13
Aug 07

10CC – “Rubber Bullets”

FT + Popular83 comments • 5,687 views

#332, 23rd June 1973

Like “See My Baby Jive”, “Rubber Bullets” is a really dense bit of popcraft – a restless concentrate of hooks and ideas. 1973 seems to have been a moment in pop when this overload strategy was commercially viable: intelligent, detail-rich, sometimes exhausting pop music has been made ever since but it’s usually been marginal, often self-consciously so. In ’73 10cc, ELO, and Roy Wood were regulars at the business end of the charts: what was going on? My guess: some of it’s a post-Beatles hangover (they quit instead of going further up and further in to studio solipsism); some of it’s a reaction to progressive rock; some of it’s a simple and agreeable desire for the charts to be more overtly clever than they usually are.

“Clever” is a weasel word in pop criticism, there’s almost always a silent “too” attached. “Rubber Bullets” is clever, though, a bit of wry pop marginalia. It’s a record that makes sense – or makes a certain kind of sense – when you grok its central conceit: a version of “Jailhouse Rock” from the authorities’ perspective. I appreciate the joke – and the track had an extra frisson at the time, as its sardonic glee at repressive tactics could be seen as a comment on police action in Northern Ireland. But now I know the riddle’s answer I can’t help but think, when I listen to it, “This isn’t actually as good as Jailhouse Rock, is it?”*

It’s still quite good, though – full of life and gallop and the occasional awful pun. And it’s an interesting record, because it’s posing a question which is enormously important to seventies pop – what do we do about rock and roll? Both in the sense of realising that the generation who listened to it are still listening, and in the sense of coping with the memory of its energy, and how that energy might be rediscovered. Rock and roll revivals were one recurrent, numbing answer – “Rubber Bullets” may not be a complete success, but 10cc’s solution is certainly more intriguing.

*(Which made it quite easy to mark, of course – it lost a second point, quite unfairly, for reminding me of the Beach Boys’ horrendous “Student Demonstration Time”)

5

Comments

  1. 1
    Rosie on 13 Aug 2007 #

    The political overtones of this song were, I think, pretty obvious at the time. The mayhem in Northern Ireland was it its most chaotic and the RUC at their most trigger-happy. This kind of tongue-in-cheek appropriation and inversion of a well-known classic (even more so in 1973) was far more effective than McCartney’s clunky and ham-fisted attempt at comment. I can’t remember if this one got banned by the BBC, but it did, I think, receive restricted airplay.

    All the same, it’s not Jailhouse Rock and I think it would be unfair to try to make a direct comparison. Each was in tune with the spirit of its time, 10cc reflecting the air of playful anarchy that was still around, even though it would all change within three months when the seventies was about to begin in earnest with the Yom Kippur War, the oil crisis, and the sense (once again) that it was all going to end in tears.

    I liked Rubber Bullets then and I like it now, and I won’t dock a point for not being Elvis in 1956 – six from me.

  2. 2
    Erithian on 13 Aug 2007 #

    I’ll allow myself a quick moment of Manchester-born civic pride to mark a Manc band’s appearance at Number 1 (recorded in Strawberry studios in Stockport). I’ve often thought of this one as a song standing in for a video – you can imagine what Godley and Creme themselves might have done with it ten years later. I always used to try to join in with the double drumbeat at the right time, just as the “wakkadadack” intro faded. Happy days. And looking back, the line “we all got balls and brains” was a bit risqué for its time, wasn’t it? I wasn’t aware of it getting restricted play on the BBC, but this and the Ulster overtones were two possible reasons.

    Number 2 Watch – 10cc prevented a chart milestone, as they stopped Fleetwood Mac’s re-issued “Albatross” from returning to the top a mere four years after it originally got there. And looking further down, what a good time this was for chart pop, whether you deem it “(too) clever” or otherwise – “One and One is One”, “Stuck in the Middle with You”, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, “Frankenstein”, “Broken Down Angel”, “Walk on the Wild Side”… Marcello’s right, it was a darn good year.

  3. 3
    katstevens on 13 Aug 2007 #

    I’d never heard this song until this afternoon. First impressions? I’m not convinced by over-cheerful schaffle (sounding like the Beach Boys’ Fun Fun Fun but played with the T-Rex guitar sound) and the theme seems contrived rather than clever. From the middle eight onwards things get more interesting: the falsetto vocal by the drummer and the eerie solo give more bite.

  4. 4
    Marcello Carlin on 13 Aug 2007 #

    It should be noted that “Rubber Bullets” is the only UK number one single to have any connection with Jonathan King – it appeared on his UK label. Make of that what you will, especially his retrospective comments about seventies pop stars all being automatic Vauxhall Conference promotions not good enough to cut it in the sixties…

    On yesterday’s POTP (August 1968) Dale played “Uncle Joe The Ice Cream Man” by what was left of the Mindbenders (Eric Stewart very audibly in control)…a strange and clearly transitory record, revelling in the second childishness common to post-psych British pop of the period…but already you can hear what would end up as 10cc revving up with those dual guitar leads and general toughening up of vocals and production.

    “Rubber Bullets”‘ extreme similarity of feeling, tempo and vocal delivery (Lol Creme IS Donald Fagen!) to “Reelin’ In The Years” indicates not only that 10cc was our Steely Dan (and explains why the latter never really progressed beyond cult status in the UK; they sold reasonably healthy quantities of albums but had only one really major hit single – “Haitian Divorce” at the end of ’76, though “Do It Again” and “FM” both registered lower down the listings) to Roy’s Todd, but also the overriding tendency in not-quite-glam Britpop (and American FM rock) at the time towards self-referentiality and post-modernism; these were sixties veterans who knew their way around both studios and demographics and knew that we had come sufficiently far to look back and warp the music we’d been through (Roxy Music were the same tendency in extremis at the other, far more glam, end of things).

    “Rubber Bullets” is entryism in reverse (i.e. smuggling in lyrical rather than musical radicalism) so that a buoyant piece of singalong bubblegum (the rhythm of which reappears in an unlikely 1977 number one) is used to croon sweetly about prison riots, with acknowledged allegories to both Irish and Vietnam questions (“Uncle Sam belongs in the exercise yard”), but the prog-rockers within the group also take the opportunity to extend the song out into limpid meditations on imminent apocalypse (Godley’s “Padre” sequence is still pretty chilling) and the song eventually fails to resolve, trailing away (in its five minute plus album incarnation) into grinding feedback.

    I think it all works; like “Donna,” which had only just missed the number one slot a year earlier, the record is equally effective if taken straight or ironically (I guess that’s why “The Worst Band In The World” stiffed in early ’74 since it is brilliant but only really works on the irony level); you can appreciate it either way. And it added to the non-embarrassment of riches which made 1973 a remarkably terrific year. I’d give it a seven.

  5. 5
    Erithian on 13 Aug 2007 #

    Since you mention “Do It Again”, another piece of Mancuniana, and a timely one given this weekend’s sad news – in the late 70s the intro to “Do It Again” was the theme tune to “What’s On”, which began as a five-minute slot at the end of the local news, and expanded to become essential viewing for North-Westerners: the vehicle through which Tony Wilson introduced us to Manchester’s (and Liverpool’s) cultural life, and to the likes of Patrik Fitzgerald, John Cooper Clarke and Big In Japan. R.I.P.

  6. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 13 Aug 2007 #

    Which in turn reminds me: 10cc built Strawberry Studios, the recording studio of choice for Martin Hannett and Joy Division. More words from me about Mr Manchester on the blog later on today.

  7. 7

    10cc were almost completely off my radar at the time — i *think* they appeared in the market-research project i conducted at school in order to induct myself into rock fandom (<---- didn't just go mad recently) but i am not sure if any of that still remains (i hope it does, i will post it if i ever find it!)

  8. 8
    Rosie on 13 Aug 2007 #

    I’m struggling to find the link between Lol Creme and Donald Fagen, although if I really try I can see the common idea of the enigmatically subversive lyric set to a catchy tune. I did begin to wonder if Lol could have done The Nightfly (which, if it isn’t my all-time favourite album is certainly up there with the contenders.) Lol might well have come up with something like Kamakiriad, however.

    But what’s this about Steely Dan being only of ‘cult’ status in the UK? I loved the Dan and still do. So did most of the people around me. The singles chart was pretty marginal in 1973. Nobody would have called Led Zeppelin a ‘cult’ band but they hardly set the singles charts on fire. The things I and most of my circle liked at this time, and bought as albums, were Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, ELP, and all those other things that the punk movement professed to despise, presumably because the performers had O-levels and knew how to play their instruments. I thought 10cc were amongst the despised too – but their intelligent work stood out from the singles charts at the time.

    I think you can guess which side I’ll be on a couple of years down the road, can’t you!

  9. 9
    Tom on 13 Aug 2007 #

    Steely Dan only had one top 10 album too though – Aja. I have no idea how widely they were liked at the time but cult band doesn’t seem too far off looking at the chart placings.

    (I am a big Steely Dan fan too – they were kind of a watershed in deprogramming my music press biases when it came to older stuff) (Said deprogramming still only partial)

  10. 10
    Waldo on 13 Aug 2007 #

    Despite earlier claims, I really cannot remember this receiving restricted airplay on “Wonderful Radio One”. Quite the reverse, in fact. I felt it was one of the recurring sounds of that summer.

    It’s possible that 10CC did have Ulster in mind when “loading up with rubber bullets”, though the “Uncle Sam in the exercise yard” reference would suggest that their thoughts lay further east. The thing is, once we strip our own subjective political interpretaions away, we are left with a rollickingly fine pop song performed by a quartet of fine writers and musicians. It is a belting little number which clatters up country like a runaway intercity train, pausing only at Crewe for the “Sergeant Baker/Padre” section before taking off again. I remember being as pleased as punch when this hit the top, even though it did for Suzy Q, the dirty Manc buggers!

    Erithian – Yes, I too was captivated by “One and One is One” as well as with “Rising Sun” by the same pair. I used to think they looked pretty odd but that is not important. Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” I only discovered after the event. It was a big US Number One but had little impact here. Belting piece of music, though.

    Marcello – Yes, I’m afraid that the sticky hands of Jonathan King were all over this and all over 10CC, in fact. The “impressario” even gave the group its name. Good spot that this was his only chart topper; ironic , of couse, since it’s all about being banged up in the boob. Bloody Tony Orlando again. I agree in addition with your apparent comparison between 10CC and Steely Dan, though if I enlarge on this, I could very well find myself in “Pseuds Corner” for very good reason…

  11. 11

    i read about steely dan long before i heard em, and certainly they were TOTALLY off-radar in my school — compared to everyone else rosie mentions, who (for example) all sold out stafford bingley hall on a regular basis, and also compared to glam, which was had a big following among older kids

    (my “punk” experience w.SD is that they got a bit of a free pass by being cult, actually, and “clever” and “jazzy” — ie phds instead of o-levels?)

  12. 12
    Marcello Carlin on 13 Aug 2007 #

    There is something of a difference between megabands like Zep, Floyd and Yes who deigned not to release singles in Britain because they were “above” that sort of thing and the likes of the Dan and Little Feat who were much praised in the music press and played by the Roger Scotts and Johnnie Walkers of that world but never really translated the peer respect into huge sales; I gather that The Nightfly outsold all the Steely Dan albums put together in the UK, and I’m sure that had “Stairway To Heaven” been released, uncut, as a single in Britain it would have had a run at the top at least comparable to “Bo Rhap.”

    Lol Creme ended up in one of the later incarnations of Art of Noise but more about that when we get to the second 10cc number one…

  13. 13
    Marcello Carlin on 13 Aug 2007 #

    My dad loved Steely Dan, though, precisely because of the jazz input and that they had Proper Musicians like Victor Feldman and Phil Woods helping out, so that “validated” the whole thing…

  14. 14
    Waldo on 13 Aug 2007 #

    The Dan for me dovetailed into the excellent Spyro Gyra in a easy jazzy sort of way. They were known initially, I think, as The Pleasant Music Gang. I wonder why they changed the name?!

  15. 15
    Erithian on 13 Aug 2007 #

    When I gave an Australian friend a copy of “British Hit Singles”, she was aghast that Zeppelin had had no UK hit singles whereas Kylie had had plenty. “Weren’t they popular in Britain?” she asked…

    “Stairway” a long-running number 1 single? – have you thought this through? Bo Rhap had plenty of airplay at 5’ 48” or whatever, but would a single of that length have had enough airplay, even in an era where Purple and Sabbath were having hit singles? A nice “what if?” scenario though.

    By the way, a singing bassist deposed at number 1 by a singing drummer (even if he wasn’t the main featured vocalist) – what are the chances?!

  16. 16
    Pete Baran on 13 Aug 2007 #

    As late as 1988 / 1989 Stairway To Heaven would regularly be number one in the Capital Radio Hall Of Fame (an all comers annual “voted for by listeners” chart which would fill Christmas to New Year). It had not quite become the Capital FM of today, but was a pretty good barometer of popular taste, so yes – I think Marcello is right. Stairway To Heaven would have been a pretty potent chart force and actually quite easy to cut for radio play if need be (in much the same way Paranoid Android was, but more if THAT much much later).

  17. 17
    Tom on 13 Aug 2007 #

    Wasn’t it also a regular winner in the John Peel Festive 50, back when it was still a yearly “all-time” chart?

  18. 18
    Martin Skidmore on 13 Aug 2007 #

    Yes, until 1977 it was.

  19. 19
    jeff w on 13 Aug 2007 #

    Ok, how on earth did this discussion get round to R*dioh**d?

    (In all seriousness I initially thought Pete was referring to this single and got all confused by his “more of THAT later” for a minute.)

  20. 20
    jeff w on 13 Aug 2007 #

    Back to 10cc then.

    A really important band in terms of my personal music history. Not so much “Rubber Bullets”, which I liked well enough at the time but, like Wizzard, now remember mostly as something we used to sing along to in the car or during the Sunday night Top 20 chart rundown.

    No, it was actually a few years later – 1977 – when my sister suddenly decided to acquire (or get her then boyfriend to buy for her) the complete works of 10cc 1974-77, both singles and albums, that I really got into them. (You can always rely on anolder sibling to influence your listening habits, huh?)

    In particular, the Sheet Music LP (1974), released while they were still signed to UK Records. 12 year old me must have played that record on the family stereo a hundred times, risking the wrath of my sister on occasion. I was particularly obsessed with the one-sheet inner that came with the LP, which not only contained the lyrics but listed in detail all the instruments played by each member of the band and who sang and who wrote what. And as far as the instruments were concerned, it was a pretty exotic list – a combination of electrical gizmos (including the, er, gizmo, Godley and Creme’s own invention), obscure percussion instruments and probably a few made-up names for bog-standard instruments run through an effects box, used to describe the sound they made on the song. (This was before I really knew very much about what synthesizers were or how they worked obv – although IIRC 10cc only used them sparingly anyway).

    I loved the democratic element of the band – that no one member was seemingly more important than another, that they were all multi-instrumentalists and all wrote songs together in different combinations. (The Gouldman/Stewart and Godley/Creme axes were far less obvious in ’74, at least judging by the writing credits on Sheet Music.) And I think I was fascinated by the idea of a potentially limitless world of sounds waiting to be harnessed by musicians and used creatively in pop songs.

    That sense of adventurousness was mirrored in the unusual subject matters of 10cc’s songs. And yet they still wrote great pop songs, full of hooks as well as clever lyrics. For a long time, then, their second, third and fourth albums were my benchmark against which all rock and pop LPs with pretensions to significance were measured. 1. Is it catchy pop? and 2. Does it make me re-think what a pop song can be about? Later of course I had other or different needs but for a 12-13 year old boy that was plenty.

  21. 21
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2007 #

    I don’t have my heap of 70s music papers to hand at the moment, but there were two long NME pieces by Charles Shaar Murray which praise the virtuosity and invention of 10cc while condemning them as ultimately heartless. Although 10cc are one of my very favourite acts, its a view that I do sympathise with, which is why I find their second and third chart toppers problematic and disquieting records, genuine ‘guilty pleasures’.

    Rubber Bullets I do take pleasure from unreservedly, however! Though I do respond to it as a thrilling record, rather than as a song about rioting prisoners, while when I listen to Wizzard I am thinking with delight about a jiving woman! Perhaps the only 10cc single that I can gain unaffected joy from is The Dean & I.

  22. 22
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2007 #

    Oh yes, can anybody remember what footage this song was used to compliment on The Rock ‘n’ Roll Years? Bloody Sunday and Kent State would both have been to early.

  23. 23
    Doctor Casino on 13 Aug 2007 #

    Stairway To Heaven would have been a pretty potent chart force and actually quite easy to cut for radio play if need be (in much the same way Paranoid Android was

    I wish someone had done this for “Rubber Bullets.” It’s a pretty catchy song, but I think five minutes is pushing it on material like this! A lot of the lyrics are clearly just filling time, too…I mean, does “Is it really such a crime / For a guy to spend his time” add much to the narrative?

    Agreed with those who point up the multivalent quality of the thing in terms of irony – I’d add that it’s politically vague, too, to a degree that I sort of regard as craven pandering. Depending on where you stand, you can sympathize with those jolly convicts having a dance and being gunned down with “non-lethal” ammunition…or with the vicious authority figures.

    The band do tip their hand in favor of the former with things like the Uncle Sam line and the degree to which the authorities come across as arbitrary oppressors here, just keeping down the rock and roll…but then I have to wonder, is the abuse of prisoners really something we can treat in such a light and goofy fashion? 10cc seem to picture their cast in broad comic-strip mode, the “Hogan’s Heroes” of pop. I feel like in some future, more enlightened era this song will be cited as an example of how cavalier and cold-hearted the supposedly forward-thinking youth culture actually was. It doesn’t raise my ire that much, mind you – it just kind of makes me wonder.

    It is, however, about fifty million times better than “Student Demonstration Time,” which lifts “Riot In Cell Block #9” in order to systematically ruin it. The updated inversion of “Jailhouse Rock” here is, as Tom observes, considerably more lucrative.

  24. 24
    Rosie on 13 Aug 2007 #

    Light and goofy? I’m not sure that the political element is that easily dismissed. It seems to me that Rubber Bullets is the musical equivalent of a Terry Pratchett novel – lots of froth and easy laughs, but behind all the slapstick there are serious points to be made.

    Ulster was a touchy subject in 1973. The BBC had already banned McCartney’ protest. Transferring the allusion to an American prison riot was a distraction but the message was clearly there for anybody who wanted to read it. Just as, in a different musical sphere, Verdi set Un Ballo in Maschera in colonial Boston, absurdly, when everybody knew that it was really about the assassination of the King of Sweden. But assassinating monarchs in mid-nineteenth-century Europe was a guarantee of being kept off the stage.

  25. 25
    byebyepride on 14 Aug 2007 #

    10CC rock u r all teh ghey.

  26. 26
    Doctor Casino on 14 Aug 2007 #

    Maybe you had to be there. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been unable to really get a song because of being American and 25, so I’m happy to concede that. “The message was clearly there” – not for me though! I’m really not sure what the message is, and I’m probably paying more attention to the song than its intended audience..

  27. 27
    Rosie on 14 Aug 2007 #

    No, the message probably isn’t there to those who weren’t around at the time. It was important in 1973, but I don’t think Godley Creme and Gouldman were planning on having their little spat analysed thirty-four years hence.

    Rubber Bullets has, however, survived as a rollickingly good song, demonstrating that there is much more to it than a veiled political statement. It’s still familiar today. I don’t think that can be said of Give Ireland Back To The Irish, can it?

    On the other hand, if part of this exercise is a social history of the post-war UK as reflected in the popular music it generated, then drawing attention to the political implications is valid. It’s part of the raison d’être of the song even if that element has faded away leaving behind just the song. The fact that the song stands up on its own is entirely in its favour.

  28. 28
    Pete on 14 Aug 2007 #

    Here for more details is a chart from Wikipedia of the number of rubber (and latterly plastic) bullet rounds used in Northern Ireland in the seventies:
    rubber-bullets.jpg

  29. 29
    Marcello Carlin on 14 Aug 2007 #

    “Rollicking” – there’s a word you never hear nowadays, and so far it’s been applied twice to “Rubber Bullets” here!

    The verdict of Dale, last time he played it on POTP:
    “Such a good single.”

    I imagine that a Dale Winton version of Popular could be written very quickly.

  30. 30
    Tom on 14 Aug 2007 #

    A lot of 70s pop is rollicking.

    I think the political angle (I dunno if it qualifies as anything so bludgeoning as a “message”) is hugely helped by the rollicking-ness: a bunch of smart alecks thinking “let’s get a song mentioning rubber bullets into the top 10” feels more effective than a more straightforward protest (this is what Rosie is saying I think) (this is also why I think “Wham! Rap” is one of the best political songs of the Thatcher era)

  31. 31
    Erithian on 14 Aug 2007 #

    I think the purpose of Popular is whatever Tom and its contributors want it to be, and looking at the UK’s social history is high on the list (thinking back to Tom’s earliest observations on Coronation year!)

    Interesting thought about whether the political implications have faded away leaving just the song behind, coupled with the idea of whether the writers were planning on having the text analysed 34 years hence. Yes, most pop is throwaway and intended for the here and now, but much of it is also a form of artistic expression – and just as we’d consider a play or a book in the context of the times in which it was written, intended political implications in a song never lose their validity. A Victorian music-hall or folk song is better understood if you know a bit of context, and come to think of it, we still talk about the controversial other verses of “God Save The Queen”, don’t we? (and I don’t mean the Pistols version)

    I just found myself thinking, though –I’d love to see this song shoehorned into “The Shawshank Redemption”!

  32. 32
    Marcello Carlin on 14 Aug 2007 #

    Well, it’s all part of this ever changing world in which we live in, to quote another big hit of the same period…

  33. 33
    Tom on 14 Aug 2007 #

    The Purpose Of Popular shifts around a bit but yes the UK’s social history IS something I’m interested in – I’m a little wary of making explicit connections myself in the reviews, because I don’t know a lot about 70s Britain beyond fuzzy childhood impressions (and even those won’t kick in for another few years). But the comments box massive do an excellent job of making those links.

  34. 34
    Matthew H on 14 Aug 2007 #

    What an odd band they were – or, at least, seem now. There’s no one so sly, so “clever” and so consistently at the top of the singles chart these days. Either we’re a bunch of idiots, or 10cc’s brand of hook-filled knowing winks fell out of fashion. Well, of course it did.

    I find myself wallowing in the fancies of ‘I’m Mandy, Fly Me’ and ‘The Things We Do For Love’ a little more, but ‘Rubber Bullets’ is, erm, a rollicker.

  35. 35
    intothefireuk on 14 Aug 2007 #

    10cc’s ‘Donna’ showcased Lol’s falsetto beautifully and introduced us to the sublime production & clever lyrics that they would become infamous for. ‘Rubber Bullets’ had the production & the clever lyrics but wasn’t as striking a piece of pop at least to this observer. As aluded to earlier ‘The Dean & I’ was their next masterpiece. Was it the influence of JK that led them to choose to rely on the more unusual vocals of Lol & Kev at this stage of their career ? Odd in that Eric Stewart was the better known singer (Mindbenders). IIRC they were derided for being too pristine, too clever & arty & too boring on stage and therefore they certainly fitted more into the prog asthetic and which made it all the more welcome that they decided to hang around the pop chart rather than concentrate purely on albums.

    Nice also to hear ‘balls’ on the radio.

  36. 36
    strawfoot on 14 Aug 2007 #

    I actually think Rubber Bullets is close to the perfect pop song with its classic structure. I seem to remember there being some doubts about realising it as a single, not because of the title but because it contained a slow middle section which was generally considered a bad idea. The song is definitely not about Northern Ireland and the 10cc Rubber Bullets are ‘not real’ they just make the convicts ‘squeal’

    I think the restricted airplay rumour is untrue, although if the BBC had actually realised that it contained the line ‘we all got balls and brains” things might have been different. Incidentally I believe that the ‘balls’ line was Graham Gouldman’s only ‘writing’ contribution to this song.

    Eric Stewart’s guitar solo was overdubbed to a half-speed backing track, that’s how he manages that incredible piercing quality and also why I can’t hit those notes on my guitar.

    With regards to Sheet Music. I was always fascinated by the fact that the four wrote in pairs and in all of the six possible combinations. I cannot think of another example where this has happened.

    My vote for similar sounding song/style would go to Beach Baby by First Class

    One final thing there is a line that goes “Padre you talk to your boys” – At the time the song came out I used to think the line was “Padre you talk to your boss” :)

  37. 37
    Marcello Carlin on 14 Aug 2007 #

    The BBC didn’t spot “even when she was giving head” in “Walk On The Wild Side” a couple of months previously either. Maybe they had trouble filling the censor vacancy at the time.

    There is, however, a reference to “great balls of fire” in “Big Seven” by Judge Dread, which was banned by the BBC at the beginning of 1973.

  38. 38
    Rosie on 14 Aug 2007 #

    If you called a song ‘Rubber Bullets’ in 1973 there was no way it wasn’t going to suggest Ulster in the minds of any but the most naive. I’m sure the song’s writers weren’t in the least naive.

  39. 39
    Marcello Carlin on 14 Aug 2007 #

    Whatever the motive behind it, the record is still approximately a trillion times better than “Belfast Child” by Simple Minds.

  40. 40
    David Belbin on 14 Aug 2007 #

    The great 10CC record is the follow-up, ‘The Dean and I’ imho, but this one holds up too. ‘Sheet Music’ and the first singles collection are well worth having still. I remember my friend Mike getting tickets for us to see Steely Dan at Sheffield City Hall in ’73 (a gig that was cancelled, didn’t see them for another 20 odd years). In preparation I taped a few tracks from their first two albums (tape was expensive then) – as I was trying to get my 15 year old head around the Dan, 10CC were the obvious comparison, but the Dan turned out to have a wider, more distinctive purview. 10CC remained a semi-respectable listen until the demise of the original line-up, a respect that died with ‘Dreadlocks Holiday’. As it happens, I’m going to see the half 10CC that’s still touring at the self same Sheffield City Hall with the same friend in November. Dunno what it’ll be like, but I’m mildly curious…

  41. 41
    Marcello Carlin on 14 Aug 2007 #

    Yes, after Godley and Creme left they sort of became Geir 10cc.

  42. 42
    Erithian on 14 Aug 2007 #

    I think after a while they only played “Walk on the Wild Side” after a certain time of day. I remember hearing an interview with a Radio 1 producer who was exasperated that every new daytime DJ wanted to play it and he had to talk them out of it.

    And Big Seven, like all the Judge’s records, was naughty from start to finish – he’d have been dismayed if the BBC had played any of them.

    For Doc C, katstevens and any other newbies to 10cc reading this, there are plenty of titles referred to in this thread that you can search out – plus I’d recommend “Wall Street Shuffle”, “Life is a Minestrone” and “Good Morning Judge” from their non-Number 1 canon.

  43. 43
    Waldo on 14 Aug 2007 #

    I accept that a song called “Rubber Bullets” released in 1973 was always indeed going to suggest Ulster. It’s whether one decides to persue the implied allegory through the rest of the number, which is a matter for personal interpretation. And this is the joy of the whole of this project. For some, this track is all about the tragedies of The Troubles; for Dale Winton (whom I actually think does a fine job of POTP), it is “such a good single”, although he also said that about “Pepper Box” by The Peppers, which was a penny dreadful and nothing else.

  44. 44
    Erithian on 14 Aug 2007 #

    Well don’t forget Tom’s comment circa “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” that every song recorded between 1967 and 1972 is about Vietnam at one level or other!!

  45. 45
    strawfoot on 14 Aug 2007 #

    Marcello, I don’t think Big Seven was banned for the ‘balls of fire’ line!

    I accept that the Rubber Bullets/Northern Ireland connection would be made and of course 10cc were aware of this, but my point is that the song way is in no way about NI. I could write a song called ‘Global Warming’ or ‘Friendly Fire’ but they would not be about those subjects as typically portrayed in the news. That is a clever aspect of ‘pop’ writing. i.e. take a popular phrase of the day and then exploit it, but the golden rule never refer to the ‘obvious’.

  46. 46
    Waldo on 14 Aug 2007 #

    Judge Dread (Alex Hughes) was a minder for The Stones amongst other things. He also never discouraged the rumour that he was one of The Great Train Robbers, who was never caught (there were three of these), although to mind, the prospect of that was absurd. It isn’t quite true that Dread would have been dismayed had Auntie played any of his singles. He once released a maxi-single, a format which provided a number one for a bearded, squeaky “bubble”, whom we will be discussing in the drought year, with the specific intent on getting airplay for the one clean track, an excellent version of Skeeter Davis’ “End of the World”. Alas the ploy failed and the 45 remained out of the grubbies of The Hairy Cornflake and all the rest of the Radio One nonentities of the day.

    Dread’s version of “Je t’aime” was rollicking, by the way, especially the line: “Oh, come on deary, this IS 1975…” God bless the old bastard.

  47. 47
    Tom on 14 Aug 2007 #

    Erithian – I think my point is that for every song then you’ll find someone willing to SAY it’s about Vietnam (I may or may not agree).

  48. 48
    Doctor Casino on 14 Aug 2007 #

    “On the other hand, if part of this exercise is a social history of the post-war UK as reflected in the popular music it generated, then drawing attention to the political implications is valid. It’s part of the raison d’être of the song even if that element has faded away leaving behind just the song. The fact that the song stands up on its own is entirely in its favour.”

    I agree completely… I’m just trying to piece together what those political implications actually are. Everyone seems agreed that calling it “Rubber Bullets” would undoubtedly have drawn attention and made people think about Ireland… but what the song says or doesn’t say about that issue is still unclear to me. There seems to be something to the reading promulgated by strawfoot and others, that it’s called Rubber Bullets and for the band that’s where any attempt at social commentary ends. The song isn’t clearly straight or clearly ironic enough to make a statement. I don’t think they can get off that easily, is all. But maybe we should table this discussion until we get to Doctor Casino’s first number one, the jovial, knee-slapping “Racial Profilin’.” (Although for my money, the Doc doesn’t really take off until “Tuskeegee Experiment (Sign Me Up)”!)

  49. 49
    Pete on 14 Aug 2007 #

    A random conversation with my Dad on this issue tonight (ie, trying to work out if he had reclaimed his Best of 10CC or the weight of records upon it had whittled its sleeve to pancake width) elicited the following terse reply.
    “S’not about Northern Ireland son. Its about the Attica Prison Riots.”

    Which is an interesting viewpoint, and one worth throwing in the pot due to its timing and the more direct corollary between Rubber Bullets and an actual prison riot. (More details for the uninitiated like myself).

  50. 50
    Doctor Casino on 15 Aug 2007 #

    On the other hand, maybe I’m being unfair. I’m listening to Abba’s “Waterloo” right now, which, aside from sounding an awful lot like “Rubber Bullets,” is also borrowing a political/historical situation in a lazy, superficial manner, more or less to just get it to rhyme. Granted that “facing my Waterloo” is sort of an established trope, I suppose it’s still fair that if Abba can do this about something a few hundred years old, 10cc might do it about something contemporary in which they have equal disinterest as far as thoughtful analysis or taking a stand.

  51. 51
    Marcello Carlin on 15 Aug 2007 #

    FFS, there’s nothing “lazy” or “superficial” about 10cc or Abba!

    “Waterloo” sounds a lot more like “See My Baby Jive” in construction, arrangement and production, as both Abba and Roy Wood acknowledged, so much so in the case of the latter that he performed on the Doctor and the Medics cover version in 1986. Also it handles its central metaphor with exceptional skill, as the rest of the world except for Robert “Victor Meldrew” Christgau has long since realised.

    The “great balls of fire” in “Big Seven” was in reference to what happened after Jack sat on the candlestick. The track was subsequently sampled by the Dream Warriors on “Ludi.” He was mates with Marley, you know.

    “Pepper Box” which was “a huge dance hit whenever I played the clubs” (D Winton). Incidentally, is it a chicken/egg situation with “Pepper Box” and “Autobahn”?

  52. 52
    Rosie on 15 Aug 2007 #

    The Crucible was ‘about’ the Salem witchcraft trials, but both Arthur Miller and its audiences ‘knew’ it was really a dig at the House Un-American Activities Committee.

    There’s more to meaning than what’s on the surface.

  53. 53
    Marcello Carlin on 15 Aug 2007 #

    We had to do three Arthur Miller plays as part of our English Highers – Death Of A Salesman, All My Sons and The Crucible. They struck me as the forerunners of dysfunctional American TV movies starring Brian Dennehy and/or Cheryl Ladd and/or Tyne Daly and/or Frederick Forrest so it was quite amusing to see the Dennehymeister playing Willy Loman in the West End production a couple of years back. I thought the Crucible analogies were rather clunky myself.

  54. 54

    meaning includes:
    i. what author says openly
    ii. what author slips in secretly
    iii. what author is not aware of at the time but realises afterwards
    iv. what author and audience both recognise and agree on
    v. what audience sees but author didn’t
    vi. what audience explores and creates in subsequent use and discussion, with or without author’s approval
    vii. probbly i have forgot others

    these are sometimes at odds with one another: appeal is often made to one to trump another but this rarely works, not least bcz being at odds is a good thing bcz it provokes exactly the buzz the author wd have wanted (unless s/he is an idiot in which case who cares what s/he wanted)

  55. 55

    shorter sukrat: meaning is a cheerfully squabbly community!

  56. 56
    Marcello Carlin on 15 Aug 2007 #

    viii. what author leaves in by accident.
    ix. what author sticks on at the last minute.
    x. Number One was a sledge.

  57. 57
    Tom on 15 Aug 2007 #

    Just popping in to say that the no spoilers rule is ESPECIALLY STRICT on “Waterloo” :) (tho Marcello is right)

  58. 58
    Erithian on 15 Aug 2007 #

    The issue of whether the band intended the reference to Northern Ireland reminds me of what JRR Tolkien said about “Lord of the Rings” being an allegory of World War II: “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations…
    I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of the reader. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

    Far be it from me to suppose 10cc were thinking along the same lines as Tolkien, but if the phrase “rubber bullets” was current, and you wanted to make the link to Ulster, I guess they weren’t about to stop you.

    BTW, Marcello, that nice analysis of “Waterloo” comes from the guy who hates spoilers!

  59. 59
    Pete on 15 Aug 2007 #

    Just to add that I don’t agree with my Dad with what its about (or at least I don’t agree with him with what its NOT about since it is clearly about more than just one thing), but if in ’73 someone wrote a song which lyrically seems to be about a US prison riot, a recent US prison riot might come to mind.

    Thinking about The Crucible, the ease with which its analogy pops out (what you might call the clunkiness of the analogy) is also why it works well as mass entertainment, and PARTICULARLY well in GCSE English groups.

    I think your being a bit harsh Marcello on some of the TV movie actors you pick. OK, I’ll give you Frederic Forrest for “Who Will Look After My Children”, and Cheryl Ladd is a given. But I think Denehey and Daly are better than that.

  60. 60

    adding: meaning when it comes to music — as opposed to words on the page — is an even wider territory to contest

    tolk’s point is that “allegory” tends to function as a critical-authorial stunt to shut down the reader/listener, i think — viz
    “this song is about pigs!”
    “do you not see it is really about CAPITALISM!?”
    “b-but PIGS?”
    “ur 1xdupe of the system and i DISDANE u”
    etc

    haha it is much easier to comment “on this song” when you haven’t heard it for 20 years, as i have not

  61. 61
    Marcello Carlin on 15 Aug 2007 #

    Perhaps it was an extended metaphorical meditation on contraceptives.

    Dennehy certainly is a lot better than that which makes me wonder why he makes so many of these weepies about redundant steel workers who won’t work for no Japanese and his son’s about to drop out of college and his daughter’s got cancer so he yells “SON? I HAVE NO SON!” and goes and rows a boat out into the middle of the lake at midnight and then we get an extended court scene because they’re cheap and give actors the opportunity to act and then they come out on the courthouse steps triumphant to speak to the waiting reporters and cameras and he shakes his fist in the air and then freeze frame/pognant piano music (see also: the later career of Karl Malden).

  62. 62
    Rosie on 15 Aug 2007 #

    xi what the author leaves out. Cf Pierre Machérey, “Le texte dit ce qu’il ne dit pas”

  63. 63
    Erithian on 15 Aug 2007 #

    Waldo – I remember a Judge Dread quote which went something like: “I’m no perv but I’ve seen a few 14-year-olds I wouldn’t mind giving one to.” Verily, this was a different century…

  64. 64
    Doctor Casino on 15 Aug 2007 #

    I think I’ve gotten in over my head here! I’ll just bow out of this one quietly – although I do want to say that no spoiling was intended re: “Waterloo,” which I didn’t even realize at the time of typing was in the queue at all! (It rather surprises me to find it there – but I’ll save that till the time comes.)

  65. 65
    Erithian on 15 Aug 2007 #

    Hell no, Doc, no offence meant – I was just winding Marcello up a wee bit…

  66. 66
    mike on 16 Aug 2007 #

    Like David Belbin above, I’m more of a “The Dean And I” man; it may only have reached #10 in the UK, but it got to #1 in the Republic of Ireland, and quite right too.

  67. 67
    Erithian on 16 Aug 2007 #

    Doc, just to add to what I said last night, my comment about spoilers (and I guess Tom’s as well) was a gentle chide to Marcello for giving us an analysis of “Waterloo” in this thread – the same Marcello who, when things were getting a bit heated in the “Telegram Sam” thread a few months ago, said “it would be nice if we could lay off talking about specific number ones UNTIL THEY ACTUALLY COME UP”!

    It’d be very harsh to criticise you for this if you didn’t even realise “Waterloo” had been a UK Number 1 – which will make your views all the more intriguing when we get there. And you were making a valid parallel with the record under discussion, after all. So no need to bow out : )

  68. 68
    Marcello Carlin on 16 Aug 2007 #

    Note that nowhere in the above did I mention anything about “Waterloo” getting to number one.

  69. 69
    Rosie on 16 Aug 2007 #

    What’s up with the link? Is it just me or is it screwed?

    I can get through to this page, and to Freakytrigger front page, but not to the latest entry nor to teh Popular front page.

  70. 70
    doofuus2003 on 20 Aug 2007 #

    The problem with no always on internet, or indeed when I am out doing field work, no connection at all, is that I can end up way down below the comments I’d like to refer to. Anyway, I saw both 10CC and Steely Dan in Leeds student union, and didn’t really put them together, but now I do kind of see the too clever by half potential link. I think, by the way, that the SD gig was one of only 4 they ever did in the UK until many many years later. Also, for what it’s worth, Leeds University was a major venue in those days – Bob Marley only got to play the Polytechnic.

  71. 71
    Erithian on 20 Aug 2007 #

    Better late than never doofuus! Love the bit about who got to play Leeds University.

    Re the umpteen levels of meaning discussed above – reminds me of a Peanuts strip I provocatively sellotaped to one of my Eng Lit exercise books at school. Peppermint Patty trying to answer a question in class: “What was the author’s purpose in writing this story? Err – maybe he needed the money?”

  72. 72
    Marcello Carlin on 20 Aug 2007 #

    Popular needs a sound-posting capability so I can answer that with a lugubrious plunger trombone as the voice of the teacher.

  73. 73
    Caledonianne on 21 Aug 2007 #

    RE Marcello @ #53

    Oh, yes – we clearly studied the same Higher English syllabus, though my English teacher was clearly most enamoured of All My Sons, which always took centre stage among the trinity for us.

    Years later I wrote an article about Salem, and it all came flooding back. (Also took in Brian Dennehy in DoaS in Boston) while in New England for the research.

    But I have a direct link between 10cc and Higher English. The boys were due to play Glasgow Apollo in February 1976, but when we got there the gig was cancelled because one of them had a sore throat. It was rescheduled for April – so that’s where I spent the night before my Higher English…

  74. 74
    Erithian on 3 Sep 2007 #

    Belated response to Billy in post #22 – “Rubber Bullets” didn’t feature in “Rock’n’Roll Years”. The Northern Ireland news featured in the relevant part of the 1973 episode was backed by Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” and David Essex’s “Rock On”.

    Surely somewhere on the Web there’s a listing of what music corresponded to which news item in this excellent series?

  75. 75
    Marcello Carlin on 3 Sep 2007 #

    Ah, I’ve got it – blow-up doll, blowing up troops, DO YOU SEE WHAT THEY DID THERE?

    The only thing I can remember from that lamentable series is that at the end of the 1989 one, to soundtrack the fall of the Berlin Wall, they chose that generational anthem “Kiss This Thing Goodbye” by Del Amitri.

  76. 76
    Geir H on 23 Dec 2007 #

    I believe this single is Jonathan King’s only connection with a UK #1 ever. By the time of “I’m Not In Love” he has quit working with them.

    The 10cc of this track is a strange thing. On one side, you have a feeling of novelty, that they are just having fun, not taking the whole thing too seriously, and the entire thing is very tongue-in-cheek.

    But then, along comes the “Sergeant Baker and his men….” line, hinting at some really musically talented guys behind behing it. And the perfect production (done by the band themselves already at this time) gives the same impression. So there must be more to 10cc than just a bunch of tongue-in-cheek guys making fun of pre-Beatles pop. And they would of course show us later on (no, not as late as Marcello hints upthread that I would think – their prime was while Godley & Creme were still in the band).

    “Rubber Bullets” isn’t my favourite 10cc single, just like “10cc” isn’t my favourite album. But it’s still a great pop song, pointing forwards towards even greater stuff to come from one of the finest pop acts that there ever has been.

    As for Jonathan King, time has shown him to be quite creepy indeed. In spite of that, I will always be thankful for the fact that he discovered two of my all-time-favourite bands.

  77. 77
    roger turner on 23 Jul 2009 #

    weird al yankovich ripped of “rubber bullets” for his song “trigger happy,” a song parodying the beach boys style with lyrics about shooting guns. it even features a line about calling in the national guard, yeah the national guard.

  78. 78
    Jonathan Bogart on 24 Jul 2009 #

    Ripped off? If I know my Weird Al, it was a deliberate nod.

  79. 79
    wichitalineman on 24 Jul 2009 #

    Weird Al’s Trigger Happy is a car-crazy-california era spoof, while Rubber Bullets is Beach Boys of a later vintage. Just a coincidence, I reckon.

    It might be mentioned miles earlier on this thread, but this is much more of a Beach Boys homage than an inverted Jailhouse Rock, innit? I can hear that in the lyric but it certainly doesn’t overwhelm the song or render it a pastiche – I’d undock that point! I remember seeing 10CC interviewed on tv at some point in the late 70s and they said the Beach Boys were an influence all four of them agreed on.

    I’m not sure why they always get the “poor man’s Steely Dan” thing beyond the occasional over-confident smirk – this and (especially) The Dean And I, both as complex and joyous as Heroes & Villains, sound more like Smile outtakes to my ears (multi-part structure, arcane Americana et cet). Very glad to hear that The Dean And I was a number one in Ireland!

    A couple more 10CC gems for non-believers: Channel Swimmer (flip of Life Is A Minestrone, Umbopo (under the pseudonym Doctor Father).

  80. 80
    Lena on 7 May 2013 #

    My name is Marc, and I’m The Groover: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/one-more-time-for-marc-trex-groover.html Thanks for reading, everybody!

  81. 81
    Lena on 2 Jul 2013 #

    A moment of reflection on the summer of ’73: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2013/07/interlude-1-fleetwood-mac-albatross.html Thanks for reading, tout le monde!

  82. 82
    Larry on 1 Nov 2014 #

    First time I ever heard this was today. I never knew that 10cc were a glam band that sounded like Sparks! A major revelation to someone who knew them for “I’m Not In Love.” FWIW the lyrics also evoked Attica for me.

  83. 83
    lonepilgrim on 3 Oct 2019 #

    With Steely Dan’s best work I can (sadly) often identify with the unreliable narrators who are dimly or completely unaware of their blind spots (if not their exact circumstances). With this and most of their other songs that I’ve heard I find it easy to admire (for its craft and craftiness) yet hard to engage with. When Steely Dan were interviewed around the time of Haitian Divorce they were asked whether they felt an affinity with 10cc and they strongly denied it (which doesn’t necessarily make it true, obv). Nevertheless 10cc do seem to trade in parody or pastiche far more than Becker & Fagen.

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