Wow In Music – I’m Not In Love
Kobus Cilliers | On 15, Apr 2020
There aren’t many songs that get hour-long documentaries written about them 10cc’s 1975 hit ‘I’m Not In Love’ is one of them. It became a worldwide smash, not only topping the UK charts but also reaching number two in the US, has been covered by dozens of artists, and has become an all-time classic.
Here’s a fascinating insight into the making of the record, an edited interview with the song’s main writer, Eric Stewart. Look out for all the Inventive Principle leaps into the unexpected. Starting with the song’s (Principle 13) title:
“At that time my wife and I had been married about eight years,” Stewart recalls, “and she asked me ‘Why don’t you say “I love you” more often?’ I had this crazy idea in my mind that repeating those words would somehow degrade the meaning, so I told her ‘Well, if I say every day “I love you, darling, I love you, blah, blah, blah,” it’s not gonna mean anything eventually.’ That statement led me to 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.”
“I had the guitar hook first —a little arpeggio on an open ‘A’ chord — and the melody kept going through my head, so when I got the idea to write the words ‘I’m not in love’ it just sort of slotted together,” he continues. “Once I’d clicked on the idea to approach it that way, it was actually very easy to write the rest. I made things fit phonetically, and it just sort of rolled out very smoothly in a bossa nova shuffle. You know, Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto.
“So I had the first six chords or so of the verse figured and I had the melody already figured in my head, as well as the first verse lyrics ‘I’m not in love, so don’t forget it, it’s just a silly phase I’m going through…’ so I took this to the studio, played it to the other guys and asked ‘Would anyone like to finish it with me?’ Graham Gouldman (‘GiGi’) the bass guitarist, said he would.
“We started with the chords that I already had and we began bouncing ideas off each other. We were both very good at steering something away from the norm, looking for another way to make the chords move so that it didn’t become a ‘regular’ pop song…
“There’s no middle eight or chorus in ‘I’m Not In Love’ (Principle 2). GiGi came up with this lovely little fill in between verses: an open ‘E’ string with the chords moving from ‘E’ to ‘A’ to ‘G’, with this ‘E’ bass string ringing through it — very, very tasty. I eventually played that on the recording with a Fender Rhodes. A beautiful progression with a beautiful sound. He also came up with the opening chords of the song, an ‘A’ chord with a ‘B’ bass, moving to a full ‘B’ chord, all very ‘expectant’ of what is to follow. Then we wrote a second verse and, because we thought this was going to be something different, we also wrote what could be termed as a middle eight quite early on in the song (Principle 10). We got the melody for that very, very quickly, but the words just sounded naff…
“GiGi contributed quite a lot on some of the chord changes to take them away from what I’d originally figured,” Stewart remarks. “He’d take them in a different direction (Principle 17). There were, as I said, these little fills in between the verses, and he also pulled that chord progression for the ‘Ooh, you’ll wait a long time’ bridge out of the bag; a nice arpeggio run-down.
When Stewart and Gouldman first played the other two band members their sub-four-minute bossa nova classic, Kev and Lol were a little coy: “Yeah, yeah, it sounds nice, it sounds a bit cute. But hey, let’s try it!”
All four began recording the song immediately, with Eric Stewart behind the desk. While Stewart engineered, the other three recorded as a band, with Gouldman’s Rickenbacker bass DI’d and Creme’s Les Paul going through a Marshall 50, played at a low level and miked with a valve U67.
“We were always very blunt with each other,” says Stewart. “We recorded everything we came up with, but we were very brutal at the end of it, saying things like ‘Is this working?’ or ‘Do we like this? Is this gonna fit? Yes or no?’ Out of four people we needed a majority of three votes to say ‘Yeah, we carry on,’ or ‘Yeah, it’s going on the album’ or ‘No, it’s out.’ Well, we recorded ‘I’m Not In Love’ as a bossa nova and Godley and Creme didn’t really like it! Kevin was especially blunt. He said ‘It’s crap,’ and I said ‘Oh right, OK, have you got anything constructive to add to that? Can you suggest anything?’ He said ‘No. It’s not working, man. It’s just crap, right? Chuck it.’ And we did. We threw it away and we even erased it (Principle 34…), so there’s no tape of that bossa nova version. It pissed me off no end at the time, but it was also very democratic.
Anyway, walking around Strawberry each day, I kept hearing people singing the melody: ‘I’m not in love…’ And I kept going back to the band and saying ‘There’s something more with this song. We’ve not got it yet, but I don’t want to lose this song, because it’s got people hooked.’
“Then the secretary Kathy said ‘Why didn’t you finish that song? I really love it. It’s the nicest thing you’ve ever done.’ This didn’t really impress Kevin, of course, but we discussed it again, and believe me, it was Kevin who suddenly came up with the brainwave(…Principle 34 part 2). He said ‘I tell you what, the only way that song is gonna work is if we totally fuck it up and we do it like nobody has ever recorded a thing before (Principle 13). Let’s not use instruments (Principle 2). Let’s try to do it all with voices.’(Principle 33) I said, ‘Yeah. OK. That sounds… different.’ A cappella, vocal instrumentation is what he was talking about.
I said ‘Right, there’s just four of us to do the whole thing with voices. How are we going to do it?’ And it was Lol who then said ‘What about loops? Tape loops (Principle 14… okay, 26). Endless voice loops (Principle 20). We can make endless loops of a chromatic scale (Principle 17).’ I said ‘Right. OK, this is really off the wall.’
“it took me a couple of hours to get my head around the idea. But then I figured how we could physically make the loops and set up the studio to do that. I rigged up a rotary capstan on a mic stand, and the tape loop had to be quite long because the splice edit point on the loop would go through the heads and there’d be a little blip each time it did. So, I had to make the loop as long as I could for it to take a long, long time to get around to the splice again. That way you wouldn’t really hear the splice/blip. We’re talking about a loop of about 12 feet in length going around the tape heads, around the tape-machine capstans, coming out away from the Studer stereo recorder to a little capstan on a mic stand that had to be dead in line vertically with the heads of the Studer. It was like one of those continuous belts that you see in old factories, running loads of machines, and we had to keep it rigid by putting some blocks on the mic stand legs to keep it dead, dead steady.
“It worked, but the loop itself — and this is where it gets interesting — had to be made up from multiple voices we’d done on the 16-track machine. Each note of a chromatic scale was sung 16 times, so we got 16 tracks of three people singing for each note (Principle 1). That was Kevin, Lol and GiGi standing around a valve Neumann U67 in the studio, singing ‘Aahhh’ for around three weeks. I’m telling you; three bloody weeks. We eventually had 48 voices for each note of the chromatic scale, and since there are 13 notes in the chromatic scale, this made a total of 624 voices. My next problem was how to get all that into the track.
“I mixed down 48 voices of each note of the chromatic scale from the 16-track to the Studer stereo machine to make a loop of each separate note (Principle 5), and then I bounced back these loops one at a time to a new piece of 16-track tape, and just kept them running for about seven minutes. Because we had people singing ‘Aahhh’ for a long time, there were slight tuning discrepancies (Principle 16) that added a lovely flavour, like you get with a whole string section, with a lot of people playing. Some are not quite in time, some have slightly different tuning, but musically a lovely thing happens to that. It’s a gorgeous sound. A very human sound, very warm and moving all the time. Anyway, after putting the 13 chromatic scale notes back onto the 16-track, it meant there were only three open tracks left!
“On one mono track we put a bass drum and me playing the Fender Rhodes piano as well as bumbling a guide vocal very, very crudely, just to keep the song’s timing. Kevin actually did the bass drum using a Moog bass note; a funky sound with a little edge on it, a little click almost. The timing had to be perfect, with no metronome! Then, all four of us manned the control desk, and each of us had three or four faders to work with. We moved the faders up and down and changed the chords of the 13 chromatic scale notes as the chords of the song changed — 13 tracks on a 16-track tape, fed through the control desk faders, back out of the master fader and onto that stereo pair of open tracks that was left free on the 16-track machine. It took a long time before we thought we’d got something really interesting.
“Luckily we got it. We got it just right. We very, very quickly got the lead vocal down and then we sat there, I tell you seriously, for about three days, just listening to this thing. I was looking at Kevin and the other two guys saying ‘What the fuck have we created? This is brilliant.’ We knew we had something very, very special, very different. I’d never heard anything like it in my life. I mean, the Beach Boys were seriously good at harmonies, but they hadn’t, as far as I knew, done anything this way. It was a very, very unusual sound. And sound degradation caused by all the bouncing didn’t matter at all because, when each of us were using control desk faders to mix the voices, there was a piece of gaffer tape across the bottom of the fader paths to stop them ever going to the bottom. That meant we had a chromatic scale sizzling underneath the track all the time (Principle 20), a hiss just like the hum you sometimes hear at a football match when nobody’s shouting. If you listen to the opening of the song, where the bass drum beats us in, you will hear a sizzling hum there that continues all the way through the track. We actually created ‘hiss’ on the track, when we would normally have been fighting to get rid of hiss! (Principle 9)
Not surprisingly, the song would only take half a day to mix. In the meantime, however, Eric Stewart had to track his lead vocal, and this he did with his usual valve U67, recorded dry with no reverb or EQ, and certainly with no comping (Principle 2).
“There’s a very different vibe to somebody singing from start to finish, (Principle 20)” he says. “You get the whole feeling of the song together. I can spot comping a mile off. So we didn’t comp it. It’s not a difficult song to sing. I got it down in one and then dropped in to correct a few mistakes. The little high answers at the end of the verses where it goes ‘It’s because…’ — Lol and Kevin could do that. They had great high voices, those two, so I multitracked them about four times on those lines (Principle 5).
“At this point there was no bass on the track whatsoever. The left-hand side of my Fender Rhodes was providing the bass notes — I played them in octaves with my left hand, which is how I normally play keyboards, and that was enough. It didn’t need a bass guitar. But again, there was another unusual idea suggested: why don’t we try a bass solo? A bass solo in a ballad? (Principle 17) Bloody stupid you’d think. However, it did fit beautifully. It’s all about searching for something that hasn’t been done before, and believe me, we sometimes spent days, sometimes weeks searching for sounds that we thought were different.
“For the bass solo, GiGi came into the control room, I DI’d his Rickenbacker through one of those lovely Dbx 160 compressors to keep its gorgeous, round, thumping sound tight and smooth, and he played the solo. We sat there and he played bits, and we said ‘Like that,’ ‘Don’t like that,’ ‘Do that again,’ and it developed. When we got that down, the song was, to all intents and purposes, finished, but again we sat there listening to it, wondering what else we could do to ‘screw’ this song up. That’s the way it was beginning to look to me.
…Well, when we listened to ‘I’m Not In Love’, Kevin kept saying ‘It’s not finished, it’s not finished,’ and I remember saying ‘What do you want to try next? A fucking tambourine solo in the middle of it? What do you want?’ We kept thinking and kept thinking, and Lol remembered he had said something into the grand piano mics when he was laying down the solos. He’d said ‘Be quiet, big boys don’t cry’ — heaven knows why, but I soloed it and we all agreed that the idea sounded very interesting if we could just find the right voice to speak the words. Just at that point the door to the control room opened and our secretary Kathy looked in and whispered ‘Eric, sorry to bother you. There’s a telephone call for you.’ Lol jumped up and said ‘That’s the voice, her voice is perfect!’(Principle 17)
“We got Kathy in the studio just to whisper (Principle 39) those words, and there it was, slotted in just before that bass guitar solo. And it fitted beautifully. Again, another little twist of fate, an accident that wasn’t on anybody else’s songs. We’d never heard that before. It just clinched it and made the song even more original.
There was one further addition. “The last thing recorded on ‘I’m Not In Love’ was a child’s music box over the fade out (Principle 13) We sent the secretary out to buy a simple plastic one, attached it to a piece of string, and Lol sat at the drum kit and whirled it slowly over his head (Principle 14) while I recorded it on the overhead drum mics.”
Given Kevin Godley’s initial reaction to ‘I’m Not In Love’, it may seem a little surprising that he was subsequently willing to not only give it another chance, but also to give it sufficient consideration to come up with such innovative ideas. However, it wasn’t the song that he hated as much as its initial sugary samba arrangement, and despite having been turned off it, he was eventually swayed by its popularity among the studio staff.
As Eric Stewart surmises, “He must have just sat there thinking ‘How can we do it and make it different? How can I not make it schmaltzy?’ And he figured it with the a cappella idea. It was great. A lovely piece of chemistry coming from his head.”
Amazing insight I think.
Check out the full interview here: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jun05/articles/classictracks.htm