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Music

Graham Gouldman: Britain's invisible songwriting force

Received wisdom says that Paul’s Simon and Paul McCartney were the men who wrote the catalogue that became the 1960s, the men who changed the primitive realm of pop into something more sophisticated and intellectual. But this wisdom does Graham Gouldman a disservice, a person who singlehandedly created a back catalogue that stands as some of the decade’s most infectious and hummable collection of songs, imbuing melodies that were rife with imagination and possibility.

A songwriting talent as early as 1965, the Manchester guitarist realised that the best way to make an impression in the world of music was to compose as many tunes as he possibly could, bolstered by the influence of his father Hyme, a burgeoning poet and playwright.

His father was a discerning man, capable of recognising the symbolism behind every day, and demonstrated a fondness for the little nothing that littered the streets around England. Together, the two men fashioned ‘No Milk Today’, a litany of lost love, through the broken shards that form the foundations of a daily ritual at breakfast time.

It was adopted by Herman’s Hermits, but there was more to Gouldman’s back catalogue than odes to crushed dreams and marital breakups, as can be heard on the guitar-heavy pieces ‘Evil Hearted You’ and ‘Heart Full of Soul’, fittingly recorded by Jeff Beck and The Yardbirds.

Inspired by Gouldman’s sprightly demo, The Yardbirds opted to use a sitar on ‘Heart Full of Soul’ before Beck opted to play the barrelling hook himself. The Pixies covered ‘Evil Hearted You’ in Spanish, giving the cover an international ballast that showed Gouldman’s flair for creativity, decades after his cache should have supposedly ended.

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By the 1980s, he had reinvented himself as co-frontman for 10cc, using this as an opportunity to demonstrate his skills as a bassist and vocalist, particularly on the jaunty ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, a reggae hybrid number that became an unlikely UK number one. And just as the band’s popularity was waning, he teamed up with Andrew Gold as Wax, a songwriting collective that exhibited synth-laden melodies, hitting the US charts with the sprightly ‘Bridge To Your Heart’. Spain and France heralded ‘Right Between Your Eyes’ as an anthem that matched their preferences and sensibilities.

But Gouldman was always an Englishman at heart, which is why ‘Bus Stop’ – a choppy vignette made famous by Graham Nash and The Hollies – was wet with whimsy and impatience, capturing the perfect symmetry of eccentricity that parades his home country. Brimming with ambition, the song packs more in a three-minute pop song than many progressive rock acts captured over a ten-minute instrumental suite.

The song remains Gouldman’s personal favourite of his oeuvre, which he’s entitled to, but that overlooks ‘Schoolgirl’, a saucy rocker that was sung by The Mindbenders in a continued effort to naturalise the primal urges that a teenager enjoys during their adolescence. The song sounded pure, but behind the angelic words, a devilish slant was beginning to emerge, making it one of the more interesting and expressive pieces of British pop from the 1960s.

Interestingly, Gouldman also wrote for Cher, culminating in a dialogue between two disparate forces in their search for resolution and absolution. Then there was ‘Look Through Any Window’, realising the wonders that existed in front of a family household.

“Yes, I was on a train coming back from London,” Gouldman once recalled, “Up from Manchester where I used to live, with a friend of mine, and he was looking out the window. He said, ‘Look through any window’, because we were looking as the train crept out of the station and started going through the suburbs quite slowly. We were trying to look into the houses to see what was going on. My dad used to help me with lyrics and I mentioned this to him, so he helped me with that lyric. So there was a title that just inspired the whole song.”

Gouldman commemorated his father on the moving ‘Ready To Go Home’, and still fronts 10cc, now the only original member to do so. In more recent years, he wrote the riff to McFly’s ‘I’ve Got You’, and in 2018, toured with Ringo Starr and The All-Starr Band. No matter the successes in his life, Gouldman rationalised his success in an interview with Songfacts.

“I think you should write what you feel and what you want to write,” he said. “When I’m doing seminars and things, I always advise, just write what’s in your heart. It will come out better than going, ‘What’s on the charts now? We must have it at 125 BPM, let’s do it in the key of D, let’s use that D to G to A to E minor chord’. You know, that sort of thing.” Long may he continue to write how he feels.

Stream Gouldman’s solo album The Graham Gouldman Thing below.