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Mar 08

10cc – “I’m Not In Love”

FT + Popular81 comments • 7,985 views

#372, 28th June 1975

“I’m Not In Love” is 10cc’s most famous song, and surely deservedly – it’s the one where their smarts crash and fragment on some vicious emotional reefs, which is also what the song’s about. So it’s a neat (conceptual) package even before you factor in the extraordinary production.

But isn’t it all a bit heavy handed? He’s not in love (but really he is) – cast your mind back a couple of number ones and wouldn’t Tammy or her husband have wrapped that old theme up in two minutes? The greatness of 10cc’s song, though, isn’t in the theme, its in the exploration of the implicate consequences of repression, of turning your back on love: the saddest moment in a sad song is the satisfaction in the singer’s voice when he lays down his stupid law: “Oh, you’ll wait a long time for me.” This isn’t a song about irony, it’s a song about crippling emotional phobia. (And the “big boys don’t cry” bit, hinting where that phobia comes from, is kind of unsubtle, but no less moving for that.)

The band wrap this song in suffocating gauze: a cold, cossetting synthesised vocal fog with the bare semblance of a beat padding underneath, often puttering out or being smothered completely. No other No.1 sounds quite like it: a brave, thoroughly apt production for a chilling record.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    Rob M on 31 Mar 2008 #

    As a six year old at the time, I do remember the song very vividly from TOTP and shows like that, because I’d not heard anything similar before. I liked it at the time for its difference to anything else. I remember my father borrowing “The original soundtrack” from a works music club and returning it the next day saying it was unlistenable, except for this song which landed on a compilation tape for the car. Even at six I knew what I liked and there were songs which reached number one from this year which I absolutely hated, and for which I shall reserve my vitriol (you’ll find out in time).

    So, at six I liked it but I didn’t understand it lyrically or emotionally, and nothing else really sounded like it then or now – I must add that “Souvenir” by OMD may be indebted to this song as well, seeing as the basis for that song was some choral singers tuning up and singing constant scales and the wash of voices they created. From a distance of another 32 years I can appreciate the lyric, and – um – I can see the stalker mentality behind it. I suppose I’ve been in both positions actually – the narrator and the object of (non)-affection – and it’s not much fun on either side. But that’s grown up talk. At six, it just was something special I didn’t understand – and that’s probably something I still look for in music.

  2. 32
    Rob M on 31 Mar 2008 #

    Hmm. I just seem to have repeated myself about three times there. Sorry. And I’ve just noticed the EDIT key. Oh well.

  3. 33
    Dan M. on 31 Mar 2008 #

    More on the “stalker” question, though on a tangent: it’s interesting that one of the writers said later that the song is — I can’t remember the exact quote from above, but — more or less about a stalker, in that, as I rememeber it, the term “stalker” as we use it these days — for someone obsessed with following or surveilling or hounding a particular love- or hate- object, usually to the point of violence or the threat of it — hadn’t been coined, or at least wasn’t widely used, in the mid-70s. I have a feeling that it came into being either around the time of “Fatal Attraction” or perhaps 7-8 years earlier when John Hinkley shot Ronald Reagan as part of his stalking of Jodie Foster (or Chapman/Lennon). And not only wasn’t the term in general use (unless I’m mistaken), I’m not sure the concept of the stalker persona had really been established in popular culture before then. At least I can’t think of any examples from movies. Serial killers abounded, but they were more fixated on the act than the victim; there was “Cape Fear” and “Strangers on a Train,” but the first was based on revenge, and the latter — well, that’s pretty close actually, but the twist of trading murders somewhat outweighs the Robert Walker’s fixation on Farley Granger himself… This is all off the top of my head: am I way off the mark and missing some obvious, pre-Hinckley examples of stalkers in reality or popular-culture? (oh and of course Hinckley’s obsession grew out of Taxi Driver, which is a good proto-stalker movie example). I guess my point would be that the “I’m Not in Love” writer may have been reading backwards and exaggerating an aspect of the song’s storyline based on later cultural ideas.

  4. 34
    mike on 31 Mar 2008 #

    Another possible reason why INIL failed to grab me: I’d enjoyed 10cc’s singles up until then, but had them pegged as wry, satirical, whimsical and fun. (Especially the vividly condensed, almost filmic mini-saga of “The Dean And I”, which I can still spool note-for-note through my mental jukebox.) Now all of a sudden they had gone soppy and sincere on me, pouting moodily to camera through a soft-focus lens, and I felt vaguely betrayed.

    (By the time of “I’m Mandy Fly Me”, we were back in synch with each other, but only fleetingly, and I know which side of the fence I’ll be standing in the forthcoming Epic Showdown!)

  5. 35
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 31 Mar 2008 #

    “play misty for me” (1971): clint eastwood is a DJ pestered by an obsessed fan <— so the idea was around (acc.wiki california was the first place to enact anti-stalker laws, after a series of cases in the 90s, all involving minor celebrities; and my guess is that the idea — and indeed the behaviour — went back some way before this within and around the hollywood community…)

  6. 36
    mike on 31 Mar 2008 #

    I also remember a British TV play circa 1974 which dealt with stalker-type issues – it creeped the hell out of me at the time.

  7. 37
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 31 Mar 2008 #

    also just in terms of popfan behaviour — off the map of fictional retelling but ON the map of stories pop-industry workers would be well aware of — i find it hard to believe that the 60s rock explosion didn’t bring a TON of obsessive and deluded fans out of the woodwork to dog their idols: certainly i remember reading about the beatlemaniacs who hung around abbey road the whole time in the late 60s; the beatles had to run this gauntlet, and it was often truculent and semi-hostile (esp.when new beatle GFs had just hit the news)

    10cc wd be perfectly well aware of such tales

    true though that the word “stalker” in its current sense probably didn’t emerge till the 80s or so

  8. 38
    Dan M. on 31 Mar 2008 #

    Yes, yes, “play misty for me,” I wish I’d remembered that one! Definitely the model for Fatal Attraction and the sub-genre it spawned!

  9. 39
    Brian on 31 Mar 2008 #

    It always amazes me how all the contributors, who were only “bairns” at the time, can come up with so many interesting insights into these songs !

    Just for the record – I can’t see the stalker thing all. I hear a guy shuting down all the emotions because he has been overwhelmed by what ? Her Beauty ? His Committment ? A previuos Rejection ? A lost Mommy ?

    But it is classic stuff and I am so glad it’s appreciated , to some degree by everyone….

  10. 40
    Rob M on 31 Mar 2008 #

    Re: #37. I seem to remember seeing some film around the time of “Imagine” where John Lennon is being accosted by a fan who demands to know what “You can syndicate every boat you row” means, and the guy’s really well meaning but persistent, but in the end John says “It’s just words, you know, it doesn’t MEAN anything”. So said stalkerish pop fans did exist even then. AJ Weberman as well, come to think of it.

  11. 41
    Waldo on 31 Mar 2008 #

    I’m with Brian. I didn’t see the stalker back in the day (I was 14) and I don’t really see him now, despite this most excellent blog. Good debate, though.

    If you lot want a REAL stalker song, try Lil’ George Macrae with the most unsubtle “I Can’t Leave You Alone”. You don’t need Michael Mansfield to prove that one. Durty wee bugger! (That’s George, not Michael)

  12. 42
    Brian on 31 Mar 2008 #

    And, sorry to mention Sting again, ,but there was my wife’s official courting song ” Every Breath You Take”.

  13. 43
    Brian on 31 Mar 2008 #

    Oh, and on the new ” Eagles ” LP – a very weird, obssesive number is ” Waiting in The Weeds “. Scary, in fact. Perfectly rendered.

  14. 44
    Dan R on 31 Mar 2008 #

    For a chilling stalker-song, try ‘Let Me Be There’ recorded by Elvis, Olivia Newton-John, and many others. It sounds vaguely romantic at first listening, but then imagine it being sung softly by a stranger onto your answer machine.

  15. 45
    crag on 31 Mar 2008 #
  16. 46
    crag on 31 Mar 2008 #

    Re: Rob M’s comment about OMD’s Souvenir(#31)- spot on!Exactly what i was on about when i was talking about INILs influence on early 80s pop in my initial post- cant believe i didnt think of it meself..
    Re: stalker songs in general- although lyrically not especially relevant surely the video for J Timberlake’s Cry Me A River is the ultimate in pop stalkerdom? I remember how frankly disturbing it was when i first saw it. Shame we won’t be covering the track in (approx) 6 years time- abirrovaclassic IMO.

  17. 47
    rosie on 31 Mar 2008 #

    As you know, I’m not really au fait with more recent developments in the singles chart as I’ve been too busy regressing into stuff that was before even my, but would that be Cry Me A River as in Julie London’s Cry Me A River? Because I adore that song in that version and if it had been a number one it would have been a ten right down the middle, and Mr Timberlake surely had a cheek thinking he could come close.

    But then again, maybe it was a different song…

  18. 48
    Tom on 31 Mar 2008 #

    It’s a different song, though the reference is intentional – like the London track, it’s a kiss-off to an ex (in this case Ms.Spears, who the video none-too-subtly references).

  19. 49
    Erithian on 1 Apr 2008 #

    This was part of a quiz question I used a couple of years back – along with tATu’s “All The Things She Said” and Oasis’s “Songbird” it was the first UK top three to comprise entirely recycled titles (Simple Minds and Kenny G having used the other titles).

    I’m with Mike and Brian above on the stalker angle and preference for 10cc’s other, sparkier, singles (particularly I’m Mandy), and for me the subtle bass line under the “Big boys don’t cry” section is the best thing about this one. But that’s the joy of Popular, in that people who care deeply about a song can express just why it moves them so, and the analysis and discussion open up entire new vistas on the songs and the music. More power to its elbow.

  20. 50
    rosie on 1 Apr 2008 #

    A little research on Wikipedia tells me that Julie London got to number 22 with CMAR in 1957. That feels like an injustice to me, or maybe 1957 audiences in Britain weren’t ready for something which, to me at least, seems so timeless.

    I also noted a most impressive list of others who have recorded it. Some of the names boggle the mind, but having thought that Billie Holiday would have sent the song into orbit, she’s not on the list. All the same, Julie London gives it a silky menace that would be hard to match.

    Swerving, I had an idea for a collection of short stories based on songs (yes, yes, I’ve no doubt it’s been done before.) CMAR would make a good basis for one, and so, returning to topic, and taking the current debate into account, would INIL.

  21. 51
    Erithian on 1 Apr 2008 #

    The somewhat underrated Mari Wilson did a fine version of CMAR as well.

  22. 52
    crag on 1 Apr 2008 #

    Julie London’s CMAR certainly is a total classic- if asked which song i prefered (JL’s or JT’s) i think it would be to close to call- they’re both magnificent in different ways. In fact a good halfway point both historically and musically between London’s smooth chilly performance and and the psychedelic futurepop of Timberlake’s track would be…oh yes, I’m Not In Love by 10cc!
    (do u see what i did there?)

  23. 53
    Marcello Carlin on 1 Apr 2008 #

    I had a look at that ’57 chart and to be fair there was quite a lot of competition but also there was the bizarre factor of several artists having two entries in the Top 20, including Lonnie Donegan, Pat Boone, Little Richard, Frankie Lymon, Guy Mitchell, Johnnie Ray and even Tab Hunter. Whereas poor Julie only had the one.

  24. 54
    Matthew H on 1 Apr 2008 #

    Not much to add, except this is also a heavy presence on Daft Punk’s ‘Nightvision’.

    I had a cassette of the Johnny Logan album – no idea why, and no idea where it is now – that his cover appeared on. It was the rush-release to accompany his second Eurovision winner ‘Hold Me Now’ and my vague recollections suggest it was fairly faithful. It was hardly going to be radical.

  25. 55
    rosie on 1 Apr 2008 #

    Poor Julie indeed! With the exception of Little Richard, who never had a number one but appears in the list anyway all those others named only feature in my Big Random Playlist because they figure in this exercise. Whereas Julie is there because I want her to be, and I’d choose to listen to her other than randomly.

  26. 56
    Waldo on 1 Apr 2008 #

    # 44 – “but then imagine it being sung softly by a stranger onto your answer machine.”

    In some circumstances, this would be rather nice. Gwen Cooper from “Torchwood”, for example. Trouble is, I’d probably end up with Captain Jack Harkness “belling” me.

    Down, Mike!!!!

  27. 57
    tim davidge on 1 Apr 2008 #

    This has obviously provoked a lot of thought, but then, it’s a thought-provoking record, one of the more cerebral of the year, and especially so by singles standards. To the extent that the song has a meaning for me apart from being part of the soundtrack to what turned out to be a pleasant summer, I suppose it’s a song about withholding feelings, or alternatively the rather tragic case of someone who really hasn’t got any feelings to withhold because they’re incapable of having them in the first place. I don’t, however, see the ‘stalking’ connection. As for the production, Joe Meek would have been proud of these guys. If the backing sounds like voices recorded over and over again, it’s probably because that’s what it consists of. Something in there sound like a kazoo? It’s because…… And there was that faint, puttering beat in the background, a touch so subtle that if you only ever head the song on a car radio or on a pocket transistor, you probably wouldn’t even have been aware that it was there. A heavy handed record? I don’t think so. It was a lot of things, but not that.

  28. 58
    Tom on 1 Apr 2008 #

    Just in case it wasn’t clear from the entry, I don’t think it’s heavy-handed either: I’m posing the question rhetorically in order to refute it.

  29. 59
    Alan on 2 Apr 2008 #

    i recall a telly show (about musical plagiarism i think) with some musicologist using this track, specifically the intro, as an example of how little of a song you needed to ID it – i think to make the point that credit is not about length of sample, but some abstract ‘distinctiveness’

  30. 60

    Yes this is an argument Eno has been makin for years: that song identity in pop is less melody or words than “instant architecture” (<-- not his phrase)

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