A Moment of Sheer Bliss
Jerry Lucky Commentary April 2016
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2016 All Rights Reserved
There’s nothing like a glass of red wine, a nice sunny day, stereo turned up loud and a great prog song to make one feel all is well in the world. Don’t you think? There are a few songs or albums that will do this for me. Recently I cranked up the volume and listened to the whole Eldorado album from ELO and was moved by the sheer breadth and scope of the music. I’ve gone on record saying that Transatlantic’s Whirlwind is a “masterpiece” and I don’t ever use that term lightly or flippantly. I’m sure you have your classics as well that create in you that amazing feeling of bliss.
These are songs or albums that, when listened to under the right circumstances registered 100% on the prog-o-meter and quite literally satisfied every emotional nerve ending? I’m sure you’ve had that kind of experience. You come away thinking - that was just about the greatest thing I’ve ever heard. This happened to me again recently while listening to, of all things, “Feel the Benefit” [11:31] by 10CC. Yeah I know, you’re probably saying – but they’re not even a prog band. True I would tend to put them into the Art-Rock category but listening to this song was like an epiphany.
I think it is entirely possible for a band of any style to take the compositional elements of Progressive Rock and then craft those very elements into a composition and have it sound amazing, even if the band itself is not really considered a Prog band. Such is the case with 10CC. They are (were) an extremely creative and crafty Art Rock band that pushed the envelope of what it means to write a catchy song. Being skilled in so many different musical ideas and being driven by insatiable creative desires allowed for these four guys to produce material that has rarely ever been matched. Made up of two pairs of talent 10CC were on the Pop side Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman both with long successful pop song writing careers and the Arty side, Kevin Godley and Lol Crème who were all about experimenting. It was on the surface a rather unusual set up, but, boy did it work. In fact it seemed to work best when the musical collaboration of one from each side worked together…there was a beautiful balance of tension and stress that made these songs particularly intriguing. These four guys created sounds that had never been heard before and these amazingly unique sounds are spread over two albums in particular. I challenge anyone to listen all of The Original Soundtrack and How Dare You and not acknowledge that these guys were nothing short of brilliant.
It’s hard to say what drove 10CC to create the music they did…little tiny symphonies of pop. I remember reading about the band’s in studio approach, and I’m just recollecting here so don’t quote me, but there were many discussions that went like; “how can we create the sound of a violin?” The idea of actually using a “violin” seemed to be the easy way out and they weren’t going to take it. They wanted to create the sounds they used. Keep in mind this is a band that spent THREE weeks recording “aaahhhs” that would come to be the tape loops-harmonies of their classic “I’m Not In Love.” A total of 256 voice tracks! This clearly led to the band taking their creative approach up quite a few notches. Fact is it’s what led to the artsy side of the band, Godley and Crème inventing the Gizmo, a device that attached to the guitar and allowed for a continuous guitar sound of your choice to be created.
I remember it was a sad day when I heard the two pairs had decided to part company. I remember feeling much trepidation anticipating the first post break-up album entitled Deceptive Bends. It turned out I needn’t have worried, much of the creative spark seemed to have left quite a residual overlap and many of the songs on this album still sounded like the 10CC of old even though all the songs were written by the Pop side of the band. The song that is the focus of this commentary “Feel the Benefit,” turned out to be a three part composition that clocked in at 11:31 and closed out the album.
For those of you unfamiliar with the song here’s a taste of what you’re missing. This is essentially a mid-tempo composition that starts with a lone solitary reverb laden guitar line sounding like off in the distance and then the first of a series of punchy crescendos occurs, four in total before a secondary bass line ramps up to a symphonic string introduction at the one-minute mark. Vocals are introduced in classic 10CC style, melodic, sweet and lovely with massed harmonies in the background. The song is sung in a plaintive fashion, questioning, sliding from expectant minors to resolving majors. At the 2:30 the song changes up and sounds more like Electric Light Orchestra off of Eldorado. It builds to the first of many climaxes at the three minute mark. Strings pulsing furiously while the guitars, bass and drums embellish the original opening melodies. Then a major musical changeup starts with haunting arpeggios leading into a stinging guitar line that echoes the opening melody. Then it’s a big change into part two of the song, a classic 10CC up-tempo Caribbean/calypso feel at the 4-minute mark. Much like Spock’s Beard do, here we have all kinds of short solo instrumental fun accented by the band’s classic outlandish multi-layered vocal call and response. All through this part of the song we’re treated to wonderful guitar riffs and stabbing accents. It builds to a soft musical transition still in the calypso mode at the five-minute mark all of which intentionally trails out in an intentional transitional fade at the 6:30 mark where once again we hear those lonely opening reverb laden guitar notes. Only this time when those punchy crescendos come the band pulls out all the stops, they come in an octave lower, they are huge, overflowing with power and grace. This is a magical part of the song because while the opening crescendos were executed with a sense of expectation, here everything comes in for powerful resolution. After a full minute we come back to part three of the song, with all the original melody lines only this time they’re delivered with even more poignancy, almost a pleading by the band to follow the appeal of the lyrics. Strings provide a lush symphonic foundation and then overtop of mandolin style plucking the vocals come to a close at the nine-minute mark. This then ushers in a solid guitar lead line that is doubled and in some cases tripled over top of the songs core melody and from here on in everything builds, layers upon layers on string sounds. Then suddenly in mid-melody sequence it all just stops.
It’s eleven minutes of sheer bliss. Hey, if you check out the live version it’s fourteen minutes. I urge you to check it out. And then you might just be set to explore “Une Nuit A Paris (One Night in Paris)” off of 10CC’s album The Original Soundtrack.
At least that’s what I think.