At long last one of my favorite 1970s pop groups has found its home in a box set. If, like me, you affectionately recall the era of shag haircuts and sequined jumpers as a time when radio consistently surprised and delighted, the release of 10cc’s Tenology should be cause for celebration.
10cc’s long, convoluted and fascinating history has been documented elsewhere (http://www.enotes.com/10cc-reference/10cc), so – rather than restating what is now common knowledge for aficionados of ‘70s pop music and easily accessed by those desiring more information on the band – allow this essay to focus on the contents of Tenology.
A four-disc retrospective of the band’s original four-man lineup (Lol Creme, Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, and Kevin Godley) and subsequent expanded roster once Creme and Godley departed in 1976, Tenology is also graced with a DVD of group videos, television lip-synch appearances, and – the coup de grace – an August 1974 BBC In Concert episode of the quartet playing live in front of a studio audience ably assisted by drummer Paul Burgess. For those quick to dismiss the band as merely clever songwriters and studio-technology adepts, rest assured these guys could play their respective instruments adroitly and sing amazingly well in a live, albeit controlled, setting.
Seeing the band performing songs from their first two albums (10cc and Sheet Music, respectively) hardly would seem all that impressive were it not for the impeccably crafted songs themselves that lovingly honor doo-wop, doomed lover, and jailhouse rock’n’roll traditions. Sly wordplay abounds in nearly all the songs captured in this collection, as does the stellar musicianship for which the band seldom receives enough recognition.
While the Gizmo guitar technology developed by Creme and Godley is often cited as the group’s musical point of reference, it must be mentioned that Stewart was a flash guitarist who moved easily from the greasy Face’s style rock of “Oh Effendi” to the riffing reminiscent of Mick Ronson on “The Second Sitting of the Last Supper” and on to the progressive, Mike Oldfield/Frippery sounds of, for example, “Life Is a Minestrone” and “Rock and Roll Lullaby.” All this performed in the service of great pop songs.
Any praises of Stewart’s talent would be remiss without mentioning his vocal agility, which moves from the somber gravel of Badfinger’s Pete Ham to the sweet, soaring falsettos that poached the turf of bandmates Creme and Godley. As for Gouldman, he, too, possessed a terrific voice too often overshadowed by the sheer bounty of the group’s vocal talent.
Tenology captures the commercial highlights of the band with a disc of the band’s singles both before and after the exit of Creme and Godley; one disc dedicated to the Stewart and Gouldman lineup; one disc of selected deep cuts from both eras; and a fourth disc of rarities and b-sides. What becomes apparent while listening to the songs in chronological order is the tremendous loss of the band’s creative spark after the departure of the Gizmo twins. Not that “The Things We Do for Love” isn’t a pop gem; it is, but it fails to match the brilliance of “I’m Not in Love.”
One thing missing from the beautifully designed box set is a disc focusing on band member projects before and after 10cc’s heyday. I have long ago misplaced my vinyl copy of Graham Gouldman’s album featuring covers of hits he wrote for other groups, including the Yardbirds, the Hollies, and Herman’s Hermits. It would’ve been nice also to have available some of Stewart’s work with the Mindbenders once he took over the helm from Wayne Fontana, as well as tracks from 10cc’s first incarnation, Hot Legs, and perhaps some of the group’s playing behind Neil Sedaka. Likewise missing from the collection are songs recorded by Creme and Godley in such pre-10cc duos as The Yellow Bellow Room Boom and Frabjoy & the Runcible Spoon. Less distressing to this writer but tepidly lamented is the absence of material recorded by band members in other projects after 1976. Gouldman recorded a fine soundtrack album, Animalympics, and worked with Andrew Gold in the group Wax; Stewart worked with Paul McCartney; Creme & Godley had at least two relatively successful singles, “Cry” and “Under Your Thumb” and provided backup vocals on Phil Manzanera’s 801 album Listen Now; and Creme wound up as a member of Art of Noise.
These are minor quibbles from an admitted 10cc fanatic, however, and shouldn’t be taken as a complete dismissal of Tenology.
If a report in the December 2012 issue of Uncut is to be believed, the original four members are estranged. Creme and Godley split after their successful recording and even more successful video directing collaborations in the late 1980s; and Stewart is angry with Gouldman for touring a band that bills itself as 10cc. If true, diehard fans may never get the chance to hear new music from the original lineup ever again, nor is it likely they’ll get a chance to see them perform live. All that’s left is what’s already available, unfortunately, and rare North American appearances of Gouldman’s incarnation of the band.
In conclusion, Tenology may not be for those seeking a complete overview of the band, but it’s a great place to start for those interested in purchasing what is thus far the best overview of one of the 1970’s most innovative and interesting pop groups.