontana vocal. And with that The Mindbenders qualified and went their separate ways…
Eric Stewart (and briefly, Graham Gouldman)(The Mindbenders)
December 1965: There’s a train of thought that the single most archetypally sixties word might well be ‘groovy’ – a ‘cooler’ word for ‘cool’ than ‘cool’, with hippie slang for synchronisation, things falling into a groove and the world being well. In that case ‘A Groovy Kind Of Love’ has a better case than most for being the most 1960s song ever. Carole Bayer (occasional songwriter for The Monkees) comes up trumps with a song that manages to ooze positive vibes, romance and all the feelings of hippiedom that are right around the corner. It’s a wonder no band had picked up on this lovely song before this and it comes right out of left-field for The Mindbenders who hadn’t ever sounded like this before. Not least because that’s Eric taking his first lead vocal on an A-side, the band choosing to promote their guitarist (who sounded a little bit like Wayne Fontana anyway) rather than get in a substitute. Clearly an awful lot was riding on this single – it had been a while since the band had had any hits and ‘Groovy’ is very different to the groove of ”Um Um UM’ or ‘The Game Of Love’, appealing to a whole new market of swooning pre-teens girls rather than partying R and B boys. It shouldn’t work at all with a relatively unknown songwriter, an untested singer and a band still struggling to escape the sound of 1964 covering a song that points ahead to at least 18 months in the future – and yet the grooves just fall effortlessly into place as if it was meant to be. Even though you can hear the fear and nerves in Eric’s voice and his vocal lacks his later subtlety and warmth compared to what will come later, this remains a great version of a great song that is, despite the use of the word ‘groovy’, truly timeless in a way few songs are. At least until Phil Collins gives the song a bad name in the 1990s anyway…
The B-side ‘Love Is Good’ is another Eric special that serves as a fond farewell to the Mindbenders’ original frenetic sound and it’s one of their most exciting recordings. Like ‘People In Love’ in reverse it tells us that partners often do silly things that break up a romance far too early, but that it’s not love that’s the problem but lovers. When love ‘goes like it should, love is good!’ is the exuberant cry of the chorus, but Eric’s clearly singing the song from some darker place, with an urgent expressive guitar part and a mad drum part from Bob Lang that sounds like fate throwing everything at this relationship to try and make it fail.
April 1966: Having got lucky and found a whole new style without really trying, The Mindbenders are at a loss what to record as a follow-up. So instead of recording a similarly sweet and groovy song they go for another ballad that’s very much of the orchestral period style, but one that happens to be by the same writer Carole Bayer. ‘Can’t Live With You, Can’t Live Without You’ sounds like The Walker Brothers on a faster speed and Fontana have clearly given the band some money to splash for the first time now that they’re big names, although they don’t often use it wisely on this track. Added organ helps, but the Phil Spector-ish backing vocals and echo-drenched lead vocals are distracting and The Mindbenders’ always slightly scruffy performance sounds wrong in this new style. The song itself is a good one though, with much to think about in its philosophical words about whether what drives a couple apart is bigger than the spark that made them get together in the first place and the unusual structure, with each section of the track ;leading on breathlessly into the next, very much reflects the uncertainty of the narrator. A bit less money and a smaller production and this song would have been a fine follow-up, now sadly all but forgotten.
The Mindbenders go back in time for Goffin and King’s cutesy-pie ‘One Fine Day’ which sounds like the sort of song Davy Jones always got lumbered with on the first two Monkees records. The narrator has just been dumped but he’s in a fierce mood and tells his girl one fine day he’ll be big and she’ll be sorry. It’s hard not to see this song as a riposte to Wayne Fontana and his solo career somehow…
June 1966: ‘The Mindbenders’ (LP) (The Way You Do The Things You Do/Just A Little Bit/Seventh Son/One Fine Day/Tricky Dicky/A Groovy Kind Of Love//Little Nightingale/Don’t Cry No More/You Don’t Know About Love/Love Is Good/Rockin’ Jaybee) The success of ‘Groovy Kind Of Love’ inevitably lead to a third album that this time was the contemporary of ‘Revolver’ and ‘Pet Sounds’. However The Mindbenders haven’t updated their sound one iota and still insist on recording slowed-down cover versions that by and large don’t quite have the swing of the records. That said, Eric’s really getting to grips with being the band’s new boss and his lead vocals are all good practice for the sort of songs that come later with a third straight LP that’s largely made up of filler but contains a handful of truly excellent and overlooked recordings. Again, skipping the songs previously released on single…I’ve always thought that 10cc’s ‘The Things We Do For Love’ sounded a little like Smokey Robinson’s ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’ and Eric’s slowed down vocal on this version makes the two sound closer than ever. It’s an odd choice for the band to do, as it fits in neither their cute pop persona or their wild erratic one and instead we get a sort of half-way house with a daft guitar/vocal part set against some absolutely thunderous drumming. ‘Just A Little Bit’ features Rik on lead on an energetic sped-up 12 bar blues that’s good fun as the narrator pleads for any sign from his lover that she fancies him as much as he does – a ‘teeny weeny’ bit will do. Willie Dixon’s ‘Seventh Son’ is a sequel to ‘Coochie Man’ from the last record and marginally better with a sultry Eric Stewart vocal that does a better job than Wayne Fontana’s at oozing the blues. However the song still doesn’t suit the band who are far too Northern English in their approach to come from Louisiana like they want to pretend. ‘Tricky Dicky’ is one of the better covers of Lieber/Stoller’s distinctly odd tale of the local lothario around, with a claustrophobic production heavy on the bass that for once beats the similar Searchers cover from three years earlier. ‘Little Nightingale’ sounds like a sampler from the rest of the record – a similar urgent riff and wild drumming and not a lot else happening to be perfectly honest and not even a chorus. ‘Don’t Cry No More’ is a fun and frollicking rocker that seems to be going somewhere across the thirty seconds until you realise with a sinking heart the band are just going to keep this same two-chord pattern up for the whole song. It’s a good chance to hear just how good the Mindbenders’ instrumental chops have become by now though, with some nice Dick Dale style guitar, some shimmering bass and some wild drums. Eric’s one new song for the album, ‘You Don’t Know About Love’, is perhaps the most interesting song here and comes from a similar place to ‘Love Is Good’. It’s another ‘how dare you break up with me!’ song that suggests early girlfriend trouble and might well have been an attempt to recycle the chords from ‘Groovy Kind Of Love’ backwards. Certainly the lyrics are the opposite: he thought he was enjoying a groovy kind of love but for her love fell out the groove a while back and she didn’t tell him, leaving him looking foolish. It’s a song that’s far more intense than anything else in the Mindbender’s catalogue and unusually intense even for Eric (it’s closest to the post-car crash ‘Windows In The Jungle’ album for 10cc fans). To close, ‘Rockin’ Jaybee’ is a band instrumental that’s impressively heavy in style and soars close to feedback throughout, recalling the turbulent sound and muscle of The Who who made their breakthrough about five years before. It’s a good chance to hear a test run for the epic Stewart guitar-break in ‘Blackmail’ ten years early, but isn’t of that much interest in and of itself. So ends an intriguing record, perhaps the best The Mindbenders made but that’s only a comparative measure – they’re still a singles act first and foremost in this era and that’s where they make their better records. Certainly few fans bought the record the first time round and it was only after a few months and a name-change (inevitably ‘A Groovy Kind Of Love’) that the album started selling and then not by very much. This later version includes the then-new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’ in place of album tracks ‘Don’t Cry No More’ and ‘Rockin’ Jaybee’.
August 1966: Perhaps not quite taking the hint, The Mindbenders recorded a third Carole Bayer song, but despite a nice chorus ‘Ashes To Ashes’ is a far weaker song and the novelty aspects of this record (the ringing piano for instance) don’t help. ‘Didn’t my love mean anything to you, did all my kisses go through you?’ Eric asks as he finds just how little the marriage ceremony meant to his beloved. The B-side was Eric’s album track ‘You Don’t Know About Love’.
December 1966: The Mindbenders took ‘I Want Her, She Wants Me’ from The Zombies catalogue and play in much the same style (ie loud and staccato). This song really doesn’t suit the band and they sound terribly bored, with Eric really not engaging with this track at all (after two flop singles were they making this one after record company pressure?) It’s also very un-late 1966, traditionally a time for love songs and psychedelia, although it does share the same bleakness and choppy chords as The Kinks’ ‘Dead End Street’.
Eric as usual gets the B-side and ‘The Morning After’ continues his recent run of rather grumpy songs. His girl sometimes gets him in a ‘whirl’ and he wonders whether he’s done the right thing ‘right after the morning after’. This song is actually pretty daring for 1966 – this is clearly the morning after a night of sex, with the morning after pill by now big in the news. However what could have easily have been a fun tongue-in-cheek song is played for tears not smiles and Eric’s almost punk guitar part reveals just how rotten and low he’s feeling, without any colour on the bones at all, just bare strummed strings. It’s left to Rik and Bob to add the cheery ‘ba ba ba’s.
March 1967: The band’s fourth Carole Bayer song isn’t much of an improvement on ‘Ashes To Ashes’ with ‘We’ll Talk About It Tomorrow’ another soggy production ballad. At least this one suits Eric’s voice though if not the band’s approach and it’s yet another step closer to his gooey-eyed ballads for 10cc.
For once Eric doesn’t get the flipside. Drummer Bob got his only solo credit for the band with ‘Far Across Town’ which features lots of room for his Keith Moon-style drumming and a cute lyric about the dream house he and his partner are going to buy together one day. For that to be a reality, though, the Mindbenders needed a better A-side than this.
April 1967: ‘With Woman In Mind’ (LP) (To Be Or Not To Be/Honey and Wine/Schoolgirl/A Little Piece Of Leather/Shotgun/I Want Her She Wants Me//Mystery Train/Morning After/Homework/Airport People/Cool Jerk/Ashes To Ashes) Perhaps the most interesting of the four Mindbenders albums, if even more uneven than the first three, ‘With Woman In Mind’ is one of the world’s first concept albums (well, technically The Beach Boys got there as early as 1963 and ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ but most people credit ‘Sgt Peppers’ and this album beats it by two months!) While most albums are based around love in some form, this record takes the impressively forward-thinking view that love comes in many shades and forms and tries to look at love from all angles, from teenagery crush to one-sided obsession to a mature lasting adult relationship. Unfortunately while the Mindbenders are thinking big in terms of visions, they’re still thinking small in terms of original material and arrangements and this must be one of the least psychedelic albums released in 1967 (apart from Englebert Humperdinck and Cliff Richard anyway). On the plus side, though, they’ve finally got round to hiring a fourth member to help Eric out a bit – and it’s a talented young lad named Graham Gouldman. For now both Eric and Graham are still working very much in their own styles (see later for a discussion of Graham’s) and haven’t yet to work with each other, but you can just hear how much harder Eric is trying compositionally with Graham there to keep him on his toes. ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ is yet another Carol Bayer song, a rocker this time as Eric’s narrator tries to work out whether his friendship with another counts as a proper relationship or not. ‘Honey and Wine’ is a cover song that had already appeared on the band’s second LP and features a new and stronger arrangement here, much more like The Hollies’ one, with Eric singing lead not Wayne over a nicely-spaced production that’s heavy on the tambourine. The Mindbenders still don’t sound as if they quite get the full scope of the song the way messers Clarke-Hicks-Nash do though. Talking of which The Hollies had bought ‘Schoolgirl’ off Graham with the intention of releasing it as the sequel to their other Gouldman covers ‘Look Through Any Window’ and ‘Bus Stop’. However the song was abandoned because of worries about the risqué lyrics (the schoolgirl is seduced by a much older man who ruins her academic potential and she ‘lets him have his way’) and wasn’t released until the 1990s (it was first released on ‘The Hollies At Abbey Road Volume Two’) and it’s pretty stunning, a psychedelic masterclass! Graham’s own take is more like something from his own solo album, big on sweeping strings and without the energy and earthiness The Hollies bring it. To be honest it’s a very odd track lyrically that manages to be simultaneously creepy and funny (‘In a library researching English lit she met a student who took her mind off it!’) – all is pure to the pure, mind – and Graham’s sly school-mistress vocal doesn’t help matters much. Still, fascinating to compare and Eric’s snarling guitar is impressive. ‘A Little Piece Of Leather’ is an unwelcome bit of caterwauling falsetto you’d hope The Mindbenders had grown out of by now and the chorus ‘she’s a little bit of leather that’s well put together’ might well be the worst moment in this whole book. ‘Shotgun’ is another noisy unfocussed rocker – and quite where this fits into the concept is anyone’s guess! – though it does feature some blistering guitar. ‘Mystery Train’ is perhaps the most obvious cover song choice ev-uh but at least The Mindbenders speed the song up compared to normal and throw in some spicy guitar chops along the way. Bob Lang manages a great impression of a train too using just his drums. ‘Homework’ is a song about lust that comes on so strong it distracts the poor narrator from his studies. What with this and ‘Schoolgirl’ you have to wonder what age The Mindbenders were pitching this album at, especially given the sultry, sensual flavour of the guitars. ‘Airport People’ is a rare song by Bill Martin, one time Monkee auditionee and occasional songwriter. Alas it’s no ‘Door Into Summer’ or ‘Zor and Zam’ but a rather plodding song that’s a rather heavy-handed metaphor for drugs. The people stuck at the airport because the planes are full can’t get ‘high’, you see? No? Well neither did most of the Mindbenders’ fans probably. This slow repetitive recording is a bum trip, though. The last ‘new’ song is ‘Cool Jerk’ and it’s not that cool but it is very jerky, one of those daft dance numbers that sings the title over and over. Rik’s bass part is pretty inventive but, a few ‘hey hey hey’s aside, there’s not a lot going on in this dance to be honest.
July 1967: ‘It’s Getting Harder All The Time’ is, possibly, more risqué mischief from a band that seem to be changing their personas in this era (that Graham Gouldman is clearly a bad influence!) or more likely a song about the difficulties of living without the love of their life. Eric’s giving them one last chance though to drop their ‘foolish pride’ but with demands like that his chances of a happy ending are getting smaller all the time.
Carol Bayer returns for ‘Off and Running’ a fast-paced and uncharacteristically aggressive rocker that finds Eric trying to leave at break-neck speed on the sort of retro track 10cc will find parodying hilarious in a few years’ time. There’s some nice see-saw guitarwork and an early 10cc-ish attempt to throw lots of things at a song at once in the hope that some of them will stick whether they suit the song or not, but this song needs to calm down a lot before it’s listenable.
September 1967: Following ‘A Groovy Kind Of Love’, the Mindbenders had all but disappeared from the charts but they made a belated slight-return with a cover of ‘The Letter’, the song made famous by The Box-Tops. The track fits Eric’s vocals much more snugly and The Mindbenders up their game here, with a great orchestral arrangement and a nicely urgent backing track that reflects the narrator trying to hurry ‘back to my baby once more’ after receiving a farewell letter.
Eric’s first B-side in a while, ‘My New Day and Age’ finally got him his first royalties for a while and it’s another step forward to 10cc. There’s a lot packed into this psychedelic track as a Leslie-speakered and prematurely-aged Eric tells us that aging isn’t suiting him and he’s forgotten most of his childish dreams. Until now – suddenly ‘something’ has changed his mind and he sees the world in a whole different light! Someone must have added something to his sandwiches when he wasn’t looking – probably that Graham Gouldman!
November 1967: ‘Schoolgirl’ was belatedly released as a single a full seven months after it came out on the ‘With Women In Mind’ LP (in a new, slightly punchier mix). ‘Coming Back’ was the new B-side, a Bob Lang composition that couldn’t be less like the psychedelic A-side, being pure Merseybeat nonsense. Eric ups the ante with a psychedelic solo though as suddenly the thought of the one you love not being in your life anymore goes from being pop fodder to the loneliest possible thing in your life.
February 1968: One of The Mindbenders’ better late-period singles, ‘Blessed Are The Lonely ‘is a return to the band’s earlier Motown influences and tries to come to terms that something as sad as a breakup could happen on such a bright and sunny day. This makes Eric’s narrator wonder if he’s been studying the world all wrong and he comes to the conclusion that being lonely allows him to understand how the world works. Or something like that – what was in those sandwiches?!
Eric’s first B-side in a while, ‘Yellow Brick Road’ is an impressive production exercise that manages sound like Beatles B-side ‘Old Brown Shoe’ in better sound. The first Mindbenders’ song that’s piano based (almost certainly played by Eric himself with his favoured big choppy chords), it’s also the first that sounds more like 10cc (or at any rate Hotlegs) than past Mindbenders songs. The title doesn’t refer specifically to ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ but is clearly a drug trip of some sort that manages to be nicely trippy and other-worldly, with some superb bass and drum work, with Bob Lang not so much propping the backing track up as trying to splinter it. Only an unfortunate spoken word passage and some trying falsetto harmonies over the end get in the way of one of the true unsung gems of 1968. Much under-rated. If this had been the A-side not the B-side and this track had been marketed right, The Mindbenders might have been successful enough to get a whole AAA book to themselves…
August 1968: Graham provides ‘Uncle Joe The Ice Cream Man’ and it’s very much in keeping with his solo record ‘The Graham Gouldman Thing’ in being very liberal in all things musical (check out the psychedelic phasing!) and oddly conservative in subject matter (a song from 1968 being nice to old people?!) Uncle Joe ‘has a smile that makes children love him’ which raises a few eyebrows in our Jimmy Saville-savvy era, especially when followed by a list of flavours the kids all love to lick, but this song is even more bonkers than that as it casually tells us that the events in this song happened decades ago, that the children are all grown up and Uncle Joe is long dead – even though it’s obviously set in the 1960s. Time travel and chocolate ice cream and another sly tongue-in-cheek Gouldman vocal, what’s not to love?
The final track released in The Mindbenders’ lifetime gives the last word back to Eric, with his own take on a Gouldman-style novelty/psychedelic song ‘The Man Who Loved Trees’. The song celebrates a poet who came to tune in with nature and features a lovely chorus set in the middle of a typically urgent Mindbenders backing track. The band have clearly come a long way from first to last, though, with this single and the last couple notably tidier and more professional than the ones before it. Enough to bend your mind just a little bit anyway.
Graham Gouldman and Lol Creme (The Whirlwinds):
Meanwhile, over in another part of Manchester, the aptly named Whirlwinds came and went in the blink of an eye, releasing just one single around the same time The Minbenders were at their sales peak before breaking up. Graham was the band’s figurehead and lead writer, while the band also featured guitarist Steve Jacobsen, drummer Maurice Sperling and Bernard Basso, who rather fittingly was the bassist (Graham was on rhythm in those days). They also had a sort of unofficial honorary member in Lol Creme, who wrote the band’s one and only B-side before the band broke up. Good luck tracking that song down though – to date only the A-side ‘Look At Me’ is on general release as part of the Various Artists set ‘Beat At Abbey Road 1963-1966’ (1997). After losing their drummer they mutated into Graham’s next band The Mockingbirds which is where we’ll pick the story up…
‘Late’ 1964: The very Beatley ‘Look At Me’ couldn’t be more 1964 if it came in a Dylan cap and a collarless suit – it certainly doesn’t sound much like Graham’s later work. Full of ‘hey heys’, Buddy Holly hiccups and oodles of cheeky charm, it’s the sort of song that had it been written fifty years later would have been given straight to a boy band to sing. There’s no denying Graham’s musical grasp though even this early on as he pleads with his girl to simply turn round and notice he exists because on his part ‘I want to marry you!’ The band are clearly under pressure (one of the two Grahams singing this song gets his words wrong at the 1:45 mark, making the other one laugh out loud!) but the slapdash nature of the performance only adds to the charm of this cute song which somehow manages to be good fun rather than simply annoying.
B-side ‘Baby Not Like You’ doesn’t sound anything much like Lol’s later 10cc songs either, sounding much like ‘The Letter’ funnily enough, the song his future partner Eric Stewart is about to have a hit with four years later. Lyrically it’s a song about wanting stability after the narrator has been betrayed yet again, even after handing over all his money and cash and pledging his loyalty. Drummer Maurice sings lead on this one alongside Graham’s harmonies (Lol doesn’t appear I don’t think) and ragged harmonica, but the real star is Jacobsen’s sturdy guitar, which oddly is the most 10cc-ish thing in the whole song!
Graham Gouldman and Kevin Godley(The Mockingbirds):
After whirling Graham’s next band went a-mocking, hiring a young Kevin Godley (with a very distinctive goatee beard in this era) as the replacement for the departing Maurice Sperling, though Lol Creme seems to have stopped hanging round the band by this time. The Mockingbirds signed to Fontana, who obviously had a thing for Manchester bands. Unlike The Mindbenders, who continued to cover singles on their A-sides up until the bitter end, The Mockingbirds were very much a vehicle for Graham’s songwriting talents and almost all the singles they recorded (the band were never successful enough to be granted the go-ahead for a full album) were from his hand. Two of these – ‘You Stole My Love’ and ‘How To Find A Lover’ – appeared on the best-selling ‘Nuggets’ compilation of psychedelic one-hit wonders (the second volume dedicated to British and Empire singles), while the others aren’t very well known or widely spread (sadly there still isn’t a CD that just features The Mockingbirds, which is a tragedy given that they feature two of the 1970’s biggest stars in their early years). None of the five released singles charted and the band were never asked to make an album, though fate might have been very different – Graham’s plan was to make ‘For Your Love’ the band’s debut, but Fontana didn’t like it so he gave it to The Yardbirds instead, who scored a big hit with it. That rather sums up the fate of this poor band, who during their two-year lifetime were overshadowed by other bands having hits with Graham’s songs, with ‘No Milk Today’ ‘Pamela Pamela’ and ‘Bus Stop’ also all released in this two year period. It probably didn’t help that Graham cut his own solo records on the side during this period, which we’ve indexed separately as part of a wider discussion of his solo work. However The Mockingbirds sounded like a band with a real future – almost all the reviewers who heard these singles said it and the band had a big following, they just never quite got the knock-out song they needed to be chart regulars.
February 1965: ‘That’s How (It’s Gonna Stay)’ sounds very much like a debut single – it’s derivative (‘A Hard Day’s Night’ era Beatles, naturally) and slightly unsure of itself but not without an innocent charm. No surprise in a way – Graham’s still only eighteen and Kevin only nineteen and neither of them have had much experience as yet, with 1966 Graham’s breakthrough year as a songwriter (starting with ‘Look Through Any Window’ for The Hollies in January). The charts in 1965 were full of fluff like this – boy likes girl, girl likes boy, ‘that’s how it’s gonna stay for a long long time’, but Graham’s got the charming false smile down pat. So much so grandmothers up and down the country probably loved this record, though less so the teenagers who probably considered it all a bit square by 1965. There’s far worse debut records from this era though and Godley’s eccentric drumming is already catching the ear (though there are no harmony vocals as yet).
If The A-side is very Beatley, then B-side ‘I Never Should’ve Kissed You’ is very like fellow Mancunian band The Hollies, with similar harmonies, heavy energetic drumming and strong guitarwork. This song wouldn’t exactly win any awards for creativity either, but there’s real excitement from the backing track with Godley trying to rush everything on and Graham’s in far better voice. This time the theme is that the narrator is almost cross that he’s been fooled into kissing a girl he fancies, because now he’s going to have to be true ‘forevermore’ and he’s got so many other girls he never kissed!
May 1965: There’s been a great re-think in the band for second single ‘I Can Feel We’re Parting’, which is more like a Motown special. Actually the band were probably thinking more of The Yardbirds who’d just scored a big hit with the debut album The Mockingbirds intended to release ‘For Your Love’ (Graham left the song in their dressing room one night when they played Manchester and offered the song after Fontana turned it down for his group – ironically The Yardbirds were signed to Fontana as well but with a few hits under their belt were more able to fight their corner than The Mockigbirds). Frankly, the song’s not quite as inspired and takes things very slow, but it’s far more original than the first single and Graham has grown as a vocalist especially with a deeper, more heartfelt timbre to his voice. You can also hear Kevin’s first taped ‘oohs’ at the high end of the harmonies which are already awfully good. Graham wrote the song with his early writing partner Charles Silverman, who also co-wrote ‘Window’.
A fierce instrumental credited to the whole band, ‘The Flight Of The Mockingbird’ sounds like an early band jam that got way out of hand, similar to what Hotlegs will go on to record with the tapes left running. You can already hear how interested the band are in studio trickery, suggesting Graham and Kevin at least already had half-an-eye on a studio of their own. Not that distinguished perhaps, but good fun.
October 1965: Perhaps the most convincing of the five Mockingbirds singles,’You Stole My Love’ is way ahead of the curve and already suggesting psychedelic trips before we’ve even got into 1966 (we’ve come a long way in just three singles). Graham plays the earthbound narrator whose life has been ruined after his girl turns him down, while Kevin sings the angelic and pure chorus halfway between innocence and – fittingly given the group name – a mocking tone. Julie Driscoll, a few months away from her success with The Trinity, adds some guest vocals too. However the song’s biggest star is surely guitarist Steve Jacobsen whose ringing 12-string – so much the sound of the period – manages to straddle the line between detachment and emotion coming to the boil. Like many Gouldman song in this period, this one comes in several parts and not all of them work – the uptempo cowboy ‘That’s the way it’s going to be’ middle eight being by far the weakest – but there’s a lot more here to praise than criticize. The moment when the song boils over into full on ‘You Stole My Love’ passion at around the 90 second mark and The Mockingbirds suddenly and jarringly turn into The Who, is genuinely thrilling – the band should have recorded more songs like this one. Alas though nobody bought ‘You Stole My Love’ which was, in retrospect, perhaps a couple of months too ahead of it’s time to be successful. Later fans, who knew how the 1960s panned out, loved it and it became a much discussed and much-loved highlights of the ‘Nuggets II’ psychedelic box set.
An early example of a bonkers 10cc B-side, ‘Skit Skat’ is another even lesser instrumental, based around some bluesy chord changes and featuring someone (Kevin?) wailing along just off-mike. Though everybody thinks of The Mockingbirds as Goudlman’s band, this is a good chance to hear just how strong they were instrumentally, with Bernard Basso on – what else? – bass particularly strong here. Anyone who likes the early Jethro Tull upbeat instrumentals will find much to enjoy here.
July 1966: Sounding a little like a compilation of everything heard so far,’One By One’ is a cute Beatley song that sounds very 1964 given a psychedelic production makeover (with a very Beach Boys use of horns this time) that makes it sounds very 1966. The production is by far the more interesting half, with a really good use of slow build-up and tension and Jacobsen’s surf guitar up against a wall of drums. Sadly the song is pretty boring, full of reasons why the narrator’s girl should go out with him and with the confusing Noah’s ark chorus ‘They go through a closing door, lost and gone forevermore’. The middle eight is more interesting though, with Graham seemingly giving out reasons why he’s better off as a loner: ‘How would life be without beauty? Why would we be without dreamers? Tell me why can’t others make it through?’ The lack of success for The Mockingbirds is clearly getting to him, although if they couldn’t make it with the last single they had no chance with this one which is something of a step backwards.
Sounding not unlike ‘Baby Love’, the flipside ‘Lovingly Yours’ is more Motown yodelling, with Graham in twee balladeer form. Promising undying love, Graham strings together some clever rhymes (‘I’ll always be near you when you say you need my love to cheer you’) but this is an intellectual rather than heartfelt song and something about this song just seems off. It’s probably the chirpy organ which sounds like a microwave is going off across the song. perhaps the weakest of the ten Mockingbirds recordings.
October 1966: The other inclusion on ‘Nuggets’, ‘How To Find A Lover’ is funkier than the other tracks, though still with ambition on the production side. This time the song was written by Peter Cowap, another writer seemingly on the verge of a breakthrough the whole 1960s long and who crops up again with Graham in the band ‘High Society’ (Graham had offered him ‘Look Through Any Window’ before The Hollies heard it so clearly felt he owed Peter one). Graham puts his voice through every possible device going (with Kevin mirroring them up high) as he reads out a book of instructions. To be honest you won’t learn much here except the 1960s’ obsession with the proper hairdo as most of what we get is ‘chapter one is easy’, although there is a genuine laugh when Graham reveals he’s got to chapter sixty and still has so much to learn. The track fades out early though – given Gouldman’s indulging his usual early love of multiple sections here 1:58 isn’t anywhere near long enough to explore this interesting landscape.
The Mockingbirds bow out with ‘My Story’, which isn’t so much autobiographical as every single 1960s pop song ever written. Graham fell in love, his girl promised him ‘heaven’ and that she’d be ‘true only to me – which proves just how wrong you can be’. She left in the Spring, he cried through to the Fall (‘but never did she call’). Cute, but very much made-up-in-five-minutes-B-side filler this isn’t ‘my story’ so much as ‘everyone’s story’ and The Mockingbirds’ last appearance is basically a Graham solo effort with some Godley drums in there somewhere.
Graham Gouldman (Solo):
Graham was clearly being groomed as a star, even though his record with his own band were flopping, so Fontana asked him if he fancied making a solo single instead, just to see if it was his band holding him back. After this single failed in the charts too (released in a gap between Mockingbird singles three and four), Graham returned to his solo career in 1968 and re-recorded many of the hit songs that he’d given away to other artists (though strangely not his breakthrough hit ‘Look Through Any Window’). The singles were successful enough for a full – and cult – album ‘The Graham Gouldman Thing’, which has been re-issued a few times down the years and is one of the more common early 10cc releases to pick up, though even this record didn’t exactly set the charts alight. We finish off with a lone single released right on the eve of 10cc when Graham had run out of other bands and didn’t expect ‘Donna’ to do any better in the charts than any of his other one-off groups he’d been involved with. As it happens 10cc will put an end to Graham’s solo career until Eric Stewart’s car crash and recovery leaves him twiddling his thumbs in 1979…
February 1966: Funnily enough the first Hollies single released after two Gouldman compositions was a self-written record titled ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ (itself a last minute substitute for intended third Gouldman single ‘Schoolgirl’, released by The Mindbenders instead). Could it be that they were still taking notice of their hitmaker’s ideas? Graham’s first solo single was titled ‘Stop! Stop! Stop! (Or Honey I’ll Be Gone…)’ and isn’t a million miles away from The Hollies’ driving sound (though it’s more like ‘I Can’t Let Go’ than ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’) Graham returns to his Motown influences on this driving horn-drenched track that could easily have been a hit for The Four Tops or the like. Graham sounds slightly uncomfortable singing it himself (especially the James Brown style ‘Ow, honey, huh huh!’ break in the instrumental) but it is a good song, with a groovy horn riff and a nice funky bass riff pushing the song on. Certainly it’s a lot more interesting than the last two Mockingbirds singles and deserved to do something in the charts. The song was co-written with ‘C Connolly’, who never seemed to work with Graham again (maybe he wrote the horn parts?)
February 1968: With The Mockingbirds having now flown the nest, The Mindbenders having blown and High Society and The Yellow Boom Room having blown up too, Graham was at a lull in his career and felt himself rather written out after four years of constant songwriting almost to clockwork for the Kassenatz Katz bubblegum company (Graham kept regular hours as a songwriter there). It was his manager Harvey Lisberg who suggested that Graham should re-record all the songs he’d written for other people, the original plan being for Peter Noone (of Herman’s Hermits) to produce the album, a ‘twist’ on the usual writer-produces-the-singer idea. Peter, though, only turned up for one session so the album got passed to John Paul Jones instead, back when he was still a session bass guitarist a year away from forming Led Zeppelin. Jones plays bass across the record, legendary session man Clem Cattini played drums (it helped that he’d filled in for a sick Bobby Elliott on The Hollies’ cover of Graham’s ‘Schoolgirl’ the year before) and Graham played everything else. Though the record wasn’t a big success, it did bring the spotlight back onto Gouldman and gave his confidence the boost it needed after a relatively dry spell across 1967. You have to say, though, that never in the whole of 1968 was there an album quite so out of step with its times, with songs full of topics like grandparents and inheritance and re-recordings of songs that were so much a part of their eras in 1964 and 1965.
The first single of three singles released from the album was ‘The Impossible Years’, a track originally recorded – funnily enough – by his new friend Eric’s old rival Wayne Fontana. Released as his sixth solo single since splitting with The Mindbenders, it missed the charts everywhere but Australia and was something of a brave choice for the singer in late 1967. A long way from Wayne’s usual teenage pop songs, it’s a dramatic ballad about a girl growing up and coming of age in a world of ‘great explorations’ and her boyfriend struggling to keep up with her. Includes the memorable couplet ‘Girls are growing and without knowing they’re the seeds that we’ve been sowing’.
‘No Milk Today’ is to this day arguably Graham’s highest selling song, a hit for Herman’s Hermits in September 1966 around most of the world. According to Hollie Graham Nash a sixteen year old Gouldman had already written the song when The Hollies got in touch but had promised the song to Peter Noone, an old friend from years back (he’d turned down ‘Bus Stop’ so The Hollies took it instead!) The title was one of ‘my father’s, as it were, with Gouldman senior coming up with the idea and telling his prodigal son ‘have a go at writing something round that my boy!’ Graham certainly did: a clever commercial song this one says a lot by saying very little, a message for the milkman and an empty milk bottle on the step telling more or less the full story as a lonely boyfriend keeps the house he used to share with his lover as a ‘shrine’ to her. Graham’s version is less cute than Herman’s Hermits and is sung much faster, with a certain school-teacherly urgency lacking in the teenyboper hit version.
February 1968: ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ was another, lesser known song written for Herman’s Hermits, an album track on their late 1967 album ‘Blaze’. Another cute tale of love gone wrong, it’s a tale of a boy and girl living their empty loveless lives just one flight of stairs away from each other, but both of them are too scared to make the first move. Though the hummed ‘Upstairs, umm-hmm’ chorus isn’t one of Graham’s better ideas (and oddly sounds even triter than when Peter Noone sang it), the idea’s a strong one and the Medieval arrangement makes it clear just how timeless and ageless this song is. Sadly there is no resolution by the end.
One of the few new songs written for the album, blues near-instrumental ‘Chestnut’ has a pleasant enough guitar riff but needs some warming over an empty fire to properly find it’s groove. The session musicians are clearly more used to following Graham’s songwriting ideas and bashing them into shape than letting fly. There’s a curious spoken word middle eight too in which Graham indulges in an early love of wacky voices with a posh upper class twit voice: ‘If all of us were doomed to die when we lived a minute…we’d let our sixty seconds run when Spring has sprung and there’s a Chestnut in Kensington Gardens’. Me, I’d be listening to CSN, but each to their own I suppose…
July 1968: ‘Pamela Pamela’ was Wayne Fontana’s biggest solo hit, a nostalgic reminiscence for times when life was simpler and romance consisted on taking your girl to the pictures and handing her a sticky red lolly on a splintery stick. More cheesy and cloying than most of Gouldman’s songs, it seems likely that this song was written for Herman’s Hermits again and suits their style more than Wayne’s. Graham sounds deeply uncomfortable too, though like many of his best songs from the period ‘Pamela’ works well at explaining hippiedom in easy speak for nervous elderly relatives. ‘Pamela Pamela you started to grow, answers to questions you wanted to know…’ The Hollies may well have, erm, ‘borrowed’ this song for their own ‘Jennifer Eccles’ released more or less at the same time as Graham’s re-recording.
Graham’s most influential song (until ‘I’m Not In Love’ at any rate) was probably ‘For Your Love’, a big hit for The Yardbirds which Graham wrote early on during a lunch break at the tailor’s where he was working during the day. Actually this song is the odd one out in Graham’s early oeuvre – though as classily written as any of the other songs Gouldman gave away, it’s clearly emotionally driven and written from the heart as much as the head. Graham promises the world and sounds like he means it, with the song building up to an intense passion during the middle that makes it clear he’s not just chatting a girl up and telling her what he wants to hear. Sadly Graham’s own recording is a bit of a disappointment, hampered by too much crazy-paving production and fat echo that’s no substitute for The Yardbirds’ fierce playing (though Nils Lofgren’s 1976 cover version steals the show from both it has to be said). Still a stunning song though in any version, simple enough for everyone to understand but original and powerful enough to be more than just another clever pop record. They should have switched the A-sides round.
‘1968’: ‘The Graham Gouldman Thing (LP) (The Impossible Years/Bus Stop/Behind The Door/Pawnbroker/Who Are They?/My Father//No Milk Today/Upstairs Downstairs/For Your Love/Pamela Pamela/Chestnut) Graham’s first solo record duly followed, though none of the three singles had done all that well. Six of the album’s eleven tracks have been covered already so for now we start with ‘Bus Stop’, a rather fun if ‘polite’ version of The Hollies’ breakthrough American hit. A lovely and very English song about a boy and girl falling in love after he offers he shelter under his umbrella, the romance takes place at break-neck speed but sounds entirely natural. Graham’s solo re-recording is one of the best on the album, sporting a sweet string part very much based on ‘Yesterday’ and an inventive arrangement where the full band only kicks in halfway through. Graham also sounds far happier on this sweet and subtle track than he does the nakedly honest ‘For Your Love’ or the twee and cutesy ‘Pamela Pamela’. ‘Behind The Door’ is another album highlight and a track recorded by Cher in 1967 that returns to Graham’s favourite metaphor of a couple’s house reflecting the state of their relationship as it evolves ‘from love to hate, in remorseful fate’. This time the feelings aren’t good and Graham comes up with a rather eerie and solemn backing, complete with strings and a harpsichord. Though the arrangement pushes Graham’s vocal up uncomfortably high, he’s more than up to the challenge and sounds best on this slow-building smoky kind of song, at least until the lesser rocky finale which sounds very Minderbendersy as he pleas for a ‘happy ending’. ‘Pawnbroker’ is a Spanish flamenco song about the very English past-time of swapping goods in a pawnbroker’s. Graham’s cheeky vocal isn’t one of his best (was this song written for Peter Noone again and is this an impression?) but the tale of the narrator passing over the medals for his own accomplishment as he tries to move on with his life has it’s moments. ‘Who Are They?’ is another album highlight, as Graham writes a Wax-style protest song though one that wears very 1960s rather than 1980s clothes. ‘Who are they where they’re bound, the faceless mass on the merry-go-round’ sings Graham, with a dig at the 9-5 community which probably also contains a dig at his Kassenatz paymasters asking him to come up with art multiple times a day. ‘Getting wed, going to bed, two kids to feed, and the mortgage ahead’ is Graham’s damning indictment of ‘straight’ people leading boring lives, who always seem to be doing something yet ‘nothing gets done’. One of Gouldman’s very best 1960s songs, with a good mixture of playfulness and sarcasm. Finally, at the end of side one. ‘My Father’ is an oddball song for 1968. Graham was unusual for a 1960s musician in being both close to and encouraged by his parents – indeed, it was his father Hyme ‘The Rhyme’ Gouldman (a failed songwriter himself) who rang up Graham Nash to tell him about his lad’s talents! Graham repays the compliment with a most un-1960s tale of a wonderful father that the narrator would like to be like when he grows up. There’s still time for a moving middle eight when the narrator learns that, however great things are at home, he can only grow by being ‘independent and free, on my own two feet’, but even that’s followed by the recognition that he’ll never be as successful as his father with ‘smile so charming’ and ends the song realising that while he can’t be his father, he can be the next best thing – the ‘son of my father’. Hyme Gouldman probably spat his pipe out with laughter when he first heard this song, but it’s more than just sucking up to the old man – Graham clearly means every word and manages to be sentimental without being cloying. A useful song for those few 1960s children who didn’t hate their parents. Overall, ‘The Graham Gouldman Thing’ is rather a nice album, cosy rather than groundbreaking and sweet rather than sensational, but it did its job at proving Gouldman’s strength as a writer. Very poppy and simple as most of the songs here are, they show a ridiculous understanding of not only musical principles but also people – the innocent pair in ‘Bus Stop’ are brought to life in barely a few lines. The downside of this record is that, understandably for such a low budget release, the simple backing makes every song sound a bit the same and Graham hasn’t quite grown into his growly voice yet. Still, treat this album as a bootleg or as an extra from a box set and you’ll be fascinated. Interestingly, though, it’s the newer material – not used as singles – that impress more than the ‘hit’ songs, making you wish Graham had written a whole new album in 1968 instead of just half a one. Little did Graham know it but it would be another thirteen years before the sequel as life with 10cc got in the way. This record – once a cult sought after by 10cc, Hollies, Herman’s Hermits and Wayne Fontana fans all – is thankfully easier to find in the present day than ever before thanks to re-issues in 1974 (to cash in on 10cc’s success), 1992 (Edsel), 2004 (BMG) and 2007 (Rev-Ola). And a good job too: Graham Gouldman can do his ‘thing’ like no other.
January 1972: Jumping forward in time slightly, ‘Nowhere To Go’ is, in retrospect, a very telling song. Graham has never sounded more fed up and acts very out of character as he snarls at people who dare to tell him things will get better soon. ‘Plenty of time?’ he snaps, hardly – he can’t get rid of the time fast enough, with the radio bad, his mama out and there’s nothing to do but ‘walk in my head’. To be honest Graham was probably getting a bit long in the tooth for teenagery pop songs like this (the chorus even includes an ‘Oo-wee’), but the string arrangement is nice and the melody is lovely, with hints of several Gouldman classics to come including ‘Lifeline’ and ‘I Hate To Eat Alone’.
B-side ‘Growing Older’ deals with this in fact, a far superior nostalgic song to ‘Pamela Pamela’ remembering childhood games and old favourite songs. Graham runs to the top of a hill to hear the echo, like he used to do, but remembers that it’s only an echo and he lies in a different time now. ‘Everything seemed so small, now it’s me that’s tall – well it happens’ he shrugs his shoulders with down-to-earth philosophy. Actually an even stronger song than the A-side, you can almost hear Graham’s frustration at life and success passing him by. Heh heh heh, little does Graham know what’s about to happen to him by the end of the year…
Graham Gouldman (High Society)
Graham’s ‘other’ new friend of the late 1960s along with Eric and Kevin wasn’t Lol (not yet), but gravelly-voiced singer-songwriter Peter Cowap. The pair has similarly quirky songwriting styles and teamed up with a promising couple of folk singers named Christine Ebbrell and Friday Brown for a sort of Mancunian Mamas and Papas. Though the band only ever made one single (with a Gouldman A side and a Cowap B side), the band had quite a following and were spoken about with far more awe and respect than The Whirlwinds or The Mokingbirds for some reason. To modern ears they sound a little bit too straightlaced today, but there’s no denying than this is another stepping stone in Gouldman’s development as a writer and arranger. The song also marked Graham’s first work with John Paul Jones who is credited as producer two full years before ‘The Graham Gouldman Thing’.
November 1966: Rather prim and proper, ‘People Passing By’ is more Seekers than Searchers and is one of the few pre-10cc recordings to show off a folk root. Christine and Friday are the main pulls of the song as they emote about being ordinary people not living out their full potential and ‘living in a cage’ when they could be doing so much more. Graham does join in, singing the deep bass part for the first time on record, but he sounds rather out of place on this song despite the fact that he wrote it. The nagging staccato ‘people people’ chorus doesn’t really fit with the genteel English feel of the rest of the song either. A poor man’s ‘Look Through Any Window’.
Graham had little to do with B-side ‘Star Of Eastern Street’ which, if you can forgive the lack of loyalty, is actually the better side. Peter’s song is very much in the same folk sentiment but makes a better job of being cute as well as being weird. Lyrically this is a tale of prejudice, where a woman with ‘slanting eyes’ manages to be the ‘most dignified’ on her street, overcoming what people thought about her when she first moved in. Peter and Graham’s sitar-style duel on guitars over the fade-out is what catches the ear most though and makes you wonder how great a 10cc album from the psychedelic era might have been!
Graham Gouldman (The Manchester Mob)
Graham and Peter teamed up for another record under the more plausible name of ‘The Manchester Mob’ along with new pals Phil Dennys on keyboards, session musician (and part time Hollie when Bobby Elliott was poorly) Clem Cattini and future Led Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones. Interestingly the last two will hang around long enough to help Graham in the making of ‘The Gouldman Thing’ in 1968. Oddly, considering that the band featured one of the great writers of the age and – in Peter – someone who could have been one of the great writers of the age and considering that we’re at the winter of promise which is about to lead directly into the summer of love, this single is a cover of a 1950s song and is more Sha-Na-Na than peace, love and flowers. Sadly I still haven’t heard the B-side, which is an original Graham-Peter song named ‘Afro-Asian’ (though credited to the pseudonym ‘Plonk’) which sounds much more interesting, but then that’s ridiculously rare one-pressing-only flop singles from fifty years ago that have never been re-issued for you.
January 1967: The medley ‘At The Hop’ and ‘Bony Maronie’ mixes together two classics 1950s tunes by Danny and the Juniors and Little Richard respectively (oddly ‘Little Richard Penniman’ gets sole credit for both on the label). Played with a typical Merseybeat groove, despite the era and the fact the players have drawn attention to their Mancunian roots (generally speaking Manchester beat music was slightly more melodic, harmony-based and more ‘upbeat’ than Liverpool’s; think The Searchers versus The Hollies or Gerry and the Pacemakers versus The Mindbenders), Peter and Graham have fun swapping verses but you sense this single was a lot more fun to play on than to listen to. The harmonies are rather nice though and the brief Cowap solo is a pretty good one, much busier and bouncier than Eric’s future performances. Well out of its time, this single was always going to struggle despite the talent involved in it.
Godley and Creme (The Yellow Bellow Boom Room!)
After The Mockingbirds flew away, Kevin Godley teamed up with another Mancunian friend in Lol Creme as well as a few fellow pals including vocalist/harmonica player Stan ‘Red’ Hoffman (who was as big a draw as Godley thanks to his time with the band with the ‘catchy’ name The Measles), bassist Stuart Sirrett and flautist Jeff Walters. Even by the release of their first and only single, though, The Yellow Bellow Boom Room were all about the new off-the-wall friendship between Godley and Creme, who naturally also came up with the unique new band name and both sides of the single. The band pretty much invent prog-rock here, with the sound of Jethro Tull and The Moody Blues wrapped around some impenetrable lyrics about seeing the world from a slightly different angle. Though not quite the lost classic some fans take it to be, this rare single is a key part of the 10cc story (the first musical acquaintance between two future best friends – though it’s worth noting that they first met in art college and had collaborated on several paintings by 1968) and is good enough to make you wish that the band had gone on to paint the world their peculiar shade of yellow a few more times before the 1960s were out.
January 1968: Kevin’s lying in a tree and clearly taking acid or something similarly strong, with ‘Seeing Things Green’ describing what he sees from the branches and admiring the ‘sweet smell of incense’ from the juniper berries near by. Yeah sure, Kevin, if that’s what you want to tell your mum you’ve been sniffing. What Godley’s narrator sees turns out to be like a softer, more psychedelic version of future partner Graham Gouldman’s visions of a perfect world, full of people who should be making more out of their lives. Which is a bit rich coming from a man off his heads on drugs lying in a tree, but that’s the 1960s for you. A pleasant tune drifts by quite sweetly over lungs full of flute, but there’s an added toughness here too that already belies the angelic voice of the lead singer.
‘My hand is no bigger than a pair of butterflies tied together tied up with string – and I’m growing older day by day!’ Kevin sings deeper for the more shallow B-side ‘Easy Life’, which is a cute ‘busy doin’ nothing’ song in the late 1960s Brian Wilson mould. Even though nothing really happens across this song (the narrator grows older, thinks about stuff including all the skills he once learnt but gave up and – oh yes – builds a wigwam), the track has fun getting absolutely nowhere. Lol’s urgent guitar tries to nag Kevin’s narrator into moving on with his life but he’s not listening, content to drift to the sound of flute and celeste. The character has all that he wanted and more anyway, so what’s the point in working harder? This very much fits in with the art college rants of Godley and Creme’s joint records, though it doesn’t sound much like the perfectionism and hard work that goes into most of 10cc’s recordings.
Graham Gouldman (Ohio Express)
There wasn’t just one ‘Ohio Express’ leaving town in the 1960s but lots of them. Like the future 10cc (certainly like Hotlegs) the band was an ad hoc collection of whatever session musicians happened to be around in the room at any one time, all of them part of the mammoth Kassenatz Katz bubblegum pop record amalgam. Graham was, for a time, a reluctant fellow employee trying to scratch out a living there and as one of the few musicians there who’d actually worked on a record was invariably drafted in to help work on the band’s ninth single (the most famous being the third, ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’ released eighteen months earlier). In actual fact he did more than work on it – he took it over and got his new friends at Strawberry Studios to play on it, making this the first time all four men from 10cc play on the same record a full year before the ‘Hotlegs’ LP (though it is for now very much Graham’s baby the others play on rather than collaborate on). The record did marginally better than the last one (the memorably titled ‘Pinch Me Baby!’) and hit #83 in the hit parade but wasn’t exactly a runaway success so Graham never got asked to contribute again. The B-side was ‘Make Love Not War’ which had nothing to do with Graham or indeed anyone else who passed through the ranks of ‘Ohio Express’ – the track had already been released months previously as ‘Road Runner’ by fellow Katz employees ‘The Music Explosion’. I bet that confused a few record buyers in the 1960s!
August 1969: A great groove from three guitars and some fierce drumming from Godley make’Sausalito (Is The Place To Go)’ a real ear-catcher. It’s certainly one of the catchier songs the Ohio Express released with a sweet tale of all the things to do in one of California’s greatest towns. Why some kid from Manchester knows so much about it though is another matter and the lyrics are very over the top in Graham’s haste to say how wonderful everything is. It’s all done with such good humour though that it’s hard not to go with it. I mean is this the greatest ever chorus or what? ‘You gotta go there, everything grows there, when you get high on a mountain it snows there, everything’s groovy, like in a movie, Sausalito is the place to go to!’ I don’t know about you but I’m ready to pack my bags right now… The song must have been the source of much mirth back in Stockport though! Dare I say it though but the source material is still very close to home, with more Hollies-style backing (especially their folkie phase circa ‘Romany’ which strictly speaking hasn’t happened yet – ‘Won’t You Feel Good That Morning’ is a dead ringer for this track, especially the Tony Hicks style guitar from Eric). Even though this recording clearly feels like the ‘future’ though it took 10cc three more years and a lot of other session work and hanging around before the band finally met around a table and went ‘hang on a minute, instead of backing other idiots doing this stuff maybe we should back ourselves?’ You can find it as the opening track on the ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ compilation (2003).
Godley and Creme (Frabjoy and Runciple Spoon)
Godley and Creme, you see, already had other plans including a second single together without the rest of the Yellow Baby Boomers. History doesn’t record which of Godley and Creme was Frabjoy and which was Runciple Spoon, but what it does record is how quickly the pair had bonded over eccentric humour and wild ideas, with Graham and Eric both lending a hand too. As per usual for this period in 10cc’s history when the single flopped the band just moved on to the next song and daft name and never gave this track a second glance. A shame because it’s one of the nicer pre-10cc recordings around.
September 1969: A merry folk-rocker, ‘I’m Beside Myself’ sounds like The Eagles if they could actually sing, with a run of nutty rhymes scattered through the song and some lean mean harmonies from the Godley-Creme partnership hitting their stride for the first time. Godley sings a great lead vocal as his narrator tries to sleep, the sun casting a shadow of a whole other person ‘beside myself’. Kevin wonders if his shadow having a better time than he is and suspects that, maybe, he is. After all, he’s in a bad condition: ‘My thoughts are shaking and my mind is slow’ and he’s got no particular place to go so for all he knows he is the shadow! Some nice country guitar from Lol adds a more laidback feel, while the catchy chorus really deserved to be recycled in the 10cc set like some of the ‘Hotlegs’ moments were. Al l in all a fine little song that’s long overdue its first CD release.
The B-side was ‘The Animal Song’ which is a much more intense song with some great creepy-angelic vocal from Godley. A sitar adds a touch of surreal psychedelia to this song as Godley imagines himself being visited by all sorts of creatures including a spider ‘whose body is as gold as the sun’, a beaver ‘building a hole in the stream’ that’s about to take out the Pacific ocean, a parrot ‘learns the words of a song’ and a porpoise ‘who lives in a tree and charms all the fish in a far away sea’. Throughout the song a doctor nods in the corner, seemingly accepting everything the narrator has to tell him, suggesting the narrator isn’t on a drug trip so much as pouring out his darkest fears and fantasies. Though the song never really gets anywhere (there’s no chorus or middle eight), it’s very atmospheric and almost as good as the A-side, too good to stay hidden on an obscure 45 single that’s for sure. Even from the first Godley and Creme have a really unique writing style together.
The Graham Gouldman Orchestra
For a long time I thought this single only existed in the windmills of my mind. I mean, what is one of the leading songwriters of the 1960s doing re-recording film soundtrack standards using an orchestra? But 1969 was a funny year for Graham: after a year working for the Katz bubblegum team he felt written out and felt the songs he was writing had nothing in common with the rest of the world’s releases in 1969. So, looking for a new direction, becoming a sort of arranger-producer must have appealed to an artist who had already fallen in love with the way of life the other 10ccers were enjoying over at Strawberry Studios. Though we know this single to be a dead-end, at the time it made perfect sense.
‘1969’: Michel Legrand’s ‘Windmills Of Your Mind’ always leant itself to instrumental covers and film scores and Gouldman’s stormy recording sounds much as you’d expect. No substitute for one of his own songs of course, but hearing the track like this reminds you of just how Gouldman the track is, with its rounded melody and natural curve.
The B-side was ‘Harvey’s Theme’, a similar sort of song written by Gouldman in honor of the close friendship he had with his manager Harvey Lindsberg. Though song publisihing is a notoriously disloyal business, the pair had stayed close and this track sounds like a nod of the head from Graham to a manager who’d been there through thick and thin and wanted something a bit more ‘classical’ from his protégé this time around. Graham clearly has a knack for this sort of thing, but it’s still a relief to hear him go back to making ‘normal’ records again in a couple of years’ time.
Kevin Godley (Crazy Elephant)
Crazy Elephant were another of the Kassenatz Katz bubblegum groups who were farmed out from Ohio to the unlikely confines of Stockport, mainly because the company had invested a lot of money into Strawberry Studios in the hope of getting more hits out of Graham. While Gouldman had moved on, Godley eagerly took up a franchise that had already scored a hit bigger than anything he’d had a hand in (‘Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’, an American #12 hit) and played a central role on this ‘Hotlegs’ style rocker. Possibly the others join in too (that sounds awfully like Lol on the wistful middle eight), but only Godley has ever been credited (or been brave enough to take the blame!) Sadly the song missed the charts entirely, while the B-side ‘Landrover’ probably doesn’t feature any of the band at all.
May 1970: ‘There Ain’t No Umbopo!’ is a bit of an in-joke: recorded after the track ‘Umbopo’ but released a few months earlier, it’s a faster more energetic version of the same song that sounds much like ‘Today’ to come from the Hotlegs LP speeded up. Godley can write nonsense lyrics as good as any bubblegum hit-makers and manages to string together a nearly-plausible song out of gobbledegook, held together by nothing more than the most Godley-ish vocal he’d recorded so far. The tale of a man who overhears some mysterious sounds on his car radio and sets off in search for it, we never find out what an ‘umbopo’ is (the man is never seen again before he gets there) but that’s ok: this track is more about the journey than the destination. The song can be heard on the ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ compilation (2003).
Stewart, Godley and Creme (Doctor Father)
By now we’re getting much nearer to the formation of 10cc, with this the first single released by the band after their ‘Hotlegs’ hit of ‘Neanderthal Man’ and the subsequent LP. For the time being the band were content to try out different names and styles and discard them as they went along, but somehow the success of ‘Hotlegs’ tainted the masterplan and the failure of the ‘Dr Father’ single so soon after scoring a #2 UK hit discouraged everyone. For now the band are back as a trio, with Gouldman having returned to America after his cameo role with Hotlegs to think about his future. To be fair, a nonsense song about an imaginary creature named an ‘Umbopo’ probably wasn’t what he had in mind! The single’s quite sweet though and fans of the ‘Hotlegs’ album will love it.
August 1970: Sadder and slower (at almost double the length) than its predecessor, ‘Umbopo’ is a more measured take on the same track with a lot more instrumentation going on behind (and yes it definitely features Eric and Lol this time). The slower tempo rather loses something in this version, which has less mystery and excitement, but there are better production techniques this time around (with a stunning steel guitar solo from Eric in the middle about the best) and a whole extra verse that really shouldn’t have been cut in which the narrator has a mystical experience as he gets nearer the ‘umbopo’: ‘He rose to explore the wealth of his newfound kingdom, where the trees are getting taller but he is getting smaller…’ The track was included on the ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ compilation (2003).
The flipside ‘Roll On!’is an oddball blues led by Eric, which sounds more like something Graham Gouldman would give to The Yardbirds. Clearly modelled on Willie Dixon (think ‘Little Red Rooster’ and this song makes more sense), Eric does a pretty pastiche of an elderly bluesman staring back at his life and ‘wondering where it went wrong’. Eric, of course, was all of 25 when he recorded this 12 bar, but then 10cc were the kind of band who got things upside down and the wrong way round (the band all recorded their poppiest work towards the end of their careers!) Also on the ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ set (2003).
Gouldman and Godley (Silver Fleet):
Silver Fleet was another short-lived Kassenatz Katz band, with two members of 10cc playing on both sides this time. A novelty record about an aeroplane, it’s tempting to see the A-side as an early rehearsal for later 10cc song ‘Clockwork Creep’ but without quite the same level of panache or originality. Unlike some of the other bubblegum bands, Silver Fleet were grounded after just this one single.
January 1971: A noisy percussion-laden song,’Come On Plane’ has Godley reprising his ‘Um Wah Um Woh’ heavy metal style from ‘Hotlegs’, though this track is a little more focussed. At least until the song ends up as a gospel parody in the middle complete with a few ‘oh mamas’. Godley’s narrator is waiting for his girl to get here and an airplane to land but there always seems to be another hold-up. This song, credited to Gouldman and the Kassenatz company, is an early example of just how convoluted and epic 10cc songs can be, with lots of different bits stitched together that shouldn’t really make any sense but somehow do. Included on the ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ compilation (2003).
Godley (at least it sounds like him…with these early recordings under weird names, who know whose on it?) puts on his best hippie speak for the squeaky three-chorder ‘Look Out World’ which sounds like Country Joe and The Fish. Godley is a hobo, who ain’t got no pillow for his head and sleeps on a park bench for a bed, but he’s dreaming big. Graham turns in a terrific funky bass solo while it sounds as if Eric and Lol guest on the harmonies. We say sounds like because even by these obscure releases standards, nobody seems to know much about this recording, though personally I’d bet it is a 10cc-style number rather than an anonymous group of bubblegum-makers this time. Reportedly the Kassenatz Katz kompany wrote this song entirely, but it’s not all that far removed from 10cc’s own style. Godley, Creme and Gouldman (Fighter Squadron):
By now Kevin Godley had taken over the Kasenatz Katz role at Strawberry Studios and was their chief singer, although the single released under the ‘Fighter Squadron’ name was still written mainly by Gouldman with a few other anonymous Katz employees. Again the band may or may not play on the B-side ‘Ah-La’ (credited to Lieb/Cordell rather than anyone from 10cc) – probably not listening to it despite from very Godley-ish drumming, so we’ve skipped it here but it’s quite pleasant in a folky-psychedelia kind of a way.
February 1971: A dirty, gritty gospel tune, ‘When He Comes’ finds Godley trying to become Godly. All the gospel trappings are there (choirs, organ chords, trippy spiritual words, the works) and yet it still comes over sounding strangely rocky and heavy. It’s surely mocking in its depiction of devout believers too, though Kevin sings the track straight, like an outtake from The Who’s ‘Tommy’: ‘Come on everybody, put your cares away, dress up in your Sunday best ’cause today’s a holiday!’ Creme’s guitar doesn’t just accompany the song but seems to comment on it, with a burst of uncomfortable staccato gunfire that’s useful practice for the future 10cc songs where the band handles all sorts of different vibes simultaneously. Another track included on the ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ compilation (2003).
10cc (Tristar Airbus):
A breakthrough single in many ways, this is the first release credited as a ‘Strawberry Production’ and the first release by all four future 10cc men as a career move rather than a ‘filler’ between other recording stars. Graham celebrates being free of the Kassenatz Katz team for the first time in years by contributing both sides of the single, though this tribute to a Manchester United player was actually only intended as a demo. Graham’s original plan was to record a song he’d co-written with a new local group in named Tristar Airbus who everyone thought were going to be stars – they comprised Geoff Foot (who co-wrote the A-side with Graham), Ric Rothwell, John Kellman and Frank Worthington. Graham got record label RCA interested in the demo and told them the finished product (featuring him and his mates) would be even better – however RCA weren’t so sure and asked Graham for ‘that guy with the funny voice from the demo’! So instead the first ‘Strawberry Studios Production’ featured the band themselves ‘borrowing’ Tristar Airbus’ name with Geoff adding a lead vocal! Weirdly the orchestral outfit Ted Taylor Chorus recorded their own version of the A-side soon after – neither version sold that well. Both sides were included on the terraces of the ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ collection.
January 1972: ‘Willie Morgan’ was actually Scottish and played for several clubs before finding his biggest fame with Manchester United. Lyrically this is one of those really irritating football chants (it shouldn’t even be called a song) designed to be stupid enough to be shouted, drunk, by people going home from the pub. Few 10cc fans would rate the chorus ‘Willie Morgan Willie Morgan Willie Morgan on the wi-ing’ as their greatest contribution to the music world. However things are much more interesting melody and performance-wise, with Lol and Eric building up a driving guitar grunge thrash between them while Godley unleashes his inner heavy metal God. It all sounds far too good to be wasted on such a poor song and seemed to be a poor omen: once such a hero of Manchester, Willie found himself demoted back to Burnley after two disappointing seasons in 1973-1974. However 10cc are about to go up a division…
The B-side ‘Travelin’ Man’ is of much more interest to 10cc fans, with Graham taking the lead on a song that’s the most 10cc-ish yet, albeit with the folk stylings of the ‘Hotlegs’ years still most prominent. Graham sounds subdued and a little unhappy here as he sings about paying his dues and travelling the world in search of his goal, while Eric gets to ape his favourite blues stylings and Godley adds some exotic percussion over the top of everything. Sounding like a Mindbenders song, with Graham singing a lyric taken from his ‘Thing’ solo album and a touch of Godley-Creme weirdness in places, this may not be much as a composition but the performance sounds like it’s coming from a band worth watching.
It’s odd that none of 10cc were particularly big into football given that the sport is the most important thing in the world to around 90% of the people who grow up in Manchester and who are split down the middle between the city’s two football clubs (same with The Beatles over in Liverpool, actually). Proof that 10cc had no allegiance came with the follow-up to a song about a Man United player – a single where 10cc back the whole of the 1972 Man City team! Like most football songs this is more about cashing in on a popular craze than any attempt at making art, but I’m told by people far more knowledgeable about the sport that I am that this is (God help us) one of the better songs of the genre and quite admired in the industry. All of 10cc get equal credit (surely blame?) writing-wise on both sides of a single that sounds like it took them about five minutes.
April 1972: ‘Boys In Blue’ is a slow dirge about staying together and travelling the world with loyal fans no matter how far away the team plays. The chorus: ‘Blue and white just go together, no I know we’ll play together forevermore!’ The boys in blue sing lines about being ‘the best team in the land’ in a collective voice that sounds as if they’re about to get shot at dawn and for their performance on this record probably should have been. Godley provides the chugging ‘Neanderthal Man’ drums, but otherwise chances are the (very) few people who are both 10cc and Man City fans have never had a clue about the connection and are heading up to the loft to check the credits on their old battered copy right now…
B-side ‘Funky City’ is a little better, simply by virtue of featuring less players and more band. A groovy little near-instrumental, you can just tell from the hypnotic guitar ‘n’ drum beat that this is 10cc and multiple Lols give the game away a little too. Kevin gets a cameo as a soul star in the middle which is worth a quick giggle, but is over way too fast. This is still a dire song though, again more of a simple chant to be honest, and amongst the worst 10cc ever made. At least it’s a bit better than ‘Leeds United’ though, a track which doesn’t feature any of 10cc but was recorded in Manchester’s Strawberry Studios and released in April 1972. Talk about an own goal…
Stewart, Godley and Creme (Festival):
By now 10cc are fed up of backing other artists writing lesser material for peanuts and vowed to spend more time on their own recordings. The only problem was, they’d been working so hard (especially during the Katz period) that they didn’t have many songs left over. They did have a bit of studio time though so they set about some recycling under a name that suggested they might soon have something to celebrate…
October 1972: Sensing that maybe they should have capitalised on their success as ‘Hotlegs’ when they had the chance, 10cc reconvened for a re-recording of ‘Today’, one of the stronger tracks from that album which was by then two years old. This time the main difference is that Graham is very much involved (on bass and ‘oohs’) and there’s much more of a band ‘feel’ compared to the Hotlegs process of overdubbing everything. This version of the song is slower and more relaxed, with a full cycle of the song’s hypnotic riff before anyone starts singing. It’s also more elaborate with full backing harmonies, a phased ‘extra backing vocal’ (which sounds like an early attempt at the vocal gymnastics of ‘I’m Not In Love’) and a brief new middle eight (‘You feel the way too and I am drawn away from you…’) For all that, though, I still prefer the Hotlegs original which is prettier and punchier and a lot more memorable – that said ‘Today’ is a lovely song in either version and really should have been a hit the first time round anyway. Oddly enough, though this used to be the rarest 10cc single, it’s now far harder to get than the ‘Hotlegs’ version thanks to it’s presence on the ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ compilation (by contrast the Hotlegs recordings are all very hard to track down on CD!)
B-side ‘Warm Me’ is another historic moment: the first ever Stewart-Gouldman co-writing credit! This song sounds very much like their later work, mixing Graham’s easy-on-the-ear lyrics and Eric’s laidback blues stylings. It’s a trial run for future 10cc B-side ‘I’m So Laidback I’m Laid Out’, but with more affectionate lyrics about a girl who can make all the narrator’s problems go away with her ‘warmth’. Eric turns in an impressive slide guitar solo that makes The Rolling Stones’ ‘Little Red Rooster’ sound like a chicken. One of the highlights of the ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ compilation and the last moment when 10cc were anything other than ‘big’ (a delay of release by a few months meant that this single actually made it into the shops just as ‘Donna’ was peaking at #2 but the band didn’t know that when they made this recording!)
That should be that – after the ‘Festival’ single 10cc finally became 10cc and released ‘Donna’ on the UK label in August 1972 and the band never again had to resort to recording under a funny name to see if they might get lucky with a hit single. However just because they didn’t have to didn’t mean it wasn’t fun to carry on doing that and the final 10cc oddity sounds like a ‘grumble’ in response to the fact that a band as respected as 10cc already were couldn’t get away with daft singles like this one. One weird cover and one unrecognisable near-instrumental B-side might make for one of the most puzzling entries in this article and though the credits are split this single has much more of a Godley/Creme feel to it than a Stewart/Gouldman one somehow…
June 1973: Almost unrecognisable from The Crystals’ hit’Da Doo Ron Ron’, Godley sings in his ‘true’ falsetto for the first time and sounds about an octave higher than the original girl group. The band have really nailed their harmonies by now, with Eric in the middle and Graham on the bottom really blending well together. This arrangement of the song is much meatier than the usual covers, with an ear-catching aggressive guitar riff running throughout and a guitar solo in the middle that’s pure Eric Stewart, exciting but always fully under control. Lol probably added the space-age effects, for reasons nobody is quite sure of. Included on the ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ set.
An uptempo instrumental that sounds like it started as a jamming session, ‘Pig Bin An’ Gone’ starts like ‘Neanderthal Man’ and ends up like ‘Hot To Trot’. You’d be hard pressed to guess this was 10cc, at least for the minute or so before the guitars come in and any relation to pigs is obscure. One of the weaker moments on the ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ set, you sense that 10cc were probably relieved to get back to their day-job. Well you know the old maxim ‘mustn’t Grumble…’
That ends the article for now and it’s plenty long enough already. However if you want a really complete collection of 10cc recordings then you may also want to pick up a set of recordings which were made at Strawberry Studios with 10cc guesting behind other artists. Given the amount of unknown one-hit wonders the band worked with a complete list would be impossible but would include the following: John Paul Joans’ single ‘Man From Nazareth’ (a comedian also under Harvey Lisberg’s management who had to change his last name from ‘Jones’ to differentiate himself from the Led Zeppelin bass guitarist – all four 10cc members play on a very ‘Hotlegs’ sounding track), Freddie and the Dreamers’ ‘Susan’s Tuba’ (which is really more of a Freddie Garrity solo track backed by 10cc on a Gouldman composition very like ‘Travellin’ Man’ above), a run of singles by Graham’s friend Peter Cowap (a couple of which are also on the ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ set), unknown band Garden Odyssey for whom Graham wrote on single ‘The Joker’, the ‘McGear’ album by Mike McCartney and his brother Paul (1974), eccentric self-declared re-incarnation-of-an-Egyptian-Pharaoh Ramases’ ‘Space Hymns’ LP (1971), comedian Lesley Crowther’s festive single ‘Santa Claus’ and – most famously – two of Neil Sedaka’s biggest LPs ‘Solitaire’ (1972) and ‘The Tra-La-Days Are Over’ (1973). It was the success of ‘Solitaire’, on which 10cc played throughout for a flat session fee, that convinced them they could do just as well making their own material, if only they could come up with the right name…Later bands to use the studios, without 10cc present, included perhaps four of the most dissimilar yet equally Mancunian acts in popular music: The Syd Lawrence Orchestra (well, some of the band were from Manchester – technically Syd was a Chester lad), The St Winifred’s School Choir, Joy Division and The Stone Roses.
More 10cc linked articles from this website for your delectation:
‘Thinks…School Stinks!’ (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/news-views-and-music-issue-36-hotlegs.html
’10cc’ (1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/news-views-and-music-issue-80-10cc-1972.html
‘Sheet Music’ (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/news-views-and-music-issue-125-10cc.html
‘The Original Soundtrack’ (1975) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/news-views-and-music-issue-32-10cc.html
‘How Dare You!’ (1976) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/10cc-how-dare-you-1976.html
‘Deceptive Bends’ (1977) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/10cc-deceptive-bends-1977.html
‘Bloody Tourists’ (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-73-10cc-bloody-tourists-1978.html
‘Look, Hear (Are You Normal?)’ (1980) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/10cc-look-hear-are-you-normal-1980.html
’10 Out of 10′ (1981) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-80-10cc-10-out-of-10-1981.html
‘Windows In The Jungle’ (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-86-10cc-windows-in-jungle-1983.html
‘Meanwhile’ (1992) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/10cc-meanwhile-1992.html