Old/New Albums: 10cc’s “The Original Soundtrack”

10ccI’ve never heard anything by 10cc before this album, except their fairly huge hit from this particular album, “I’m Not In Love.” That song is one of those one hit wonders where most people would be hard pressed to tell you where they heard it, or who the actual performing artist was. Such was the case with me and “I’m Not In Love.” As soon as I heard it on this album, I knew I’d heard it before, but I had no idea it was 10cc or that it was on this album. I’d probably heard it on a movie soundtrack or something.

But even having cursory knowledge of the hit single from this album, I’d never heard anything else by 10cc and didn’t know what to expect from this album. My initial impression was that it was freakin’ weird. Just a bizarre mix of genres, sounds, experimentations, creating this totally haphazard pop-rock album.

The Original Soundtrack sounds very cinematic and reaching. 10cc is throwing a lot at the wall here, and not all of it sticks. But some does, and I ended up liking this album quite a bit.

First, the weird stuff. The album kicks off with a nearly nine minute epic called “Une Nuit A Paris,” which is a multi-part suite about the City of Lights. It’s reminiscent of the craziness of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which was released later this same year. Queen ultimately pulled off the long-form rock opera song better, but 10cc’s certainly shouldn’t be written off too quickly. While not as immediately hooky as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Une Nuit A Paris” really grew on me with its bombastic themes and put-on French accents.

Songs like this are just weird though because most people don’t think of rock operettas when they think of listening to pop or rock music. I can’t really see this tune being a go-to while I was driving. But pop music was only 20 or 30 years old at this point, so rules were still be written and constantly rewritten in the ’70s. When I think of rock music, being a Millenial/Generation Y kid, I think of music my mom would actively dislike. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, these were bands that had some real rock edge to them. When I listen to The Original Soundtrack, since it was released in 1975, I would initially classify it as rock but my goodness is this more theatrical and pop-oriented than something like Led Zep. Led Zep never did anything like “Une Nuit A Paris.”

“I’m Not In Love” was the monster hit that this album produced. You’ve very likely heard this song in a commercial or a movie. It’s got a very spacey, ethereal feel to it. This is due to near absence of all instruments on the track. Rather, the song is constructed almost entirely of a wall of layered vocals that 10cc created to act as the backing track. Most interesting is that originally the song was written as a bossa nova tune (think “The Girl From Ipanema”) and Kevin Godley (10cc’s drummer) hated it and voted it off the album during recording.

The rest of the band acquiesed, but as days passed, the writer of the tune, Eric Stewart kept hearing staff around the studio singing the hook of the song and he approached the band with the idea of not scrapping the song. Ironically, it was Kevin Godley who agreed, as long as they got rid of the bossa nova feel and tried something completely new with it. At his suggestion, the band decided to go with an almost completely a cappella version, but in a way that hadn’t been done before. The band just overdubbed each member singing the same note in unison, and after further technical tweaking (which I don’t understand), the band had essentially created a synth-like instrument that played their wavy vocal layers (if you’re interested, here is a much more in-depth discussion by Stewart of the story of this song’s recording) as each note.

10cc was definitely a bit ahead of its time when they created this song. This vocal recording technique was revolutionary in 1975 but it wasn’t just how they created this vocal sound, it was the other decisions they made during the recording process. There are hardly any other instruments present. Barely a rhythm guitar. No drum track except for a Moog bass note that sat in as a replacement for a bass drum. The bass part was actually just Stewart playing the low parts on a Fender Rhodes, and then they decided to add a bass solo in the middle of the song, which was not a common practice in 1975. All of these bizarre choices led to this awesome, off the wall song that had a unique feel unlike anything anybody had heard at the time.

And it paid off. The song became a hit and helped propel 10cc to mid-’70s superstardom. And for good reason. I’m unsure how a person can listen to this song, at least the “ooo, it’s been a long time…” bridge part and not think it sounds at least remotely cool. Even if seems like cheesy ’70s soft rock pop, it still sounds great.

And then on the flip side, as I spent more time with The Original Soundtrack, it was surprising how much it began to rock, at least by mid-’70s standards. These campy bands really knew how to throw down a rocker when pressed for it. Songs like “Blackmail,” “The Second Sitting For The Last Supper,” and “Life Is A Minestrone” all have a hard edge on top of a fast-paced tempo.

But legitimately, this album seems just a little silly to me. Did you read the two titles in the last paragraph? “Life is a Minestrone?” And that’s not just a cheeky title, that is actually the hook of the chorus that is sung. Weird.

So I liked this one pretty well. It is weird, pretty goofy, but something I wouldn’t mind listening to on and off or if it popped up in a shuffle sometime. I’m also curious if 10cc’s stuff is all like this or if this album is a fluke.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. I’m Not In Love
  2. Life Is A Minestrone
  3. Flying Junk

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