These days 10cc are primarily known for the glorious overdub overload that is “I’m Not in Love”, however that monster hit single was just the tip of an often misunderstood creative iceberg made up of pop experimentalism, intelligent hit singles, art-rock, lovingly crafted production, and the search for the perfect pop song. Although it’s tempting to assume that “I’m Not in Love” looms over the rest of their chart hits, in truth the majority of their singles were winners, from the doo-wop homage of “Donna”, to their first brilliantly judged chart-topper “Rubber Bullets”, to the absurdly wonderful “Life is a Minestrone”. While the departure of Godley and Crème meant that they lost some of their more sonically adventurous nature, Eric Stewart and Grahame Gouldman were still more than capable of penning straight up pop classics like “The Things We Do for Love” and even the odd multi-part epic, like “Feel the Benefit”, though admittedly their third and final chart topper, “Dreadlock Holiday”, is a tune that continues to divide opinion.
For many the peak of 10cc’s pop experimentations was their sophomore album, Sheet Music. Containing a pair of strong hit singles in the opener “Wall Street Shuffle” and “Silly Love”, it’s an album where the band struck out in a creative direction that no one else was really heading at the time. While the rest of the rock music scene consisted of ludicrously hairy hard rock, enjoyably disposable glam rock, earnest singer songwriters or ridiculously self-important prog rock, 10cc spent the mid-70s playing with the perceptions of what pop music could be. A continuously shape shifting album, yet one that never suffers from the same over-inflated ego issues that considerably more over the top art rockers Roxy Music suffered from, Sheet Music was basically the sound of four blokes following wherever their combined muses led, while still remaining oddly grounded and seemingly impervious to the illusion of stardom.
With its sparkling production, top draw songwriting and a vice-like grip on pop dynamics, Sheet Music is an album that deserves re-appraisal as a life-affirming exercise in playing by your own rules, while still being accessible and easy to digest. 10cc’s ability to craft the multi-faceted pop-gem, and still have the capacity to give a knowing wink about how ridiculous the rest of the pop industry they were working within actually was reaches it’s zenith with “The Worst Band in the World”, a single that was just too damn clever and self-deprecating to ever have been a commercial success. However 10cc being 10cc, they probably knew that and decided to release it anyway.
It was this clever-clever approach which meant that 10cc struck a chord with the discerning pop fan, however, it equally meant that the subtleties of their collective genius could fly over the heads of those who simply thought that 10cc were just too smug and clever for their own good. For all the band’s undoubted brilliance, there were those who just wished that 10cc would stop showing off and be Bad Company, which was somewhat missing the point of 10cc. While there were plenty of bands during the mid 70s that could rock out, precious few had the self-awareness to create a pop album overflowing with as many ideas as Sheet Music.
Sheet Music is an album on which 10cc took full advantage of the studio technology available to them at the time. While progress of recording technology has relentlessly marched on, to the point where you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your computer chair to create music, Sheet Music is a testament to old school creativity and the willingness to explore beyond the parameters of pop convention.