Friday, 17 July 2009
Hotlegs aka 10cc "Thinks...School Stinks!" (1970) (News, Views and Music 36; Revised Review 2016)
Hotlegs aka 10cc “Thinks...School Stinks” (aka “You Didn’t Like It, Because You Didn’t Think Of It”)
“He say ‘um wah, um woh, um wah um woh woh’ ” “Bring Out Your Dead! – But Nobody’s died!, That’s not what I said – You’re dead inside” “He may run, he can hide, you can mess him up inside, you can rack his body with pain but he’ll just keep coming up again, because you can’t keep a good man down”“I’m all alone in the darkness but my eyes are open wide, I can’t see nothing and I don’t know why, the night is over the day is just begun, the night is over and done” ” “I’m a Neanderthal man, you’re a Neanderthal girl, let’s make Neanderthal love in this Neanderthal world” “You care about my whereabouts”
Um Wah, Um Woh/ Today/ You Didn’t Like It, Because You Didn’t Think Of It/ Fly Away/ Run Baby Run/ The Loser/ Neanderthal Man// How Many Times?/ Desperate Dan/ Take Me Back/ Lady Sadie /All God’s Children /Suite F.A (On My Way/Indecision/The Return).
'The blind amongst us can see, the deaf amongst us can hear, the dumb amongst us can speak, the healer looks after the weak!'
We pride ourselves on digging out the obscure and hard-to-find at the AAA and discussing albums that get short shrift or no mention at all in most artists’ discographies. But this one really is a rarity – the sole album by Hotlegs, the first incarnation of everybody’s favourite numerical band 10cc, which was only ever available on CD as a limited edition (currently priced £50 on Amazon second-hand) and was only ever re-issued on record twice briefly after poor sales the first time round. And yet, this album – which features Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme and even a guest appearance by Graham Gouldman making this the first 10cc album in all but name – came on the back of a surprise #2 hit in ‘Neanderthal Man’, a song big enough to throw the band headlong into the mainstream – and yet a song so forgotten now that the few people who remember it swear had nothing to do with the band at all (even today, a lot of fan’s comments on this track appearing at the end of the latest 2CD 10cc best-of was ‘what the heck is this song doing on here?’) It’s a surprising album all round this one - it doesn’t sound like 10cc that much at all, really, being a far darker and far more spontaneous version than the albums the first line-up will become well known for, even if the tunes are still vaguely 10cc-ish. In fact, it’s quite a one-off mix of the experimental and the accessible – every song on this album is designed to be hummed and whistled, but were there ever stranger songs around in 1971 than the drum-heavy ‘Neanderthal Man’ or the never-ending complex 'Suite ‘F.A.’ ? (I doubt any other band would have thought of getting away with the latter’s title back in 1971 either).Yet the most surprising thing about this album is that it doesn’t sound like its one-off, testing-the-microphones hit single either for the most part; there is lots of craft and song structure going on here, just not to the high point that 10cc will be making later in the decade.
It’s also a record dominated by the partnership of Godley and Creme – weird not because they don’t deserve to be there (they do) but because they were the unknowns in this band at the time – Stewart had been the lead focal point for the Mindbenders once Wayne Fontana left (scoring most of their biggest hits under his leadership) and Gouldman (who plays a far bigger role in this record’s creation than the credits suggest) had already written four top five hits (The Hollies’ ‘Look Through Any Window’ and ‘Bus Stop’, The Yardbirds’ ‘For Your Love’ and the Herman’s Hermits’ single ‘No Milk Today’). The biggest link to stardom Godley and Creme had was a five month spell in Gouldman’s band the Mockingbirds for the former and a stint physically painting the fences in the film adaption of ‘The Railway Children’ for the latter. Not that I’m complaining: these early songs may be far more derivative than the pair’s later, more challenging work but even this early on in their careers they’re showing plenty of inventiveness and wackiness. But the band as a whole seem almost embarrassed to stress two of their members’ former credentials, despite the fact that this album could have launched a quite successful career for all of them (in fact, stardom is only a year or two down the road thanks to the #2 single  ‘Donna’ – a doo-wop song that’s a lesser record than almost all the songs on this album – but nobody knew that back then and certainly not 10cc).
So, if nobody’s quite sure what to do with this album or the new group as a whole, how did this very rushed album come about? Well, in a nutshell, it came about because Eric Stewart was tired of travelling to London to make records and wanted to make them closer to home, establishing his own ‘Strawberry Studios’ in Stockport (named after the guitarist's favourite Beatles song 'Strawberry Fields Forever') which exists in some format to this day. He even bought out the record shop where his first band ‘The Staggerlees’ had tried, in vain, to get together enough money to make a record in the mini recording booth round the back (something common in 1960s bands before home technology was widely available, but costly in the days of vinyl and generally used by rich grandchildren to send thankyou records to distant relatives, not penniless rock musicians). Enlisting his friends Godley, Creme and – when time off from his bubblegum Kastner Katz employers allowed – Graham Gouldman, Stewart offered the services of himself and friends as backing musicians for all sorts of bands in this period. All of them knew each other growing up in different ways: Kevin and Lol had been childhood friends who reconnected at art college, Kevin and Graham had played after school in a Boy’s Brigade band, Graham had added Kevin to his breakthrough band The Mockingbirds and for a time Eric had hired Graham as a ‘spare’ guitarist in the last line-up of his band The Mindbenders. The trio (and occasionally quartet when Graham had enough of living away from home and got his employers to rent out Strawberry Studios so his pals could make record with him) made a whole number of records together between 1969 and 1972 in their spare time away from backing other people under a list of weird and wonderful names. But in order to do this – and make sure the recording studio gained a reputation as one of the best ever in the North West – the quartet had to test all sorts of microphones, instruments and engineering equipment to make sure they worked.
This meant a lot of repetitive playing and testing in between sessions, over and over, which is about as un-creative as music gets. When it came to Kevin Godley’s turn to test out the drums for an hour or so on a brand new state-of-the-art four track machine the others attempted to rally him along by making up a silly tune with the right beat for the percussion, with Eric adding some guitar riffs to the tune and Lol making up words based around the first 'primitive' thoughts that came into his head. The resulting drum-heavy song was quite unlike anything the musical world had heard before – or indeed will again, with the band not yet sure how to replicate it. The foursome had long talked about making their own music together – particularly after seeing Neil Sedaka score a big hit with his comeback single ‘Solitaire’ in 1971 for which they were only paid a bare minimum session fee – but they had no idea what to do or what direction would combine all their different styles. Suddenly, without even trying, this silly song had seemed to hit a nerve – the trio (Graham being in America still) thought that maybe they had stumbled upon something with this song though that soon got stuck in all their heads. Fate seemed to smiling on the band too when soon after making it Phillips Records boss Dick Leahy took a business meeting to Manchester and, with time on his hands, went to see his old charge Eric to talk about maybe getting some recordings done in their studio. He naturally asked what the guitarist had been up to who sheepishly admitted they had this silly song they liked but was so off-the-wall they weren’t sure what to do with. Leahy said that it was an obvious hit and was so adamant at getting the unsigned band that he offered them a £500 cash advance there and then, exactly what Eric needed to keep the studio open after a sudden spate of bills (with the band urged to go back and make a B-side at double quick speed; ‘You Didn’t Like It because You Didn’t Think About It’ keeps the drumming and even adds some proper guitars but loses the humour). Despite almost no publicity at first and appearing almost by accident, having never been intended to be anything more significant than a funky drum track (actually the band's inner musicians might have got slightly carried away as the drum track still doesn't sound that bright on the end product) ‘Neanderthal Man’ was sent blinking into the top of the charts and Hotlegs never looked back.
Well, almost. You see the problem with getting a hit single by accident after years of trying to get one through talent is that you are never quite sure how to get another one. Hotlegs could have gone back into the studio and recorded a sequel about cavemen using a similarly primitive sound, but after years of being stuck in 1960s bands tied by reputation and image Eric didn’t want to do that (The Mindbenders were a terrific band but record company interference meant that every great idea was flogged to death repeatedly, while Kev and Lol with their art school background were adamant about never following any sort of rule ever). Instead Hotlegs deferred, using the proceeds from their hit single to have a holiday. And then another. And maybe another one. By the time it dawned on the band that they really ought to get on with things if they wanted to remain in the public eye it had been almost a year since ‘Neanderthal Man’ came out and in the ever-changing 1970s that was a lifetime. Hoping that lightning might strike twice they wrote this album at speed, mainly filled up with emotional ballads that Kevin had been writing and which suited his sweet falsetto. Good as these are (and some of them are fabulous) what’s interesting is how very little like ‘Neanderthal Man’ they sound: the drums barely feature, Lol only gets to sing backup and these tracks are all folky and acoustic, not drum heavy and rocky. These aren’t even Neanderthal Man with clothes on so much as a whole different species who have almost nothing to do with their extinct cousins. The addition of an oddly juvenile title that doesn’t fit at all (‘Thinks…School Stinks!’ even though the band were in their mid and late twenties already), an ugly cover of a school wall a decade before Pink Floyd made the idea trendy and a mismanaged marketing campaign that didn’t have a clue what to do with this odd sounding album all missed the mark and meant Hotlegs didn’t sell like hot cakes at all. To emphasise that point, this album makes no reference to the classroom antics of the original title at all, not one (an idea and cover that was ripped off wholesale by Alice Cooper not long after, right down to the graffiti on the school desk). Fans of 1970, the very small handful who bought this album (plus the even smaller amount who bought it in 1971) didn’t know what to make of it all.
That’s even more true for fans in the modern era who knows how the story pans out and are used to 10cc manic wordplay, production gimmicks and most all variety, with a different singer in a different genre for every song which are by and large made up of contrasting sections; in contrast this is a lovely Kevin Godley album with some pretty Lol harmonies and some natty Eric guitar played acoustically and where every song seems to exist for the lyrics, to the point where even in the thirteen minute epic suite (this band always thought big!) not very much happens at all. Thankfully nothing much happens quite beautifully, but all the same you spend this record waiting for a punchline that never comes and an extra dimension that never quite arrives. This record is, however, never boring. Though tame by the standards of, say, ‘How Dare You!’ most of this album would have been deeply daring for its day. ‘Neanderthal Man’ remains one of the weirdest singles to ever reach so highly in the UK charts (and at #22 with no publicity was no slouch in the US charts) and its joined here by the only real follow-up, the caveman grunting ‘Um Wah Um Who’ which is simultaneously the most philosophical song any of 10cc will make for another decade. Not to mention the novelty song about Dandy comic strip hero Desperate Dan (‘Oh my, he eats cow pie!’) or the sniggering ‘Lady Sadie’. Perhaps the oddest track though is that B-side ‘You Didn’t Like It…’, which starts as a raucous up-yours defensive song that then has a nervous breakdown and ends up a soggy puddle on the carpet, all that intense shouting giving way to a ghostly choir (in a sign of things to come). This is a record that for all its dumb jokes, schoolboy humour and talk of ‘making Neanderthal love’ is quite a deep and at times disturbing album, more revealing than usual for 10cc who in time will learn to hide their feelings behind characters and concepts rather than being as open as this. On most 10cc albums to come the humour is there to counterpoint the stupidity and chaos of the adult world, a knowing wink for those in the audience at home who’ve seen through how surreal our boring daily lives are. This is an album where the ‘characters’ feel more hemmed in than that and where they are wondering if they are quite literally going mad. Though the jokes are as funny if not funnier than the songs to come, they also feel at times like a cry for help in a miserable life where there isn’t much laughing going on at all.
Even though we're in 10cc's baby years here, this is an oddly adult LP covering songs about moving on from unhappy love affairs, the idea of fate with the fact that love always comes back when a relationship is truly meant to be and that love means always having to 'care about my whereabouts'. The later 10cc never really did love as directly as this (it was always the punchline to a joke, whether it be the postmodernism of  'SSSSSilly Love' or the denial of  'I'm Not In Love', at least until Eric Stewart nearly dies in a car crash in 1979 and realises that there's nothing more important than love so he ought to talk about nothing else - this is a good thing, not a criticism, by the way). So it's odd to hear 10cc (or a version of them anyway) being so sweet and loved-up. There are no  clockwork creep bombs about to go off in our ear, no attempt to be nice to Vincent Price and no lyrics filled with swearing when little kids can't get to sleep. This album is 'pure' all the way through, from Kevin's gorgeous falsetto vocals to lyrics about how the narrator is 'drying' to profess his love, with no trace of the later irony or hilarity. [-48] Life isn't a Minestrone here, it's a more basic recipe, like winter vegetable or tomato that warm you up and empathise with you. Hearing 'Hotlegs' after what came before it it's easy to see why this version of the band became written off from band history - there are other bands around at the time better at doing earnest and pure love songs and it doesn't sound quite as original as most of what came later.
As a result, this first 10cc release (in all but name) sounds completely nothing like the clever wordplay of their better known material but still has enough charm and wackiness to secure several million sales. For a start the band are not yet 10cc as, not expecting to get a hit and not realising that they might be saddled with the name, they called themselves ‘Hotlegs’ as an in-joke after their nickname for their secretary Kathy (who can’t have minded too much – she’s still hanging around to play the part of the receptionist on  ‘I’m Not In Love’ five years later). People call it a 'false start' for 10cc and it is in that sense - this is nothing like the deep and 'clever' material the band will become known for, or the production masterpieces that come later when they have more time to make them. But that doesn't make 'Neanderthal Man' and its companion tracks a bad song; actually 10cc could easily have got a career off the back of this song and recorded another eleven jam songs based around different drum tracks and periods in history ('I'm a Renaissance bloke, you're a Renaissance lady, watch out for Michaelangelo, he's up to something shady') and no one would have batted an eyelid. In a parallel universe somewhere Hotlegs – who also chose their a name because the band were adamant no one was going to see their face and they wanted the most unlikely name for themselves in rock history so their friends could have a good laugh - might even have had a book in the AAA series in their own right. After all, 'Neanderthal Man' isn't that far removed from the 'Kassenatz Katz' songs like 'Umbopo' the band had already come up with, even if it is a lot catchier and lot more, well, relatable (Well, ish. I don't think cavemen behaved like this, but then I can't even begin to guess what an 'umbopo' is!)
However, when the band were given the chance to make a long-playing record, their musical instincts kicked in - eventually. As far as 10cc were concerned, this might be the only record they'd ever get to make together and they wanted to make it a good one that was based on the skills they'd learnt in their 'other' groups. The band have had so many ideas piling up for so long that they don't quite know what to do with them so we get all of them, with the most 'complete' version of this record (the one re-released in 1976 at the peak of 10cc's fame) running for a full fifty-one minutes thanks to a couple of extra songs. And they are songs too - real songs this time, based around melody and prettiness and lyrical ideas, not drum tracks and chanting. Well, by and large: actually fans of the single would have enjoyed the opening track 'Um Wah Um Woh' for coming from a similar place to the single with its caveman chanting and an early try-out for some of the ideas in future cannibal novelty song  'Baron Samedi', but that aside 'School Stinks' is not the record fans of the single would have expected at all. Pretty much all the other songs on here are gorgeous lilting Godley ballads, full of pathos and emotion and sung far 'straighter' than anything 10cc will do, with the exception of the sarcasm of the title of 'Suite: FA' and the desperate novelty of 'Desperate Dan'. Even more confusing for fans who wanted an album like the single is the fact that Godley sings on everything bar one song even though it was Creme who sang on 'Neanderthal Man'. Even more confusing than that for modern fans is the fact that Eric Stewart, as close to a 'leader' as any band as democratic as 10cc could have, keeps his mouth shut barring 'Run Baby Run' and plays perhaps two guitar solos the whole record (they're both goods one though, right in the middle between the bluesy blisters of the Mindbender records and the screaming clarity of the 10cc years, especially the finale to 'Um Wah Um Woh').
The result is like hearing something familiar that hasn't quite worked itself into shape yet, as if you trying to follow the recipe for pancakes but somehow ended up inventing scones instead. You can just tell, at several times across this record (usually when Eric's guitars are in full flight and Graham and Kevin are gamely holding on just before an orchestra takes the song into yet another dimension) that this band are going places and aren't that far off from the band we know and love of later years. Yet the basics are very out of kilter: you don't laugh anywhere across this record (yeah, 'Desperate Dan' wants you to but it's really not that funny), instead you go 'ah that's sweet' or maybe do a bit of crying at places, which is kind of the opposite of the 10cc philosophy. It's as if a whole group of cartoon baddies got together and went 'you know what? Let's be nice to people today and give up our booty to the poor' or The Spice Girls got together and went 'you know what? Let's write our own songs and start talking about feminist ethics and the need for equality in society instead of shouting empty slogans like 'zig-a-zig-ah' at random'. It's the future, but not quite as we know it - 10cc have a completely different outlook, belief system and attitude to Hotlegs yet ask basically the same questions (how do we make the world a better and fairer place?) and coming up with basically the same answers (by loving each other or laughing at each other) but use entirely different equations to come to the same hypothesis. Musically Hotlegs resemble 10cc a lot more than they do lyrically, but even here Hotlegs takes the quiet, understated, languid approach whereas 10cc - more often than not - demand your full attention. It's performance wise and production-wise the band sound most like what they'll become, but even here the same guitar 'n' drum sound, the same vocals and the same natty mixture of rough but exciting backing track and elaborate but necessary overdubs aren't always being used to the same effect and are used to deliver a feeling not a thought. This isn't a record that's 'clever' the way that many people complained that 10cc always were, this is a record that's built from the heart not the brain.
But it is still awfully good, an album with many highlights: 'Today' is gorgeous, a hit single in waiting in which Godley tries out  'I'm Not In Love' by both trying to hide and make himself known to his future love that's playful and innocent and warm. 'Take Me Back' has Godley pleading to be, well, taken back after listing all his faults and pining away for a love over a slow, mournful, wordy backing that's simply gorgeous (especially Gouldman's guest bass part which positively nails the mood of questioning and doubt). 'You Didn't Like It Because You Didn't Think About It' breaks up the tempo with an intense prog-rock freak-out (later recycled for  'Fresh Air For My Mama' off the 'real' 10cc debut) that wonders out loud about betrayal, bouncing back after slights and religion with Godley singing in his lower 'natural' voice for the only time on the record. 'Suite: FA' is a stronger first go at 'Feel The Benefit', an epic that takes place over nearly thirteen whole minutes as Godley figures out his love life with all its twists and turns, so much so that the band keep coming back for more. Eric's guitar is masterful here on what is easily the most 10cc moment on the record. 'Um Wah Um Woh' might be a very daft record, but it's tougher than it sounds and has a fascinating philosophical lyric underneath it's chanting and two minute long caveman coda. And then of course there's 'Neanderthal Man' which doesn't belong on this album at all (even though it sits right at the heart of it in all three versions of this album released in 1970, 1971 and 1976) but which is welcome on all these sets, a groundbreaking moment of funk and soul and feeling to interrupt the lengthier wordier songs. Yes we also get the silliness of 'Desperate Dan', the grunts of 'Lady Sadie' and 'All God's Children' is a variation on 'Today' too far, all three of which deserve to be buried away and forgotten. Most of this record, though, is up to the standard of any of the main 10cc LPs, easily. It's a tragedy this much-sought-after rarity isn't better known - it was just that after the single this record was marketed wrong and to completely the wrong audience. Then again if it had been a success then maybe the band would have been stuck like this and, good as it is, it is no substitute for the de facto 10cc sound.
You can kind of understand why none of Hotlegs/10cc have gone out of their way to put this record out again - it is patchy and occasionally downright embarrassing, while even the best parts of it tend to ramble without the finely poised pruning shears of the later years. And yet it's more than good enough to sit alongside the other 10cc releases, even the best of the others. As overall listening experiences go it’s actually a far less rocky ride than the exhilarating rollercoaster of ‘Sheet Music’ or the patchiness of ‘How Dare You!’, perhaps because most of the songs are coming from a similar place while even 'Desperate Dan' slots in as the record's 'oddball' the same way that  'Sacro-Illiac' or  'Iceberg' will on those two albums. The exotic array of instruments – Stewart and Creme can play practically anything and did, even back then – dominates the mix far more than any vocalists though and overall it’s the quirky well-though-out arrangements that make this sometimes tired mix of songs sound better than it actually is. Ignored for far too long, this is one of those rare early records by a future mainstream band that really does deserve a re-appraisal because - unlike the early Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel records legally pulled from the shelves several times over the years – it works as both a stepping stone towards what’s coming later and as a genuinely interesting album in its own right. Hotlegs are so hot they're positively cool and sound it (most of the time at least) even if you haven't got a clue what's coming next to measure the band against.
 ‘Um Wah, Um Woh’ might not be the greatest song that Godley and Creme ever wrote but it’s certainly memorable and is likely to be the song you’re still singing its manic funky riff hours after taking the needle off the record despite the fact that there’s still so many more songs to come. It’s the closest Hotlegs ever came to re-creating the magic in a bottle that was ‘Neanderthal Man’ and a has a nicely rocky sound that the rest of the album ignores except for brief moments. Stewart’s 1950s-ish guitar licks and Godley’s groovy drumming are already locked into a great battle that sounds like the darker side of the 1950s compared to the purity of  ‘Donna’ to come, while vocally this is a pre-cursor of the tribal-heavy songs from ‘Sheet Music’. But then the harmonies kick in (‘don’t suffer in sii-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ilence now’) and suddenly this messy raw song changes in a heartbeat and it sounds like CSN at their peak – blissful, effortless and turning in dozens of directions at once thanks to the four very different vocalists uniting as one. We’re getting every 10cc card they used, then, in the first few minutes of their first (sort-of) record. But interestingly, there’s hardly any comedy on this record – lots of bizarre ideas, yes, but nothing designed to make you laugh out loud – and even this song’s silly title doesn’t sound quite so silly anymore when you realise that it’s the sound of a tribe desperately trying to communicate and getting frustrated that they can’t. It sounds even less silly when you realise that your first instincts are wrong and that the cavemen in the song are actually the modern us, still struggling to communicate with each other and ‘dead inside’. In one of the cleverest twists of any 10cc-linked record he contrast between the tribal monosyllabic verses and the sustained soaring harmonies in the chorus sounds so huge – because it represents the gap between how we are now and what we could be. By the end we get a rare display of gospel as Godley realises that ‘the blind amongst us can hear! The deaf amongst us can speak!’ and that everyone still has a chance at communicating somehow with something. This realisation is celebrated by a glorious two minute guitar solo from Eric that’s rare for him, building up out of slow peaks and circling its way round the mixes’ panning system left and right as if trying to soar away from us. This song then goes back to grunting but in a much more exciting way than before, this a capella-with-percussion moment going round and round for much longer than you expect it to, with a full ten ‘un-wah un-woh um-wah-um-woh-who um-wah-um-wah-um-wah-um-wah-um-wooooooah!s before the instruments suddenly kick back in. The result is gloriously exciting as you hear each breathe in and every small grunt as Eric, Kev and Lol all chant together and try to stay together, living out this tale of telepathy by trying to stay in synch with each other. Hotlegs are good at this sort of raw power and never more than here on this album highlight and it’s a shame in many ways that 10cc lose this ability (only on  ‘Blackmail’ will they ever be quite this exciting again). A deep slab of philosophy on what it means to communicate masquerading as a novelty track with one of the best riffs in this book - all that and its guaranteed to have you singing ‘um wah um woh um wah um woh woh’ for hours. Good show, lads.
Next up we get the lilting  ‘Today’, a ballad that displays all of the 10cc quirks not yet displayed in the last song. In time to come most fans will recognise that there’s usually something up with characters when Kevin starts giving them voice with his own vocals, sugary sweet and innocent like this. More often than not they turn out to be secret villains hiding something or are at least bitterly sarcastic and trying not to let it show; this track though answers the questions about what a song where Kevin sings sweetly and means it might sound like: beautiful is the result. None of this track is particularly new or startling – it sounds like a load of Paul McCartney ballads stuck together and sent through the wash – but it is very very pretty and the contrast between the deliberately hesitant and unsure vocals and the confident, constant backing track is impressive. In a neat mirror of  ‘I’m Not In Love’ Kev’s narrator plucks up the courage to ask a girl out, too shy to let her see him, mirrored by a later verse where he seems to be patching things up after a split. Both times he knows that ‘today is a very important day’ that can impact on the rest of his life, with Godley overwhelmed that somebody loves him and ‘cares about my whereabouts’. The simple tune is lovely too, circling round on three notes before stabbing on a single note for the cry of ‘Today! Today! Today!’ but in a much more joyful way than this song’s close cousin ‘Take Me Back’. I wonder in fact if this song was original made up of the two stuck together, with the edgier ‘back’ intended for the middle before the band realised it wasn’t working? Suddenly an orchestra arrives out of nowhere (an orchestra! The band who made ‘Neanderthal Man’. This isn’t what fans were expecting!) and its gorgeous, dancing around the song’s tune and lifting it higher with every pass of the chorus the way a decent string arrangement should (but rarely does). The lengthy middle eight about finding someone else who feels the same way (‘I knew as much somehow!’) seems out of place here but is still fairly impressive in its own right, slipping in just enough unexpected notes to keep our interest while remaining true to the balladeering aspect of the song. Listen out too for Gouldman’s bass lines – officially this is the first ever song the quartet worked on all together, but see my notes below as to why I don’t believe this is true..10cc at their most beautiful, a much under-rated song.
Now for Neanderthal’s decidedly evolved B-side  'You Didn't Like It Because You Didn't Think About It'. Wow – a third genius song in a row! It’s all going to be downhill from here but at the moment I don’t care because here’s yet another special 10cc trick, stuffing seven or eight unfinished snippets together and turning it into a single (lengthy) song. This in itself makes it one of the most 10cc songs on the album, never settling down to be any one of these things, but in terms of mood it couldn’t be more different, cycling through stages of anger denial and grief as a depressed Godley howls over why things keep going wrong and wondering what he can possibly put his faith into this time that things are going to turn out alright. A jazzy opening, with Godley’s out of control tom toms set up against a stabbing piano, castanets and more earthy harmonies cycles for a full sixty-0five seconds, Lol’s smashed piano chords echoed by Eric’s stinging guitar and occasional overdubbed Crème guitar licks while Kev rolls around his drums in slow motion and a sea of percussion all play. It’s the very sound of someone being trapped and suffocated, made extra clever by the fact that the harmonies seem to be leading us somewhere, only for their beauty to be interrupted by a snaky guitar line playing what we’ve just heard more aggressively than ever. By the time the main song arrives it appears without fanfare, quietly resolving into a chugging turbulent blues song that sounds utterly miserable. Only with a further quieter more reflective section that feels like a weary sigh does the tension finally let up – and then it’s on a verse contemplating suicide. Godley moans in his more natural gruffer voice that ‘you can’t keep a good man down!’, snarling that he’s going to keep getting back up over and over again whatever life throws at him. However even he admits defeat in the end, wailing ‘take me away!’ and getting on the road to play again, realising that the drive that made him take up this job in the first place ‘my God…its fading away’ and asking for help. Even a switch to Kevin’s prettier falsetto feels like less of a resolution and more of a rest, Godley’s narrator sleeping on his decision to end it all, thankful that he’s survived this night at least and that it is a new day, the old one ‘over and done’. He still ends the song pleading for direction and help though, sounding deeply upset. Finally, after almost three minutes, this formerly angry song lets down its guard and admits, with tears in its eyes, that it ought to give up on the object of its affections. The band were obviously fond of this section of the song as they steal it completely for the second half of ‘Fresh Air For My Mama’ (from the first ‘proper’ album ‘10cc’), but what’s interesting is how much better the song sounds here, surrounded by grief and troubles. Instead of being a minor spark of life as it sounds on the later record, here it’s like the sun coming out. autobiographical, the second sounds almost triumphant, as if the band have overcome the obstacles by 1972 and have found hard-won fame and fortune, but in 1971 failure was a very real feeling. This, then, might well be the least 10cc lyric any of the band wrote at any time, a deep confessional that makes perfect sense for a musician who by now is twenty-four with nothing to show for his life except a string of flop singles and an art college certificate (at least Eric and Graham had had their successes by now but the closest Kevin ever came was being told The Mockingbirds’ ‘For Your Love’ was too un-commercial to be a hit single weeks before The Yardbirds’ cover of Graham’s song was exactly that). Kevin sounds fed up and asking for divine inspiration, the twist being that it comes with this song’s very A-side, against all odds. However I do wonder how heartfelt this song is: the line ‘come pick up your Bible and pray with me’ seems an odd thing for a Jewish lad who learnt to play in a Jewish band to sing and we do know that this song is almost all Godley’s work (Eric is the only Christian in the band, but even then atheist seems a closer description of his beliefs). Could it be that this song started as a generic blues offering before the band realised how heartfelt it was? The result is a quiet triumph, brilliant in every way the A-side hadn’t touched yet and showing just how much talent and heart was spilling over in this band. A one-two-three punch as good as this? Wow, that won’t be bettered until ‘Windows In The Jungle’!
So far so good, but sadly the rest of the album is a far bumpier ride all round.  ‘Fly Away’ is the first poor track on the record, repeating ‘Today’s ear-catching falsetto and fragile mood but without the strong tune or hooks to go with it. Stewart (or is it Creme’s?) guitar work is exemplary and the use of an unexpected woodwind solo is a work of genius, but however well embellished this basic song sounds like exactly the sort of thing future famous artists write for their earliest records and discard. The lyrics are odd, recalling earlier Godley works performed as ‘Frabjoy and Runciple Spoon’ or ‘The Yellow Bellow Boom Room’ by having Kevin waking up as if out of a dream which is surely one more drug-inspired given some of the imagery. He has been in this so sleep he has to teach his body how to work again and his spirit seems to leave his body to go a-wondering while ‘my body goes to seed, wo-aoh’. The song changes abruptly into a love song then as Godley tries to follow a voice he hears ‘against the wind’ and he finds that actually he isn’t flying at all but home in bed dreaming of flying away. What’s odd is that we don’t get any sense anywhere of why this character needs to escape so badly or what exactly happened when he thought he was; the later more sophisticated 10cc would have a verse in here about him feeling sick and grounded in his body, or have the wife waking him up making his heart soar in a different kind of flying, or if this was from the later darker period have the narrator awake to find nobody recognises him at all. This song, though, just ends without having really thought about where it was going to fly to. Most odd.
 ‘Run Baby Run’ is – significantly – the first time we hear a vocalist that isn’t Kevin Godley in one of his many guises and its Eric Stewart sounding like he never will again. Treated, distorted vocals are obviously meant to be there to give this generic blues-rockabilly number an identity, but as it never changes tack anywhere throughout it’s just annoying instead – Eric has such a great voice that making him sound like a croaking frog is a waste. Stewart’s narrator is getting drunk thinking about what his baby is getting up to in the city while he’s stuck in the country. Though he never says what his job is he fact that Godley hammers a glass bottle just like a chain-gang would might or might not be a clue. Bonce again though there’s no variety here and even the last verse where without explanation the couple are together again and ‘everything’s fine’ is performed in the exact same way. Elsewhere even the worst tracks on this album have some idea of change, contrast and complexity – this is just a stereotype that’s almost written on a single note and could have been made by anyone. Why was this album lengthened to 53 minutes again?!?
The next promising song on here is  ‘The Loser’, although to be honest this song can’t hold a candle to the first three on the album. Gouldman isn’t credited as being on this track but I’d swear that’s his vocal on this track, even with the dodgy accent and slight falsetto – it even has the same kind of luckless character he’ll be making his own in a few albums time. It is as if, after years of trying to sound poppy and commercial over with Kassenatz-Katz, Graham is letting loose here with a ridiculously OTT song that isn’t commercial in anyway and in 1970 would have seemed old hate with even the 1968 craze for rockabilly dead and over. This track isn’t really any more inventive than the album’s other lazy tracks and repeats the few words it does have over and over, but it is at least lively, brightened up by a terrific band performance made up of a terrific piano lick from Lol Creme and great guitar duelling from Creme and Stewart at their loudest. Note the ten second drum solo from Godley, the closest musically this album comes to re-capturing the spirit of ‘Neanderthal Man’. Interestingly, this track may well be the most 10cc-like on here – it’s encouraging us to laugh at the narrator’s problems at least – but never again will the band come right out and tell us that he’s a ‘fool’ (usually it’s because the 10cc characters don’t know any better why things keep going wrong – if only the Hancock TV series had still been going by the 1970s I can think of no better band to do the music for him). As a result, we as listeners are stuck as to whether to join in with the stop-start ha-haaing of the backing track or listen to the real desperation and hopelessness of the lyrics, which do break through the melody from time to time. An interesting experiment, this is – again – another track from this album that on the one hand sounds so 10cc-ish and yet on the other is construction-wise nothing like the rest of this album or any of the LPs to come.
Next is the album’s hit single  ‘Neanderthal Man’, which is one of those songs you either love or loathe. As for me, I love it, ah! – every repetitive, out-of-tune warbling minute of it. This song is so simple it should hurt (and to many it does) but simplicity never hurt anyone when its handled the right way and thanks to being largely improvised and then re-worked this song is so cleverly constructed that it ticks all the right boxes less cynically than most. We get the gist of the song in the first thirty seconds (its caveman grunting about being Neanderthal men making Neanderthal love) but the trick is how the song is going to build on that and keep our interest – first we get the same tune an octave higher, then we get a moody instrumental version, then we get a repeat with a much ‘heavier’ sound, then we get some tin whistle accompaniment that could have come right out of the caves and then we fade on a new riff altogether. People often under-estimate 10cc’s sense of rhythm in amongst praise for their song structures, lyrics and sheer amount of overdubbing but in actual fact many of their best songs ( Blackmail,  Wall Street Shuffle,  Rubber Bullets) are built heavily on a single rhythm which is then changed or developed in some way. Even  I’m Not In Love’ centres around the fact that the rhythm is hardly there – there are so few instruments involved the whole thing sounds like a heartbeat booming away. As for the lyrics they take every other love song that was around at the time and make it primal, the dance of love reduced to primal urges from two Neanderthals who don’t need to think to enjoy their time together. The fact that this thought comes with the deep throbbing pulse of Godley’s drums testing the four-track is inspired, performed not the way most bands approaching this sort of song would (all Who and jumpy) but slow and teasing, precisely because the whole point of this song as first recorded was to get that heavy thud echoey sound of the drums for safe-keeping on Strawberry Studios’ four-track machine. You spend the song waiting for every inevitable thud which sound slow yet graceful, so much so it’s easy to see why Lol’s brain began to think in terms of Neanderthals when he was messing around with the song. Impressively though this is not a song about stupid love so much as simple love – it may not be quick, it may not be clever, but there’s still something downright beautiful about this song that makes it work. What’s more it is an under-rated influential song too, one driven not by plot or melody but by rhythm and with the drums the lead part on a hit single for the first time since the flipping Dave Clark Five. You wouldn’t want to hear a whole LP of it (even though that is I suspect precisely the reason why ‘School Stinks’ didn’t sell to an audience desperate for more of this), but ‘Neanderthal Man’ sounds so unlike any other record made, even now, that it seems unfair to relegate it to the status of an unloved, forgotten track forever doomed to pop up as an unexpected extra on the more thorough 10cc compilations out there.
 ‘How Many Times?’ is the last true classic on the album (yes, as early as the first track on side two the good times are almost all over!) and is much more in keeping with the kind of progressive, complex but still undeniably singalong pop that existed in 1970. It’s too reserved to be glam and yet too flashy to be sixties pop; 1970 was one of the biggest crossover period’s in music and this song seems caught up in the exact halfway point between both. Godley is on strong form on the vocal once more (impressive for someone who only had, I believe, three vocal appearances in the whole of his career before this record and one of those was buried by Gouldman’s lead with the Mockingbirds), asking a series of rhetorical questions that he knows will never be answered. This song tries hard to be ‘Blowing In the Wind’ with a similar sing-songy melody and lyrics that are just a series of rhetorical questions (can rhetorical questions ever work in music? Is that gag too postmodern?) but unlike many songs on this album Hotlegs keep the tension up throughout, switching gears in a way that will become second nature to this band and which they nearly pull off here. The backing is what makes this curious song about pulling yourself back up from defeat over and over – there’s a glorious bubbling bass (surely Gouldman’s uncredited work again?) and some sunshiney guitar that in true 10cc fashion has been connected to a piano to sound like a hybrid instrument (a pianar or a guitano?) What isn’t very 10cc is that after a verse and a middle eight the song basically comes to a complete halt for not just one but two instrumental breaks that take the song through to an unlikely end. The first is more what you’d expect and is genuinely thrilling, when a bunch of strings sweep in from nowhere and start noodling around the song’s central riff, as if they’re busy knocking down the same doors as the narrator. A less likely moody second section then mixes a country hoedown with some starkly played bluesy guitar riffs as if the song has just switched over from rock fm to country mid-song only to find the same track playing. Across this confusing finale the song wanders further and further away from its original template, leaving the questions largely unanswered and unanswerable.
 ‘Desperate Dan’ tries hard to be a fun novelty number in a very 1970s way (‘Oh My! I eats cow pie! It makes me high!), but the problem is that these jokes don’t come from the band but from the long-lasting Dandy comic where the Wild West strongman appeared in every issue every week between 1937 and 2013 (minus the odd issue scrapped because of World War II). To be honest it makes perfect sense that not only would 10cc know this comic they would also prefer it to its more famous companion comic The Beano (made by the same publishers D CD Thomson): it tended to be broader, wackier and naughtier with larger-than-life characters who all sound as if they have just walked in from a 10cc album. It is a surprise, actually, that the band never tried a similar thing again (‘Bananaman’, a hapless super hero who is really a schoolboy trying to avoid his homework and who has a most unusual allergic reaction to eating bananas, sounds like an outtake from ‘Sheet Music’). However it all sounds a bit, well, weird – and not in a good way. Remember that this song about a comic book hero designed for the nation’s eight-year-olds is being sold on the back of a song about Neanderthals making love and that to anyone who doesn’t know who these characters are it comes off as gibberish (for instance cow pie is, for those who don’t know, the way Desperate Dan keeps his strength up and are cooked whole with their tails sticking out of the pie dish). What’s more the narrator isn’t Desperate Dan but someone who feels desperate, which is weird in itself because – despite the name – Dan is nearly always fully in charge (if oblivious to the chaos his strong-arm antics create in the town of Gulchville). Later 10cc songs would tell us exactly why this character feels desperate but no, yet again this repetitive song tells us nothing much at all (except a previously unknown hallucinogenic side-effect of eating too many cow-pies). A fun rumble around Godley sounding drunk, a country tonk piano, a rough sounding saxophone, a guitar solo by Eric that sounds like a dress rehearsal for the rockabilly of his solo set ‘Frooty Rooties’ and a chance for 10cc to go even more outré in the vocals is sadly not enough of a reason for Hotlegs to inflict this song on us. Even the applause at the end following a particularly dumb and unnecessary false-ending seems subdued and ends suddenly, almost as if they realised what they were really up to and got embarrassed.
 ‘Take Me Back’ is at least a much more substantial song, full of the worry that would be a fine song in its own right but it’s the third – count them – third song on a single album to repeat the trick of having Kevin Godley sing a fragile sounding song to a simple guitar accompaniment (and some low-mixed organ) on what sounds like the exact same tune as ‘Today’ but sung in a sadder frame of mind. This is the start of a run of songs about feeling depressed about a love life which seem an odd response to getting a hit song with a tale of Neanderthal lust, but that’s romantic singer-songwriters for you. Kevin is beginning to have second thoughts about being tied down for the rest of his life, his art school instructions coming to the fore as he vows to leave – only for him to change his mind and ask to be taken back as ‘I was never meant to be a pilgrim’. What’s interesting on this surely unique 10cc song about wanting to stay where it’s safe and cosy is how successfully Hotlegs convey that feeling in music, with Kevin’s honey-dripping falsetto accompanied by just the right folky balance of acoustic guitar, strings and a subtle organ part that ebbs and flows across the song. At least until the final minute which out of nowhere throws this song into turmoil with another snarling Eric Stewart guitar part that suggests that just maybe the narrator is changing his mind again and is doomed to an endless cycle of feeling hemmed in then breaking free. The string solo in the middle is nice, adding depth to this song’s already plentiful atmosphere, but there’s only so many times we can hear Godley’s narrators moaning about things going wrong and yearning for the past that we can take on one record. The lyrics on this song also vary wildly – ‘put your hand in my pocket and dance’ is a line I never thought I’d get to hear from a band as clever as 10cc. The result is a song that would have worked well on a less soggy album and without the exact same tune as ‘Today’ but here just feels like one piece of repetition too far.
 ‘Lady Sadie’ is an odd song. Yeah, I know, I’ve said that a lot in this review so far and its always been true, but this song is really really odd. Four minutes of chugging pop-blues of a sort that only ever seemed to be around in the early 1970s (it sounds identical to Crazy Horse song ‘Dirty Dirty’ for one), this is 10cc trying to work out why ‘neandertgal Man’ was so successful and figuring, wrongly, that they can do ‘raunchy’. Lady Sadie, you see, is either a prostitute or a girl who is close enough to make no difference and aint’ really a lady at all. Kevin gets hot under the collar just thinking about her and her daughter in a threesome (!) and looks forward to some slap and tickle on the single most ‘Carry On’ style 10cc song of them all (just beating  ‘Un Nuit En Paris’ in a heated final). The backing is quite impressive in a ‘gee, they’ll never sound like this again!’ kind of a way with a blaring horn section now to go alongside the strings. It’s typical for this topsy-turvy album though that its this insubstantial track, even more than ‘Desperate Dan’, which is dressed up to the nines and turned into an epic when it is a minor B-side at best. Some bands made whole careers out of single-riff jams turned into songs like this one; thankfully ‘Lady Sadie’ is the first and last such song in the 10cc canon.
Blooming heck, I’d forgotten about  ‘All God’s Children’, the – gulp – fourth song on the album built around the melancholic fragile riff for ‘Today’. Sure it’s a nice riff and 10cc does the pretty ballad card better than most, but this sense of déjà vu across the record is getting silly. Godley is in good form – again, the guitar playing’s nice – again, but this time around even the harmonies are pretty ropey and the tempo is even slower than before. The chorus line - and I mean line, it’s a single sentence – is the song’s only real saving grace, sounding like a missing section of Brian Wilson’s ‘Smile’ with the descending minor key line passage accompanied by the words ‘look while they play’. We even get a mention of ‘California’ in the next line, just to acknowledge where the ideas are coming from. Godley was, if you were wondering, a pretty big Beach Boys fan (naming ‘God Only Knows’ as one of his favourite songs by anybody in a 2016 interview) and this is about the closest he comes to aping his heroes’ late 1960s period (i.e. after they hung up their surfboards). Brian Wilson would, though, make rather more of a basic idea than this somehow with nothing much to add except the hippie idea that all children are blessed (what, even the ones suffering unprecedented poverty under the Conservative party?) Fascinating evidence of 10cc role-playing then (they’re singing about how pretty their hometown of California is but the most exotic town any of them came from was Manchester), but it’s too slow, too dull and too much like what we’ve had already.
The closing  'Suite F.A.' tries hard to be the mammoth album closer this record needs – in fact, it tries so hard the record ends on a perfectly suitable note at least four times before starting back up again. What’s odd is that none of these sections feel at all as if they belong in an epic song being more of Godley’s panic and worry over his love-life and they have very little to do with the other sections too except a general feeling of restlessness. There’s not much focus here, just a jumble of sections stuck together a la ‘Abbey Road’ (that album has an awful lot to answer for...the first section of this track even sounds like a sped up version of that album’s ‘Sun King’). Across the song Godley pleads with his beloved that he will have to leave soon if things don’t change and the next thirteen minutes are basically him stalling, hoping that she will invite him back again. Though it starts off as laidback as Kevin’s other contributions to the album the stinging instrumental section, with Eric and Lol’s guitars screaming in each other’s faces, hints at what a life-changing situation this is for the narrator and it’s almost a shame when we get the first of our false starts and Godley walks back in for another laidback encore. ‘I’ve got a lot to lose’ he urges his lover before deciding that ‘love is blind’. Next Kevin gets nasty with a sudden switch to what in 1970 was as close as any white musician got to a reggae lilt as he asks why his love is holding out for someone better. ‘Don’t ypou know you’re getting older|? Don’t look back across your shoulder, the wind is growing bolder and it might just knock you over!’ is surely the best couplet on this album by the future masters of the genre but it feels out of place somehow alongside an ‘I don’t care, woah!’ chorus that kicks in just when it’s clear the narrator plainly does (nobody writes thirteen minute suites about love if they don’t care). Just as this passage is out-staying its welcome in comes some Lol barrelhouse piano and we think we’re giving up for a rocky fade. Only Kevin can’t bring himself to leave things there and instead we get a new walking-pace tempo part with Eric and Lol now audible in the vocals for the first time. Unfortunately this soon decelerates into a long list of rhyming words ending in ‘-ation’ rather than being a proper ending (‘celebration’ ‘invitation’). This is perhaps the weakest section of the song and ill-fitting for the finale of such a lengthy piece as after thirteen minutes we’re no closer to an end to the story, with Kevin still asking to ‘get back home’. Throughout this lengthy piece seems as if it is about to settle down and do something really good but it never quite arrives at the familiar melody you feel the song is just about to segue into and each section is perhaps a little long for it’s own good. Still, it is nothing if not ambitious and about as far removed from playing it safe as a follow-up to ‘Neanderthal Man’ as the band could possibly get. Perhaps the best thing about it is the title, a very 10cc style joke that it all means ‘sweet fuck all’ but even better than that is the fact the band get to credit to a children’s choir for on the sleeve (there is no children’s choir you see, so they get credited for doing, well, f all).
Overall, then, it’s a complete hodge-podge this album, with many of the things that 10cc will later build on for huge success later in the decade along with many things that we’re rather glad that they dropped. Still, as embarrassments go, this album is a rewarding one and this lengthy LP is stuffed with so many discarded ideas and sketchy thoughts that most bands fail to match it throughout their whole careers, never mind a first go. So how about a CD release guys? (Even the limited edition is missing a good third of the tracks and yes, typically, the ones missing are the ones most worth hearing). If nothing else this album is great to hear as a sort of alternate universe LP where 10cc were Godley’s band rather than a democracy and where they spent their time recording emotional ballads rather than intellectual quests. Even with limited horsepower and a couple of engine mis-fires 10cc can still set a mighty high standard and while I wouldn’t swap it for even a drop of that style to come Hotlegs are genuinely entertaining in their own right away from just being 10cc back in the days before they were prime numbers. A patchy and confusing but fascinating and under-rated LP.