[TL;DR appears at the end]
Before there was Godley & Creme, there was 10cc. And before 10cc, there was Hotlegs.
In the late 1960s, art school friends Kevin Godley (drums), Lol Creme (guitar), Graham Gouldman (bass), and Eric Stewart (guitar) were struggling to make it in the music business, recording a flood of radio jingles and backing tracks for other artists' demo recordings while barely getting by. They were about to pack it in when a producer visiting the studio heard a track they had been working on.
It wasn’t so much a song as an experiment. Originally intended as a trial run for some new drum sounds, the track was essentially a loping rhythm, strummed acoustics, and a couple of lines repeated over and over in the distance: "I'm a Neanderthal man. You're a Neanderthal girl. Let's make Neanderthal love in this Neanderthal world." The producer thought it was a hit.
Bizarrely, it was. "Neanderthal Man" (1970) reached #2 in the UK and #22 in the States. Since the record label had to include a band name, the group of friends chose Hotlegs. (Reportedly, they were inspired by a woman they all knew who had, um, hot legs.)
Two years and one album later, Hotlegs was gone, and the band had renamed itself 10cc. (There is reportedly a story behind that name too, but I won’t go into it here.)
Unusual for the time, all four band members were songwriters who also sang. Although everyone wrote with everyone else in the band at one time or another, most of the band's output flowed from two songwriting teams: Godley & Creme and Gouldman and Stewart. Godley & Creme tended to favor the offbeat when it came to subject matter, melody, chord changes, and song structure. Gouldman and Stewart tended to focus on writing classic pop hits. (Graham Gouldman had been a successful songwriter for other artists even before joining the band. One of his earliest solo compositions, "For Your Love," became a well-known hit for The Yardbirds.)
I’ve loved 10cc since I was 16. But despite four wonderful albums from the band's original lineup, I think it’s safe to say that only two of their songs really broke through in the US and are known by American listeners today: “I'm Not in Love” and “The Things We Do for Love.” Both were written by Gouldman and Stewart.
In fact, by the time the album featuring “The Things We Do for Love” came out (1977’s Deceptive Bends), Godley & Creme had already left the band.
Blame "creative musical differences." In addition to having distinctly different writing styles from Gouldman and Stewart, Godley & Creme had a different vision as well. They were interested in a more provocative and, in the words of one of their own songs, “left of center” approach to pop music.
They also had a new invention they wanted to sell: the Gizmotron, a mechanical device that, when attached to the bridge of an electric guitar, could vibrate the strings like a bow on a violin. The Gizmotron (or "Gizmo") appears on many 10cc songs, providing unmistakable and uniquely lush textures. Godley & Creme wanted to give it its own showcase within the kind of songs they were increasingly wanting to write. Once they realized they couldn't do that the way they wanted to and still remain in 10cc, they left.
Godley & Creme released their first album, a sprawling three-album set called Consequences, in 1977. I think it’s strictly for the most ardent fans. Even the cut-down, single-album version that came out in 1979, Music from Consequences, can try one's patience. ("Five o'Clock in the Morning" and “When Things Go Wrong” are perhaps the only songs from the project that can stand on their own as songs. My other favorites, "Honolulu Lulu" and "Cool, Cool, Cool," feel less like complete songs and more like pastiches or incidental music.)
If you’re still with me, you may have noticed that Godley & Creme released Consequences the same year their former bandmates released Deceptive Bends. It would be challenging to find two more dissimilar albums.
Deceptive Bends is one of my favorite 10cc albums—bright, bouncy, wit-laden pop. Consequences, on the other hand, is my least-favorite Godley & Creme album. It is a mixture of moody ambient instrumental tracks, sound effects, songs and song snippets, and spoken-word scenes. Deceptive Bends is a joy; Consequences is a slog. The only bright note: After the commercial and critical failure of Consequences, Godley & Creme had nowhere to go but up.
(The “Gizmo,” plagued by manufacturing issues and mechanical breakdowns, was also a commercial failure.)
Which brings us to 1978’s L, Godley & Creme’s second album. In my opinion, it is an art-pop masterpiece. (For such an assured album, it is ironic that the cover is an L plate, a sign used on automobiles in a number of countries around the world, including England, to designate a beginner driver.)
In seven songs (one an instrumental), L explores race, bullying, the music business, life in 10cc, and love and life in general.
But even when Godley & Creme write a “love” song, it is uniquely their own. In "Sandwiches of You," the narrator struggles to come up with the magic words to get his companion out of her clothes. And, brilliantly, he does so even while chastising her for thinking he would ever want such a thing:
"Shame, shame on you. / I want to keep this friendship platonic. / I respect the fact that you're waiting for Mister Right— / Am I wrong? / Let's pull over. / Please, let's pull over / And discuss the ramifications / Of a lasting and complex relationship / Like mature and responsible people do. / Am I getting through?"
Lest you doubt his intentions, consider the chorus that immediately follows: "I could eat / Sandwiches of you. / You could eat / Sandwiches of me."
Just like mature and responsible people do.
This song follows album opener "The Sporting Life," a cinematic, multi-part story of "a day in the life" with a cynical bite. "Are you bored? Are you jaded? Has all enthusiasm faded?" the narrator asks in the opening lines. And it follows those questions all the way to a conclusion where the narrator watches as a (bored? jaded?) man steps out onto a high ledge while a crowd below keeps shouting at him to jump already.
The narrator's assessment:
"There's a fruitcake in the window / Someone fetch the cops. / For God's sake, get a camera / Before the bastard drops."
This sardonic point of view surfaces yet again in the album’s final track. In “Business Is Business,” which slowly morphs out of the chant-song “Hit Factory” ("We're all working in a hit / Factory"), the singer bemoans the vapid nature of some of that hit factory’s popular output:
“Force fed / On half-dead melodies / Dragged up from the archives, / Playing on your sympathies. / I’m being brainwashed / And don’t know how to block it / ’Cause there’s something in the chorus / Burns a hole in my pocket. / And I can’t feel the pain / When my finger’s in the socket.”
This album won’t be for every taste. (Godley & Creme’s final album, 1988’s Goodbye Blue Sky, might be the better introduction.) But if you ever feel like your “finger’s in the socket,” tired of the same old melodies, same pop production, and well-worn approaches to songwriting, you might just want to spend some time with Godley & Creme and L.
TO LEARN MORE:
Three of Godley & Creme’s albums are available for purchasing/streaming on Amazon and iTunes/Apple Music: L, Freeze Frame, and Ismism (which was originally released in the U.S. as Snack Attack). All seven of their albums have been released on vinyl and CD, although all are now out of print in those formats.
TL;DR: 1978’s L, by former 10cc members Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, is an art-pop masterpiece filled with wit, wordplay, and satire.