Songwriter Interviews

Graham Gouldman of 10cc

by Carl Wiser

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On seeing chords in colors, and writing hits for The Hollies, Jeff Beck, The Yardbirds, and his own band, the mighty 10cc.

Graham Gouldman was 19 when he wrote the Yardbirds hit "For Your Love"; a short time later he wrote "Bus Stop" for The Hollies. After a stint in the Kasenetz-Katz bubblegum hit factory writing songs like "Sausalito (Is The Place To Go)" for the Ohio Express and "Susan's Tuba" for Freddie and the Dreamers, he formed 10cc with Lol Creme, Kevin Godley and Eric Stewart.

Like Queen, every member brought songs to the table. Unlike Queen, every member could sing. Gouldman's compositions include the UK #1 "Rubber Bullets" (with Creme and Godley), the ethereal "I'm Not In Love" (with Stewart), and the jubilant "The Things We Do For Love" (also with Stewart). The songs are unconventional and unpredictable - no point in doing what's already been done. The 10cc canon is filled with weird and wonderful tracks like "I'm Mandy Fly Me," which feels like a Twilight Zone episode. That one was inspired by a shockingly sexist ad campaign for an airline that touted their stewardesses. Their second album included a song called "The Worst Band In The World," where they take the Mickey out of the rock star mythos. Gouldman writes on guitar, but plays bass in 10cc - the low end on that one is incredible.

Creme and Godley left the band four albums in, but 10cc kept pushing musical boundaries, charting another UK #1 with the reggae-inflected, Gouldman-sung "Dreadlock Holiday." Gouldman has kept the group intermittently active amid a number of other projects. From 1984 to 1996, he was in a band called Wax with Andrew Gold; in 2000, he released his first solo album, And Another Thing. In 2018, he joined Ringo's All-Starr Band.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): When you head out on tour with Ringo Starr, you have to choose three hit songs to play, and you went with "I'm Not in Love," "The Things We Do for Love" and "Dreadlock Holiday." How did you decide on those particular three?

Graham Gouldman: Well, the discussion was initially between me and Mark Rivera, Ringo's musical director. We wanted to do songs that would be hits both in Europe and America and also be songs I could sing as well - I didn't sing on the original "I'm Not In Love" but I do it in the 10cc show that exists now.

So really it was a matter of the most popular 10cc songs worldwide, which were "I'm Not in Love," "The Things We Do For Love" and "Dreadlock Holiday." Although "Dreadlock Holiday" wasn't such a big hit in America and I did suggest that for the American tour, we maybe put something else in, but Ringo really loved it and wanted to keep it.

Songfacts: I was kind of surprised that you went with "I'm Not In Love," not because it's not a wonderful song, but because it is so emotionally intense.

Gouldman: Well, if you look at it in context with the whole set - and that's how you should look at it, not in isolation - you'll see that it's such an eclectic mix of songs that that particular song fills a particular niche that none of the other songs do, and I think that added a great sort of variety to the songs that we all sung from the sort of rock-y stuff and bluesy stuff and popp-y stuff. It fit right in.

Songfacts: Did you ever figure out why "The Things We Do For Love" was able to break through in America, but not "Dreadlock Holiday"?

Gouldman: With "Dreadlock Holiday," we got a report from one station that said, "Oh, we don't play reggae." I mean, for fuck's sake. Ridiculous, just play good music, whatever it is. But, for some reason that didn't happen, and "Things We Do For Love" just caught on.

Who knows about these things? When you're in the studio you do your best work writing the songs and then recording them, and hope that everyone else likes them.

Songfacts: You wrote bubblegum songs for a while. What was your technique to writing those?

Gouldman: There was no technique. There's no technique to any sort of writing, whatever style of music it is. It's just sort of a gift that one has, and you just do it.

There was nothing particular about those songs that was any different from the method I use to write any other song, which is just to sit down with a guitar, usually, and mess around until I get a chord sequence that suggests a mood, and a mood suggests the words, and then the whole thing seriously comes together. Unless sometimes when I get the title and work backwards from that. But there was no particular technique involved.

Songfacts: What's an example of a song where you had a title and you worked backwards?

Gouldman: "Art For Art's Sake," "Bus Stop," "Look Through Any Window."

"For Your Love," the title came with the chorus as I was writing it, so I didn't have that first of all. I've written quite a lot of songs with titles first.

Songfacts: "For Your Love," I think I read somewhere that "House Of The Rising Sun" was a musical inspiration. Can you talk about that?

Gouldman: Yeah, purely about the chord sequence. There's a general sort of popular chord sequence which is C, A minor, F and G - you've heard it a million times. It's sort of (sings the sequence - play the clip to hear it) you get the idea?
Songfacts: Yeah

Gouldman: Well, "House Of The Rising Sun" is pretty much the opposite of that. So, it starts on a minor and goes to the relative major instead of the other way around, and I really responded to that, it resonated with me. I became so enamored with the sequence that I used it on the first two chords of "For Your Love," the first two chords of "No Milk Today" and there's quite a few other songs. I just find that chord chain very inspiring.

Songfacts: You were able to create songs for the Yardbirds that sounded different from anything else that was out there. Did you use any kind of chemical enhancements?

Gouldman: I never did, no.

Songfacts: I know this is a tough thing to put your finger on, but how were you able to get in that incredibly creative mindset to come up with songs the Yardbirds couldn't write themselves?

Gouldman: You know, to me it's very simple. I always say this about writing songs: There's nothing clever about it. It's a gift, and if you've got it and your mind is organized enough to make yourself sit down and do something, then that's really all you need. And I never needed any enhancements. It's just natural to me - it is a blessing.

Songfacts: Do you write specifically to have hit songs?

Gouldman: No, I think that's a recipe for disaster. I think you should write what you feel and what you want to write. 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.

Maybe people have done that and it's worked, but for me, it's never worked. I just think the best work is what comes from the heart. That doesn't mean you have to write about something that's happened to you - it can be your imagination. But I've found that a lot of the songs are based on real events, like "Bus Stop" was based on a real story, and "Look Through Any Window" was as well. But, a song like "Heart Full Of Soul" is just a very melancholy love song.

Songfacts: "Look Through Any Window" is based on a real story?

Gouldman: Yes, I was on a train coming back from London 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.

Songfacts: Was "Evil Hearted You" a similar situation where it was a real person?

Gouldman: No, it wasn't a real person.

Songfacts: That's one of your early songs that has this sinister feel, almost like a Cher song you wrote, "Behind The Door."

Gouldman: "Behind The Door." Yeah, I love that song.

Songfacts: Can you talk about this dark side of your songwriting?

Gouldman: I think it comes from my love of minor keys and using minor chords, that I've always found more attractive and easier to write with because they're more inspiring somehow. They're darker, the melancholy of them... I like to think of them more as melancholy rather than sinister.

I see chords in colors. There are light greens and blues and dark blues and black, that's an obvious one. I think some of it came from the fact that I used to go to the synagogue with my dad in the early years, and a lot of the songs there are in minor keys. I think that has something to do with it.

Songfacts: What color is "The Things We Do For Love"?

Gouldman: That's a sort of light blue. I don't know why, but it is. Although it starts off in a minor key, there are certain parts that are in a major key as well. It's a very multi-colored song.

Songfacts: Yeah, it's musically multi-colored and it's lyrically multi-colored as well.

Gouldman: I wrote that song with Eric Stewart. When we started writing that, we had some of the music and he wanted to write a song about suicide. I told him that was not a good idea and fortunately he agreed. He came up with the title "The Things We Do For Love," which is very up and a great title really. What are the things we do for love? What do you do? What should we do for love?

Songfacts: It sounds like it could become one of those Motown list songs [like "The Way You Do The Things You Do"], but it doesn't, it tells more of a story.

Gouldman: Yeah, it's not a list song - I'm not mad about those list songs. They get on my nerves actually. But yes, it does tell a story, and I think there are some really lovely lines in that.

On the tour, Ringo said he loves the line, "You think you're gonna break up, then she says she wants to make up." He said, "I just love hearing that line." It appealed to him.

Songfacts: Yeah, that's something you'd hear from The Beatles.

Gouldman: Thank You.

10cc was ahead of the curve on music videos, which at the time were called "promotional films" and shot on actual film, giving them a timeless quality. Bruce Gowers, the man behind the lens for "Bohemian Rhapsody" and other Queen classics, did the job for 10cc's "I'm Not In Love," "I'm Mandy Fly Me," "Good Morning Judge" and "The Things We Do For Love." Pink Floyd's visual genius Storm Thorgerson, who did much of 10cc's album art, helmed "Dreadlock Holiday."

After Kevin Godley and Lol Creme left 10cc in 1976, they took up music videos, pushing the genre forward with some of the most memorable and wildly inventive videos of the '80s: "Every Breath You Take" for The Police, "Rockit" for Herbie Hancock, "Cry" for their own act, Godley & Creme. That one, long before Michael Jackson's "Black Or White," was an early attempt at morphing.
Songfacts: "I'm Not In Love" is a similar situation where you have a very striking title and then you have music that has to mesh with it just right. Can you talk about how you did that?

Gouldman: Well that's one of the things that is part of the art or the gift of the songwriter. There has to be a kind of a marriage between the lyric and the music and the melody that makes it impossible to think of anything else that would fit with that particular melody in your mind. Of course, you could put anything to [scats] "I'm not in love"... "I read the paper." You could put anything to it but it's inextricably linked to that melody and those words. They're linked to each other.

That was a song, I had the opening chords to it and it grew from there. Eric and I had always avoided a love song, but I was always convinced we could do a great one, and once again Eric came up with the title of that song, and it was the perfect title of an anti-love song. But of course, is it an anti-love song? Is it I'm not in love, or is it I am in love and thou doth protest too much? One of those ideas.

Songfacts: What color is that one?

Gouldman: It's kind of grey.

Before they were known as 10cc, the four members operated Strawberry Studios in Stockport, England, where they engineered, produced and performed on Neil Sedaka's 1972 album Solitaire. That year, they recorded a song called "Donna" that earned them a deal with Jonathan King's fledgling label, UK Records.

King was a pop star, best known for his 1965 hit "Everyone's Gone To The Moon," and also a popular TV and radio personality in the UK. He was also an industry bigwig famous for getting Genesis a record deal, producing their first album, and naming the band (it was the beginning of his production career, so he gave them that biblical moniker in celebration). He also gave 10cc their name, which became a talking point throughout their career. The snickering rumor was that 9cc (cubic centimeters) is the average output of a male orgasm, thus 10cc was one better. The band didn't bother denying it.

King has since become a pariah, having been found guilty of sex offenses for which he served three years in prison; he was released in 2005.
Songfacts: What's the story behind the song "The Worst Band In The World"?

Gouldman: The title for that came from something a guy who ran our first record company [Jonathan King] said. In fact, when he first came up to see us, he could sense we were bored in the studio. We were a road band, and we didn't have a name. He came up to see us, and he said, "I had a dream last night that I was standing in front of the Hammersmith Odeon," which is a venue in London. "And on the hoarding, it said '10cc, The Best Band In The World.'" Really, it's a play on that: the fact that we're the worst band in the world and we don't care, we just do what we want to do.

And in fact, the original lyric we had to change. We put a word in so it could be played on Radio 2. It was:

It's one thing to know, but another to admit
We're the worst band in the world but we don't give a...


And they insisted that we put a word in! It was so ridiculous because we knew everybody would think of "shit." There was no rhyming word, so we put "but we don't give up." A special edit for the BBC. Ridiculous really when I think back on it.

Gouldman wrote Jeff Beck's 1967 single "Tallyman," which hit #30 in the UK.
Songfacts: What's a Tallyman?

Gouldman: To tally something is to count it up, so it's someone that would come 'round every week to get the rent. It's a very English word.

That was one of the songs my dad helped me with the lyrics on, very much so. My dad was a writer, and I would write something and always show it to him, and he'd say, "well, that's good, but you could make it better, why don't you do this?" And sometimes he would come up with lyrics as well. He'd written the beginning of "Bus Stop"... "Bus stop, wet day, she's there, I say, 'please share my umbrella.'" He gave me those words and I immediately, as I was reading them, heard the melody in my head, and it just kind of wrote itself. And then the middle part of the song I wrote - I got the melody and the words all in one chunk.

Songfacts: Wow.

Gouldman: That was amazing. And I got that while I was out of the house, so I didn't have a guitar. I kept it in my head, and I couldn't wait to get it down. I knew it was going to fit perfectly and it did.

Songfacts: Yeah, it really continues the story. Then you have a second verse where the ice is melting and there's no more sheltering now. I don't understand that.

Gouldman: "Came the sun, the ice was melting." Winter is over, the snow is passed because the sun has melted it, so there's no need to shelter anymore under the umbrella. You could say the snow is underfoot so you don't need an umbrella anyway, but it's poetic license: it could have been snowing so the umbrella can protect you from the snow as well as the rain.

Songfacts: Part of the genius of that song is that you have to fill in your own details. We don't know what the bus or the people look like.

Gouldman: I know, it's genius isn't it?

Songfacts: It really is. Because you would think in a song you'd need to fill in the vivid details, but we do that in our minds.

Gouldman: That's right, you're absolutely right. Sometimes it's what's left out that makes it work. You see that in a lot of Beatles songs. When I was on tour with Ringo we did something for the Beatles radio, and we did a few Beatles songs. A lot of them are two-part harmony that's screaming out for the third harmony, but they never did it, and in your head, you sing along, if you're musical, the third harmony. You can compare that to what you just said about the lyrics, but I think there is something to be said about leaving something out.

Songfacts: Give me an example of one of those Beatles songs that is screaming for a third harmony.

Gouldman: "Nowhere Man"

Songfacts: Which of the Beatles songs, to you, is the most impressive from a songwriting standpoint?

Gouldman: That's very hard to say. I'll tell you one song I do love is "Martha My Dear." I love the changes in it, and I've got a dog, so I understand. Musically it's really impressive, it's beautiful and it's genius.

Songfacts: You could have named any girl in "I'm Mandy Fly Me" but you chose Mandy, which was also the name of a big Barry Manilow hit.

Gouldman: Yes, and funny enough, I was talking to the writer of that song last week because we are members of something called the Society of Distinguished Songwriters, or the SODS as we are called. Originally that song was called "Brandy," so I could have said "I'm Brandy, fly me."

But I got the idea for the song from a poster that I saw that said, "I'm Suzy, fly me to Miami." The idea being that Suzy or Suzanne was the name of the air hostess and "fly me to Miami" could have another meaning if you wanted to think about it, like fly with me or do something with me. I think there was an underlying message. It intrigued me, but I didn't want to call it "I'm Suzy, Fly Me" because it didn't sing well, but I liked "Mandy" - it just felt right. That was the only reason I chose it, because it felt right.

Songfacts: And it didn't bother you that there was another popular song with that title?

Gouldman: Not at all.

Songfacts: "Wall Street Shuffle" has some parlance that you would not know unless you were doing some research on financial interests. Can you talk about how you accomplished that?

Gouldman: Well, I wrote that with Eric. Those sorts of phrases, like "you need the Yen to make a Mark," there isn't anything in particular we had to know. We talk about Howard Hughes and the Dow Jones index and things like that - we just knew about them. Not that we were into that sort of thing - the financial markets or anything - we just knew about them.

Songfacts: So "need a yen to make a mark" is just something you came up with?

Gouldman: It's a play on words on the Japanese Yen and the German Mark.

Songfacts: Ah, the Deutschmark. That makes more sense now. I thought "make a mark" was broker lingo.

Gouldman: I see. No, it was the currency.

Songfacts: That's an example of a song that is set in America - Wall Street, New York City - yet was not embraced in America the way it was in the UK. Why do you think that was?

Gouldman: I have no idea. It's all a mystery why certain things appeal to certain markets. I've co-written or been associated with hits that have just been hits in Singapore or in Spain and nowhere else. "I'm Not In Love" was our only hit in France. Maybe there's just something in the psyche of these countries that is just drawn to certain types of songs.

Songfacts: If you got to pick three of your songs that weren't hits to perform, which would you choose?

Gouldman: Well there's a newer song called "Let's Get Lost" from an EP I put out towards the end of last year called Play Nicely And Share. And I'd love to do a song called "Love's Not For Me" which was from an American cartoon film that I did the music for called Animalympics that was released in 1980. That's a lovely song.

And the other song I'd do is from my Love And Work album. It's called "Daylight" and it was a song I wrote with a guy called Chris Braide and it's about Andrew Gold - the late Andrew Gold - who I used to work with, particularly during the '80s.

October 25, 2018
More at grahamgouldman.info
Further reading:
David Paich of Toto
Colin Hay of Men at Work

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