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When pop goes subversive

June 2, 2011

Were it not for a prior engagement (with Greg Allman), I would be heading down to the Hop Festival in Kent on July 1 to savour one of the most unusual bands in pop-rock history. Tucked into a line up that includes my mate Andy (with Erland and the Carnival), the Eagles and Death Cab For Cutie, is 10CC.

Now I want you to imagine that it is the early 1970s. Young boys/men with flowered shirts, hair-does and flared trousers are hopping and bopping on the dance floor with young girls/women in short skirts, tight sweaters, platform heels and perhaps a bit of glitter. The music that has them going is pop with a touch of rock — harmless stuff that even parents might swivel their hips to.

But wait. What are those lyrics? Rubber bullets flying in a county jail? Wall Street bankers selling they mothers for cash? Paying for sex with a French girl in Paris? Life is a minestrone?  Death is a cold lasagne?

10CC are one of the most subversive bands ever to play to a popular audience. Sure Dylan wore his beatnik angst on his sleeve and Pink Floyd had a generation of psychedelics saying they didn’t want no education. But that was not music that played to the heart of Middle England (and to a lesser extent Middle America). The band’s lyrics honed in on issues that many of those 1970s hoppers and boppers would never have thought about.

“Wall Street Shuffle”, for example, is all about unfettered capitalist greed:

You’ve gotta be cool on Wall Street
When your index is low
Dow Jones ain’t got time for the bums
They wind up on skid row with holes in their pockets
They plead with you, buddy can you spare the dime
But you ain’t got the time

“Rubber Bullets” is about police brutality:

Load up, load up, load up with rubber bullets
Load up, load up, load up with rubber bullets
I love to hear those convicts squeal
It’s a shame these slugs ain’t real
But we can’t have dancin’ at the local county jail

“Oh Effendi” is about gun-running in the Arab world:

There’s a lot more goodies in the pipeline
So this ain’t the time to close the deal
Here’s the deal
Ooh, now you’ve got a Howitzer all of your own
Ooh, and a Panzer division to chauffeur you home
Gun running is fun
But hang on, friends, hang on friends

Even when 10CC get romantic, it has an edge that goes well beyond what most pop fans are used to. Their big hit “I’m Not In Love” is about a macho kid who can’t accept that he is smitten. He only keeps the girl’s picture on the wall to hide a stain. The sarcastic chorus unveils him with “Big boys don’t cry, big boys don’t cry”.

Religion, too, get short shrift in “The Second Sitting for the Last Supper”.

Another fish head in the dustbin
Another loser in the queue for the soup kitchen
Another reason for a visit
We think you’d better come down

Two thousand years and he ain’t shown yet
We kept his seat warm and the table set
The second sitting for the Last Supper

Hard to imagine such lyrics pouring out of a pop song today. But strangely, the 1970s sentiments are not out of place. Perhaps 10CC  were not subversive enough.


From → Music

One Comment
  1. Ron Askew permalink

    Most illuminating. I recall some of those songs clearly, yet only now do I realise the significance of the lyrics, esp for ‘Ru-uh-uh-uh-uh-ubber bullets’ and ‘Not in love.’ The cheeriness of the former now sounds richly wry.

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