Whether it was a satire on The Troubles or just an affectionate throwback to Jailhouse Rock, Rubber Bullets introduced us to Mancunian band 10cc, four songwriters who specialised in witty, ironic pop and rock. But the story of ‘The Worst Band In the World’ starts years earlier.
Kevin Godley, Lol Creme and Graham Gouldman knew each other as children, and their first collaboration dates back to 1964, when Gouldman’s band The Whirlwinds recorded Creme’s Baby Not Like You as a B-side. This band evolved into The Mockingbirds, whose drummer was Kevin Godley.
In the summer of love of 1967, Godley and Creme recorded a one-off single as The Yellow Bellow Boom Room. Thanks to Gouldman, the duo were then signed to Marmalade Records, who hoped Godley and Creme may be the UK’s answer to Simon & Garfunkel. They recorded material as Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon, with Gouldman on bass and a guitarist called Eric Stewart.
Stewart had been lead guitarist and singer with The Mindbenders, whose biggest hit was A Groovy Kind of Love, which stalled at number two in 1966. Gouldman was briefly in the group before they disbanded in 1968. That year, Stewart became involved with Inner City Studios in Stockport. It was subsequently moved to bigger premises, and renamed Strawberry Studios, after Strawberry Fields Forever. Stewart became the co-owner.
In 1969 Gouldman, who had previously written hits including For Your Love for The Yardbirds, was in demand as a songwriter. He took up residence at Strawberry Studios and by the end of the year he was also a partner. He was writing bubblegum pop songs for Super K Productions, and would often use Stewart, Godley and Creme to perform them. All four were singers and multi-instrumentalists, and they made so many records under so many aliases, they lost count. They would even sometimes perform what were meant to be female backing vocals.
While Gouldman was working in New York, the other three had their first real success together. As Hotlegs, their single Neanderthal Man reached number two in the UK in 1970 and was a worldwide hit. It was soon followed by the 1971 album Think: School Stinks. Meanwhile, all four continued to write and perform for other bands, and after helping Neil Sedaka on two albums, they were finally spurred on to try and make a name for themselves. They became Festival, but their first single failed and Apple Records rejected their second.
Undeterred, they recorded a spoof doo-wop song, Donna. They contacted eccentric and later disgraced mogul Jonathan King, who loved it and signed them to his label UK Records. He takes claim for dubbing them 10cc after a dream in which he saw ’10cc The Best Band in the World’ on the front of the Hammersmith Odeon, but the most common explanation, confirmed by Creme and Gouldman, is that it was an above average volume of semen produced in a male ejaculation. Seedy, whichever is true.
Radio 1 DJ Tony Blackburn loved Donna, and made it his Record of the Week. It soared to number two in October 1972. However, follow-up Johnny Don’t Do It didn’t even make the Top 40. Fortunately, Rubber Bullets, went all the way. Recorded as part of their eponymous debut LP, this track is another wry throwback to 50s rock’n’roll, a sound all four musicians were very fond of returning to.
10cc have always claimed Rubber Bullets was a sequel-of-sorts to Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock, told from the point of view of the authorities, intent on putting a halt to the celebrations at the local county jail. This may well be the case (and there’s also a touch of the Beach Boys, particularly in Creme’s lead vocal), but it’s impossible to not consider its connection to The Troubles, which had rarely been out of the news in 1972-73. The use of rubber bullets saw a massive increase in this period. Despite being designed to bounce off the ground and strike at about knee level, children were killed by this ammunition. 10cc were obviously clever songwriters. Godley and Creme were responsible for the majority of this track and may well have had the chorus first and perhaps decided to make it less controversial by introducing all the Americanisms. Gouldman should also get a mention for his line ‘we’ve all got balls and brains, but some’s got balls and chains’, although that was edited out of the single version.
Not only were 10cc very smart, they were also very good at coming up with great pop songs, with years of experience between all four of them, there was no lack of expertise on hand, and Rubber Bullets was as catchy as it was clever, with a blistering guitar solo from Stewart, achieved with studio trickery. And yet, for all that’s commendable about this song (it’s apparent sympathies lie with the victims of the bullets), I can admire it rather than enjoy it, and I know I’m not the first person to say this about 10cc’s work. But their second number 1 in 1975 is another matter entirely. It’s one of the best of the 70s.
Written by: Lol Creme, Kevin Godley & Graham Gouldman
Weeks at number 1: 1 (23-29 June)
Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat – 27 June
23 June: A Hull house fire kills a six-year-old boy. It was initially thought to be an accident but it later emerged as the first of 26 fire deaths caused over the next seven years by arsonist Peter Dinsdale. One of Britain’s most prolific serial killers, Dinsdale was imprisoned for life in 1981.