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10cc are genuine oddballs who came of age in an era rife with eccentrics: pop pranksters and studio perfectionists who often seemed to play for their own amusement. Capable of conjuring and satirizing all manners of popular musical styles, the collective were as clever as any art-rockers of the 1970s, but they also were happy to steer their quirks in the direction of Top 40. Considerably more popular in the U.K., where their arch sense of humor was considered an attribute -- they began their '70s run on the British charts with the oldies pastiche "Donna" and ended it with the reggae sendup "Dreadlock Holiday" -- 10cc nevertheless created two American soft rock perennials in "I'm Not in Love" and "The Things We Do for Love." The core of 10cc lies in the partnership between Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, two British Invasion veterans who initially played together in the Mindbenders, the Manchester group who had a hit in 1965 with "A Groovy Kind of Love." Gouldman joined them in 1968 with a number of big hits under his belt, including the Hollies' "Bus Stop," "No Milk Today" by Herman's Hermits, plus the Yardbirds' big pop moves "For Your Love" and "Heart Full of Soul." The Mindbenders split not long after he came aboard, with Stewart headed to Inner City Studios in Stockport with the idea of becoming a recording engineer. By the end of 1968, Inner City became Strawberry Studios. Strawberry Studios became Gouldman's headquarters in 1969, right around the time he signed a deal to write and record tunes for Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz of the bubblegum powerhouse Super K Productions. Gouldman convinced the duo they'd save money if he recorded solely at Strawberry, supported by Stewart and Kevin Goldey and Lol Creme, old friends from the Manchester music scene. Super K accepted the offer and the quartet started cranking out fizzy pop tunes under a variety of guises, including Ohio Express, Crazy Elephant, and Grumble. When the Super K production contract came to a close, Gouldman left Strawberry to remain on Kasenetz's and Katz's songwriting staff, leaving Stewart, Godley, and Creme to record the lurching glam "Neanderthal Man" as Hotlegs. Improbably a smash hit in the U.K., "Neanderthal Man" led to a full album as Hotlegs, which they took on the road as a support act for the Moody Blues. Gouldman rejoined the group for the tour and they'd all work in various permutations on a host of projects in the early '70s. The culmination of this period was Solitaire and The Tra-La Days Are Over, a pair of albums from Neil Sedaka that brought the Brill Building veteran into the satiny sounds of the '70s. The Sedaka success prompted the quartet to set out on their own as 10cc. They took "Donna," a sly satire of late-'50s doo wop, to Jonathan King, who signed them to his U.K. Records. "Donna" became a hit, climbing to the number two position on the British charts, establishing not only a long-running string of major hits, but also the quartet's fondness for ironic and affectionate reclamations of musty pop styles. The follow-up, "Rubber Bullets," topped the charts in 1973, and both the subsequent single "The Dean and I" (a nostalgic look at academia recalling Jerry Lee Lewis' "High School Confidential") and an eponymously titled debut LP further solidified 10cc as a major force in British pop. While 1974's Sheet Music and singles, including the Brian Wilson-esque "Wall Street Shuffle," "Silly Love" and "Life Is a Minestrone" continued 10cc's dominance of the U.K. charts, they found the American market virtually impenetrable prior to the release of 1975's "I'm Not in Love," which topped the charts at home and climbed as high as number two in the States. After 1975's Original Soundtrack and the next year's How Dare You!, Godley and Creme exited to focus on video production as well as developing the Gizmo, a guitar modification device the duo invented. In the wake of their departure, Gouldman and Stewart continued as a duo, enlisting the aid of sessionmen to record 1977's Deceptive Bends, highlighted by the perennial "The Things We Do for Love." After recruiting guitarist Rick Fenn, keyboardist Tony O'Malley, and drummer Stuart Tosh as full-time members, 10cc returned in 1978 with Bloody Tourists, which yielded the number one reggae nod "Dreadlock Holiday." Stewart's involvement in a serious car wreck in 1979 proved to be a major setback for the band and by the time they released 1980's Look Hear?, critical reception was lukewarm. After dismissing the rest of the group, Gouldman and Stewart recorded 1981's 10 Out of 10 using mostly session musicians and the album failed to chart. 10cc would release one more album, 1983's Windows in the Jungle, before disbanding that same year. Throughout the rest of the '80s, the members occupied themselves with new endeavors to varying degrees of success and in 1991, the original lineup of Stewart, Gouldman, Godley, and Creme reunited to record ...Meanwhile. The album fared well in Europe and Japan, but Godley and Creme's involvement was tenuous, and they both bowed out shortly after its release. Shortly after 1995's Mirror Mirror and its subsequent tour, Stewart also called it quits. In 1999, Gouldman put together a new 10cc lineup which included himself, Rick Fenn, and Paul Burgess along with newcomers Mick Wilson and Mike Stevens. Although no new music was released, this lineup continued to tour consistently throughout the 2000s, playing various 10cc hits along with some of Gouldman's solo highlights. Various 10cc reissues and anthologies have been released, including a 30th anniversary box set in 2002 and a limited-edition 40th anniversary set in 2012 called Tenology. Another box set, Before, During and After: The Story of 10cc, arrived in 2017, with the comprehensive 14-CD box 20 Years seeing release at the beginning of 2024.
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Timothy Monger /TiVo


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