The complex chronology of 10cc offers no easy start to a concluding chapter in their story. The original four-piece had fragmented even before the band’s final UK No.1 single, and 10cc continued on with an initial success that slowly stuttered into a full stop with Windows In The Jungle, which only gained a modest foothold on the UK album charts and prompted an October 1983 tour. However, the various side projects that came from each ember after 10cc called it a day are no less intriguing than the work they created together, as the new 4CD box set, Before During After: The Story Of 10cc, attests.
By the time Windows In The Jungle came out, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, who had left the group seven years earlier, were on their fifth album, Birds Of Prey. In the years immediately after 10cc, they enjoyed two smash UK singles at the end of 1981, even as their former colleagues’ work failed to find much of an audience. The haunting synth ballad ‘Under Your Thumb’ and the perky, Motown-inspired ‘Wedding Bells’ owed much to the 10cc approach of old – appropriating influences from the widest spectrum and reinterpreting them for contemporary radio. The pair had also developed an enviable reputation as pioneers of the pop video, with famous clips for The Police, Duran Duran, Visage and Ultravox benefitting from their flair for directing, first seen in a clip for their own ‘An Englishman In New York’ in 1979, a substantial hit in Europe but relatively ignored in their homeland.
Each of the duo’s albums displayed lively innovation, with the first, Consequences, emerging as a lavish three-disc concept project, recorded in part at Strawberry Studio in Stockport, where 10cc had formed at the dawn of the 70s. Featuring the Gizmo (a new musical device the pair had high hopes for) and contributions from singer Sarah Vaughan and actor Peter Cook, Consequences was hugely ambitious but absolutely out of step with popular culture, then consumed by the explosion of punk. Subsequent albums, L and Freeze Frame, were simpler in scale but no less adventurous in tone, but the duo’s two big hits after 10cc were to come from Ismism.
As the decade rolled on, the video promos became even more of a distraction, but 1985’s The History Mix Volume 1, a remix album featuring some of the songwriters’ work from the years after 10cc, plus recordings with their former band and earlier studio projects, contained their most successful single, ‘Cry’, which even landed the duo a No.16 hit in the US and was promoted with yet another a groundbreaking video. 1988’s Goodbye Blue Sky album was, indeed, a farewell to a conventional recording programme and remains the pair’s last collaboration as a duo to date, with Creme by this point working with Art Of Noise and, later, Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson in an off-on project at the start of this century called Producers.
Graham Gouldman wrote the title song to the movie Sunburn in 1980, but, though it was a big hit in Asia, the song failed to make the charts elsewhere. Singer-songwriter Andrew Gold, most famous for 70s hits ‘Lonely Boy’ and ‘Never Let Her Slip Away’, had been drafted in by 10cc’s US label to shore up the hit potential of 1981’s Ten Out Of 10 album, and in 1984, after 10cc split for the first time, Gouldman worked with Gold again on a trio of single releases under different guises, before settling on the name Wax. A near-miss 1986 UK and US smash with ‘Right Between The Eyes’ was followed by a more significant UK chart breakthrough with 1987’s ‘Bridge To Your Heart’. Wax released two albums, Magnetic Heaven and American English, but the hit proved hard to follow and the pair had effectively disbanded by the start of the 90s.
Guitarist and keyboardist Eric Stewart recorded two solo albums while 10cc was still a going concern, but 1980’s Girls and 1982’s Frooty Rooties failed to hit commercially and went unreleased in the US. As 10cc ground to a halt as the decade progressed, Stewart turned to studio work, notably on Agnetha Fältskog’s 1985 album, Eyes Of A Woman, where he earned a co-writing credit with the ABBA star on one of its tracks, ‘I Won’t Let You Go’.
Released four years after 10cc called it a day for the first time, a 1987 greatest hits compilation had surprised their record label, and its success inspired the original four-piece to return to the studio in 1990 to start work on what was to become 1992’s … Meanwhile (though Godley and Creme’s involvement was limited). Andrew Gold guested on the 10-track set, which also included a Paul McCartney credit on its final track, ‘Don’t Break The Promises’.
With Godley and Creme no longer tied to their former label, Stewart and Gouldman continued as 10cc, touring in 1993 and releasing a final album in 1995. Mirror Mirror, featuring further contributions from Andrew Gold and Paul McCartney, came out on a smaller record company, but was later described as two solo projects melded into one collection, with the pair only writing a handful of tracks together. A reworked version of 10cc’s 1975 classic ‘I’m Not In Love’ was a small UK hit, but Mirror Mirror failed to make much further impact and Stewart quit the band soon after a promotional tour.
It was then left to Gouldman to maintain a touring profile for 10cc, until Godley started to make appearances with them as the new millennium dawned. The pair started writing together again and released new tracks in 2006 under the name GG06. Since then, 10cc have continued to tour, and critical re-evaluations of the 70s supergroup go on; a number of retrospectives have included an acclaimed 2015 BBC documentary that each of the members contributed to.
It’s now tricky to pinpoint what exactly made this hard-to-define band so special. Across those 12 UK hit singles in the 70s you have three chart-toppers that remain radio staples to this day. But across 10cc’s 11 studio albums, there’s a rich experimentation and a staggering diversity of influences that still make each of them a surprising listening experience. Cherish those hits certainly, but it’s in the deeper digging of the 10cc catalogue (including material from their individual careers in the 60s, and the wealth of solo material in the years after 10cc rode high in the charts) that you’ll also find magic. Their complicated story offers no simple chronology and their output defies lazy categorization, but, if you like your pop a bit more complex, theirs is a winning formula.
10cc’s wide-ranging career is covered in the 4CD box set Before During After: The Story Of 10cc, which can be bought here.