American soul singer and backing vocalist Dennis Englewood said, "When I first heard my favorite popular 10cc song about broken relationships, called, 'I'm Not In Love' that I wanted to do soul ballad record of instead of an epic record, I noticed that there were too many Synclavier choir voices that sounded awful to me, so I said, 'I don't like those Synclavier voices that are so horrible! They don't seem right to me! I can't use that in my soul ballad remake! I'd rather be using real
instruments in my sweet soul ballad cover of the song, originally done
by British band 10cc.' When I also heard Kathy Warren, the studio
secretary from Strawberry Recording Studios say the irrelevant line: 'Be quiet, big boys don't cry', I said 'No, I can't say 'Be quiet, big boys
don't cry', because that part in the middle sounds very irrelevant and
it doesn't fit the breakup song! Over the instrumental break I'd rather
not say it! I like to make this breakup song more relevant and
sing-songy, so on my soulful version of that song I want to sing in the
range of sweet tenor, almost like in a low falsetto like David Pack from
the pop group Ambrosia and Russell Thompkins, Jr. from the pop-soul group The Stylistics, plus me and my friends as backing singers wanted to sound like Ashford & Simpson on backing vocals on that tune in order to avoid the strange wall of sound."
I'm Not in Love: the story of the hit song that nearly never happened
Depending on your age or taste in music, you may not have heard of 10cc. But it’s likely that you will have heard their most famous song, I’m Not in Love, and be able to hum its titular refrain. The song won three Ivor Novello awards after its release in 1975, despite the fact the band struggled to get it played on radio at the complete length of more than six minutes.
Manchester quartet 10cc nearly dropped the song too, but dramatically reworked it in Stockport’s Strawberry Studios over the course of several weeks to create one of the most innovative pop songs of the 20th century.
That ‘silly phase’ was actually a 50-year marriage
“It’s just a silly phase I’m going through”, sings Eric Stewart, who co-wrote the song with Graham Gouldman. However, the song was inspired by a comment his wife, Gloria – then of eight years, now of nearer 50 – made, that he didn’t tell her he loved her often enough.
Stewart told Sound on Sound in 2005 that he didn’t want to devalue the meaning of the phrase by saying it too frequently, but her thoughts made him “try to figure out another way of saying it, and the result was that I chose to say 'I'm not in love with you,' while subtly giving all the reasons throughout the song why I could never let go of this relationship."
He took the beginnings of the song into the Studios, which he part-owned, and bassist Gouldman, known to the band as GiGi, volunteered to help write the rest. They finished it in three days, after working on it with a couple of guitars.
Only the band know what the original version sounded like
Long before the song’s celestial chords were even thought about, I’m Not in Love was a bossa nova number – one of the reasons why it was scrapped early on. The band, which at the time consisted of Lol Creme and Kevin Godley as well, made decisions democratically, and Godley and Creme vetoed the song. Godley said: “It's not working, man. It's just crap, right? Chuck it,” Stewart recalls. The tape was erased, which “worked [Stewart] off no end at the time”, and which means there’s no record of it now, either.
It survived because it was catchy
Even after the song was deleted Stewart heard it being sung absent-mindedly by employees at the studio, which convinced him that I’m Not in Love was worth working on. Secretary Kathy Redfern shaped her own destiny as the voice speaking in the song’s middle eight after telling the band: “Why didn't you finish that song? I really love it. It's the nicest thing you've ever done.”
This led to 10cc picking it back up again, and, several weeks later, asking her to record the refrain “Be quiet, boys don’t cry” after she interrupted the band with a phone call for Stewart – her words would later influence Eighties band Boys Don’t Cry.
The a cappella idea came from ‘the wacky baccy’
Godley was only happy to give I’m Not in Love another try if the band would “totally mess it up and do it like nobody has ever recorded a thing before”, and settled on an a cappella vocal instrumentation, made by endless loops of a chromatic scale – or 13 notes, all one pitched one note above the other.
Stewart said: “‘Right. OK, Jesus, this is really off the wall’. I think they'd been at the wacky baccy at this time, and it took me a couple of hours to get my head around the idea.”
The vocals alone took three weeks to record
The band wanted to create a “wall of sound” made from voice alone, which meant that they had to record these “endless loops of a chromatic scale” themselves by singing: for three solid weeks. Creme, Godley and Gouldman recorded enough “aahs” for there to be 48 different recordings, or voices, for each of the 13 notes of the chromatic scale: 624 in total.
These recordings were then fed on to a 16 track machine, and the band were able to make different “chords” with the faders on the mixing deck by selecting different notes of the vocals. That created the catchy waves of pitch difference at the end of lines of the song such as “it’s just a silly phase I’m going through”. Importantly, part of the faders were masked off with gaffa tape so there was always a residual hiss audible on the record.
The song forced the BBC to back down
After weeks of back-and-forth, extra additions – such as the twinkling sound in the middle eight that was generated by a toy music box the secretary was sent out to buy – and other things taken away, the finished song was just over six minutes long. But the BBC, and 10cc’s record label, Mercury, both argued that it was too long.
The latter wouldn’t release it as a single until other members of the music industry encouraged them to, and the BBC insisted that the song was edited down in order to be played on air. The piano and bass solos and fade-out were removed, taking the length to 4:10 minutes long. But the song reached number one only after the BBC gave in to pressure from the public and media to play it at full length.