10cc – ‘Sheet Music’ (1974) Classic album review

It’s their most eclectic work, their most expansive work, their battiest work and in the eyes of bassist, songwriter and 10cc custodian Graham Gouldman, the band’s best. It presented all the flairs, nuances, contradictions and versatilities 10cc held, but with their tongue in cheek nature held wholeheartedly on their cover. Rather than a piece of music published in single or interleaved sheets, the title mocked the profanities a critic held on their music in pidgin spelling.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It’s a kaleidoscopic look at the veracity within 20th century music, a hybrid of blues, pop, vaudeville, ska and funk put together in one neat little package. Heralded as the Beatles of the seventies, 10cc understood the importance of the Fab Fours’ later work, necessitating that no two songs sounded alike, something guitarist/studio engineer Eric Stewart especially fought for. He needn’t have worried, his writing partner Gouldman was a song-writing expert who’d bequeathed hits to The Yardbirds and The Hollies in the sixties, his band-mates Lol Creme and Kevin Godley art school savants with a penchant for the technological as well as the musical (they’d designed a guitar appliance later used by Wings and Led Zeppelin on their records) and Stewart himself was a vocalist who’d worked his scales on The Mindbenders A Groovy Kind of Love (1965), a blues rock ballad Stewart made famous two decades before Phil Collins did.

Furthering the Beatles similarity, 10cc understood that the studio stood for their greatest impact and their stage shows were adverts for their albums. Between, 10cc had four vocalists, Creme and Stewart gifted with ethereal falsettos, Godley and Gouldman brightly exchanging baritone heavy basso novas. Stewart, whose natural good looks and blue eyed voice, made him the contender to harness the choppy hit Wall Street Shuffle , a punchy pop piece seeped almost entirely in Paul McCartney’s sound (McCartney had booked the Manchester unit’s Strawberry Studios to produce his brother’s McGear concurrent to the group; he gave the band’s sophomore album his trademark two thumbs up). Aware of the importance The Beatles and The Rolling Stones held, Stewart and Godley wistfully sang of the future of rock music on Old Wild Men, one of two sombre ballads Godley & Creme wrote for the album. Anxious in delivery, potent in practice, the song took a telling meaning in 2006 when Godley joined Gouldman’s rebooted 10cc for a duet of a ballad that now reflected their stance in life. Somewhere In Hollywood furthered the melancholia, a pleasing piano ballad steeped in the cinematic images Godley & Creme sought in their eighties milieu as pop videographers.

Elsewhere, the album brims with joyous and inspired wit, Clockword Creep detailing the crash of an airline from the bomb’s tormented perspective, Hotel a canny observation of the myriad expats in continental islands and The Worst Band In The World, a torrent of chord changes, idiosyncratic bridges and wiry riffs which showed 10cc were the furthest thing from the band that they mocked (Creme’s kooky vocal was sampled in 2006 throughout J Dilla’s idiosyncratic Workinonit). That the band divided themselves into song-writing groups (Gouldman/Stewart and Godley/Creme) didn’t stop writers experimenting with another writer (the rhythm heavy Sacro -Iliac was, appropriately enough, the dual work of bass/drum combo Gouldman and Godley, while the quasi metallic Silly Love is the pen-work of real life brothers in law Stewart and Creme).

Avant-pop at its best, it came a midway point for those who found Kimono My House too sedate and portentous prog works Queen II and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway too cryptic. It’s an album more inventive, idiosyncratic, excellent and excogitative in nature than the critic’s four letter review could ever contemplate.