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Album: The Original Soundtrack (Mercury)
Writers: Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman
I’m Not in Love is the first song played in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy (1). It plays while Peter Quill is waiting to see his mom in the hospital. This was not the first movie soundtrack in which the song appeared. It was also used in ‘The Stud,’ starring Joan Collins.
Released by the band 10Cc in 1975, it reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July as well as no. 10 on the Adult Contemporary chart in August, as well as no. 1 in Britain, making it their second British hit. Another familiar song by 10cc is “The Things We Do For Love,” from 1977. They are an English group that is sometimes called an art-rock band.
I’m Not in Love was originally supposed to be a bossa nova tune, but the band didn’t really think it was good enough. They held onto it until they were inspired to rework it into a pop song, with a new beat and a vocal effect reminiscent of a choir singing in a large open cathedral.
It is this choir effect that helped make “I’m Not in Love” famous. It helped to expand music recording techniques into an art form all its own. Supposedly inspired by Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” and recording work done by the Beatles, the song uses layered voices and looping to create ethereal harmonies. The effect could be easily achieved today on a synthesizer but took a great deal of recording and mixing effort to achieve in 1975.
The band members recorded their own voices, singing each note of a 13 not chromatic scale, to create 13 tracks on a 16-track tape. In all, there were 256 separate overdubs. Then all four of the band members, with three or four faders assigned to each, carefully turned the faders up and down to create chords as the chords of the song changed. The 13 tracks were fed onto a stereo track that was left open. All this before the lead vocal was even laid down.
Many have been suitably impressed by these recording heroics. For myself, I like the song and the melodies formed by the voices. However, I find much of it to be annoying. For such an enormous amount of trouble, there is a good bit of the song that sounds like a hot mess to me, especially during the vocal swell at the beginning. For me, it was just overdone. Without the backing, it is still a “silly love song.” Given all that, I actually love the bridge part with “Ooh, you wait a long time for me.” I wish that was the basis of the whole song, perhaps with new lyrics.
The band just thought the song was good and was determined to make something of it, and they did. It was a smash hit and an unusual one at that, given the brooding and atmospheric sound. I am in the minority in my opinion that the vocal layering was overdone.
Billy Joel used a similar technique for the swelling vocal harmonies used in “Just the Way You Are.” The book [Experiencing Billy Joel: A Listener’s Companion] supposed that Joel may have been inspired by 10cc’s recording. Whether or not he was, the effect he achieved is much more pleasing to my ear. Regardless, “Just the Way You Are” is a great song without any special recording techniques.
The lyrics of the song are meant to be “a love song turned on its head.” Eric Stewart explained that his wife used to ask why he didn’t say he loved her more often. He replied, “If I keep saying it, it is going to lose meaning, so I shouldn’t say it every day.” This inspired him, along with Graham Gouldman to write an ironic love song that said “I’m Not in Love” instead of “I Am In Love,” while actually explaining that you are in love. If this was truly their intention, the lyrics seem to be more about a man trying to convince himself he’s not in love.
I keep your picture
Upon the wall
It hides a nasty stain that’s lying there
So don’t you ask me
To give it back
“I’m Not in Love” has been covered many times, including by Petula Clarke (disco), the Pretenders, Johnny Logan, Tony Christie, Acker Bilk, Tony Christie, and The Fun Lovin Criminals. It was also covered more recently, in 1990, by Will to Power who themselves had a no. 7 hit. Will to Power is the group who had a big hit with a medley of Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way,” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird,” in 1988.
Curiously, Graham Gouldman called the Pretender’s cover “plain” although he thought Chrissie Hynde’s voice was brilliant. There are actually very few instruments used in the original version. All the serious work is done by the layered vocals, so it’s hard to know what Gouldman meant by plain. Although a huge amount of effort was used to make the vocal effects, if you count the vocals as just another part of the arrangement, it is pretty plain as well, although there is more melodic movement in the original, which may have been what he was referring to. The Pretender’s cover was good enough, apparently, for the producers of the movie Indecent Proposal starring Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson, and Robert Redford. It may be interesting to compare the Pretender’s plain version to 10cc’s original.
10cc As Inspiration
Clearly, I’m not 10cc’s biggest fan, although I like some of their songs. I find a lot of what they did to be pretentious and, rather than funny/clever, just silly/annoying. Yet I cannot deny their ability to inspire others to greater heights. One such inspiration seems to come from their song from the same album “Une Nuit in Paris” (One Night A Paris), an 8-minute operatic something or other with three parts. Without it, we may never have had Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Listen below, I’m sure you’ll hear it.
There is a female voice that whispers “Be Quiet, big boys don’t cry” about mid-way through the song (~2.10 on the video above). This is the voice of the secretary of Strawberry Studios, Kathy Redfern, who, while the song was being worked on, happened to knock on the door with a message. Eric Steward felt a spoken voice was needed during the break and she happened to walk in at just the right time. I’m not sure the song even needed a break, let alone a spoken voice. Imagine if they had had modern technology?