Since ‘I’m Not in Love’ by 10cc of Manchester UK was released in 1975, all 6:04 of it has been played on American radio over three million times. That adds up to 40 consecutive years of airplay. I’m guessing you’re familiar with the song.
10cc refers to the average quantity of sperm ejaculated by a male Homo sapiens, housing some 20 billion spermatozoa. Maybe someday there’ll be a tribute band, 20 Billion Fishies.
Founding members Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart had bounced around various minor Mancunian bands from the British Invasion era before adding studio musicians Kevin Godley, and Lol Crème. The former pair were pop-oriented hit makers, the latter experimenters in Art Rock and video.
Gouldman had early success as a songwriter. “There was one strange moment when the Yardbirds [the band that launched Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck] appeared on [Top of the Pops] doing ‘For Your Love’, which was a song that I’d written. Everyone clamoured around them – and there I was just part of an anonymous group [The Mockingbirds]. I felt strange that night, hearing them play my song.”
He not only co-wrote The Hollies’ fine ‘Look Through Any Window’ (with Graham Nash), but also a pair of indelibly beautiful baroque rock classics, ‘Bus Stop’ (The Hollies) and ‘No Milk Today’ (Herman’s Hermits). His dad Hyme (the Rhyme) helped him with the lyrics.
You want more? From my modest trolling, it seems you’re not missing any life-changers. But if you must: “For Your Love“, “Heart Full of Soul” and “Evil Hearted You” for the Yardbirds, “Listen People“, and “East West” for Herman’s Hermits, “Pamela, Pamela” for Wayne Fontana, “Behind the Door” for St. Louis Union (covered by Cher), “Tallyman” for Jeff Beck and “Going Home“, which was a 1967 Australian hit for Normie Rowe.
Gouldman then moved to the US to write for the bubblegum factory of Kasenetz-Katz before returning to Manchester to join up with old pal Eric Stewart, who’d been playing with Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders (of ‘The Game of Love’). Wayne went off to bend his own mind, Eric began fronting the band, singing lead on ‘Groovy Kind of Love’, later covered by Phil Collins, co-written by Carole Bayer Sager, who co-wrote ‘Arthur’s Theme’ and ‘That’s What Friends are For’ with ex-husband Burt Bacharach.
Are you still following?
10cc was formed in 1972, and in the UK had a bunch ‘Art Rock’ hits including ‘Rubber Bullets’, ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, and ‘The Things We Do For Love’, the only one (other than our SoTW) to make an impression in the US. They’ve broken up and disbanded innumerable times, never reclaiming their original success.
I’ve been diligently doing my homework, listening to notables such as ‘Donna’, ‘Johnny Don’t Do It’ (doo-wop parodies, sounding so much like outtakes from Frank Zappa’s “Reuben and the Jets”-era noodlings). They’re brilliant and clever and embarrassing. ‘Neanderthal Man’ must be the stupidest song since Nilsson’s lamentable ‘Coconut’.
You know how for Americans, sometimes “England” connotes Bentleys and Shakespeare and Emma Thompson? And sometimes it connotes Benny Hill and fried fish and fried potatoes wrapped in a greasy tabloid headlining Profumo’s orgies?
But then for their third album, Gouldman and Stewart penned ‘I’m Not in Love’. They tried it as a bossa nova, but no one liked the result. But everyone kept humming the song, so they decided to give it another try.
They decided to make the background a net of a cappella. Three of them recorded the 12 notes in a chromatic scale one at a time—breathy, long ‘ah’s. Then they looped them till they had the equivalent of 256 voices singing each note—just a long ‘ah’. The multitracking produced a hissy, breathy sound that gave the sound of a live hall, let’s say a cathedral, with people breathing and vaulted ceilings and all. No Benny Hill there.
They assigned each of the notes to a channel in their 16-track mixing board, thus occupying 12 channels, leaving four for the rest of the recording. They would manually jack up the sound on three or four faders in one fell swoop, creating a chord from the tapestry of voices that gives the track its unique thrilling, enthralling sound. Then another chord, and another. Then pasting them all together to form the backing track.
Then they added the embellishments, such as playing a section back at half speed, creating the same chord sequence an octave lower, and adding it underneath the source. Then playing along with the backing track, adding a Fender Rhodes, electric guitar, and Moog-made bass. No drums. Then bringing in Kathy, the studio secretary, to whisper “Be quiet – big boys don’t cry”, and fiddling all sorts of effects onto that. Then adding the toy music box with lots of psychedelic effects under that.
The result? Forty years of air play. They musta did something right. The sound. The melody. The vocal (Eric). And there’s also a song there.
‘I’m Not in Love’ tells a singular story. It’s not profound or innovative – unless you’re experiencing it, which apparently a few trillion people have done. The lyric employs irony, as we used to say in lit class. The guy says one thing but means another. But it’s so thinly disguised and clearly vulnerable that we empathize – and identify – with our lovelorn narrator.
I’m not in love, so don’t forget it, it’s just a silly phase I’m going through.
And just because I call you up, don’t get me wrong, don’t think you’ve got it made.
I’m not in love, no no, it’s because…
I like to see you, but then again that doesn’t mean you mean that much to me.
So if I call you, don’t make a fuss, don’t tell your friends about the two of us.
I’m not in love, no no, it’s because…
I keep your picture up on the wall, it hides a nasty stain that’s lying there.
So don’t you ask me to give it back, I know you know it doesn’t mean that much to me.
I’m not in love, no no, it’s because…
Ooh, you’ll wait a long time for me
Yes, he has strong feelings. But because of whatever convention, he needs to hide them. In days of yore, that might have been manly Marlboro machismo — he’s just too rugged to expose his vulnerability. In 1975, he’s admitting his weakness, with that good old British irony and understatement that we Amirkins love so much. It was 10cc’s only Stateside hit.
There’ve been a number of significant or noteworthy covers. Our old buddy Richie Havens, the toothless, soulful guy who opened Woodstock despite the rain, did a very convincing, muscular version. Dee Dee Sharp (of ‘Mashed Potato Time’ fame) gave us a 1975 woman’s perspective on it, more disco than deliberation. Will to Power had a 1990 hit with a vapid attempt to clone the original, emphasizing the exceptional staying power of the song itself.
But by the time Chrissie Hynde sang it with The Pretenders in 1993 for the soundtrack of “Indecent Proposal”, the song took on a different perspective: the new, empowered woman, the sexual predator, role-flipping things over on their stomach. It’s a whole new world, Virginia.
Tori Amos, that very talented, very annoying, very predatory lady, worked her weirdness on it in 2001 – Neanderthal woman on the prowl. And Ice Princess Diana Krall recently bleached it of any real feeling other than self-absorption.
Me, I’m a guy, raised on the Dick Van Dyke/Mary Tyler Moore role model of mores and attitudes and self-image. But I’m modern enough to identify with male vulnerability in all walks of life. To be touched by 10cc’s portrayal of that self-effacing, insecure feeling of helplessness when faced with a daunting emotional situation. And to appreciate and enjoy the artistry of four talented musicians at play in the studio.
It’s a pop masterpiece, a singular, precious moment on AM radio, a soundtrack for certain magic moments in millions of people’s lives. Forty years worth. ‘I’m Not in Love’? Oh, but he is.