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Music

The Story Behind The Song: How 10cc redefined the love ballad with the powerful 'I'm Not In Love'

From ‘Rubber Bullets’ to ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, 10cc knew how to impress millions with swagger, intelligence and technical skill, but their marketplace was nominally reserved for young men of an academic disposition. ‘I’m Not In Love’ changed all that, proving that the band could write tender, heart-felt material that spanned across the spectrum of gender, creating one of the most fragile love songs in the canon of popular music.

As it happens, the song stemmed from one of the most unlikely of places, as Eric Stewart – keyboardist and studio engineer – considered the ramifications of over-using the words “I love you”. Inspired by the concept, he turned to guitarist Graham Gouldman in the hope of constructing an atypical love song that detailed the dialogue between a man and a woman, both hopelessly in love with one another, but determined not to show it to the world at large. The song stands as a Gouldman-Stewart composition par excellence, although Stewart claims he wrote the lyrics almost entirely alone.

10cc were in the process of writing their third album when they recorded a demo of the number. Drummer Kevin Godley felt underwhelmed, particularly as a basso nova number, but understood that the song held a power that merited a second go at the track. Ultimately, he suggested that they go a cappella, putting together a wall of voices that laid out the padding for Stewart’s euphoric lead.

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Godley suggested a “wash of voices” to pad out the track, which led the band to wonder how they could achieve the fact. Guitarist Lol Creme – who was blown away by The Beatles’ work on ‘Revolution 9‘ – suggested they use tape loops, leading Creme, Godley and Gouldman to record a multitude of backing vocals, one note at a time, delicately laced onto the mix.

“The whole process took about a week,” Creme remembered. “It was incredibly tedious. Three or four of us had to sing every note about 14 times, then put echo on it, which gave it that luxurious, velvety harmonic sound. It was beautiful, but Eric’s vocal was what really made the song.” Stewart created loops of 12 feet by feeding the loop, through the tape head at the opposite end. As it happens, the band opted to record a backing track, leading Gouldman to play a solo on bass during the instrumental section. Recognising the need to add a spoken voice to the recording, Godley and Creme persuaded secretary Kathy Redfern to say: “Be quiet, big boys don’t cry”, which added an interesting ulterior motive to the finished product.

The song stands as a remarkable achievement in sound, coming out in 1975, just as Queen were putting their multi-tracked epic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ together. 10cc were delighted with the finished work, knowing that it was one of the high points on The Original Soundtrack, but they were reluctant to release it as a single.

“When it was done, we thought: ‘What the hell have we done?'” Stewart revealed. “It was six minutes and 12 seconds long, so we knew we’d never get it on the radio. But, after it appeared on our Original Soundtrack album, people like Bryan Ferry and Roy Wood were ringing up and going: ‘You’ve got to release this as a single. It’s brilliant’.” When it went to number 29, the BBC had to play it, but they asked me to make a shorter version. I came out with some crap like: “Would you ask Mozart to chop Symphony No 4?” Three weeks later, it was number one around the world.”

Although it was a team effort, the recording did single Stewart out as the face of the band, which may have caused some resentment among the other members. By the time 10cc prepared themselves to record their fifth album, Deceptive Bends, Godley and Creme had left the orbit, in the hope of exploring a stylistic workout that utilised every element of their creative endeavours: Consequences.

They made amends with Gouldman and Stewart during the 1980s, by directing the video for ‘Feel The Love’, but by that time, 10cc’s popularity had begun to wane. Stewart was enjoying a healthy partnership with former Beatle Paul McCartney, and contributed to albums Tug of War and Give My Regards To Broadstreet, before being promoted to co-writer on Press To Play.

Gouldman, meanwhile, formed Wax with Andrew Gold, and although the pair enjoyed success as a European outfit, time invariably caught up with that act too. Tensions were mounting within the 10cc camp by the 1990s, leading Gouldman and Stewart to record their contributions on Meanwhile separately.

Desperate for another hit, the pair recorded a slower, more intimate version of ‘I’m Not In Love’, although, without the billowing wall of voices, the song lost much of its staying power. As a song, it was remarkably original, but as a recording, the 1975 version of ‘I’m Not In Love’ stands as the greatest work Britain has produced for the radio.

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