10cc on ‘Rubber Bullets’: “It didn’t make any sense, but it worked”

Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Graham Gouldman remember the band's No 1

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ERIC STEWART: I’d always wanted to get behind the desk. I’d worked in some superb studios – towards the end of The Mindbenders we’d been to studios like Olympic in London, and they’d got a Helios desk made by Dick Swettenham. The Stones recorded many of their great albums on it. So I bought about eight modules from Dick Swettenham and put them in a desk that some local electricians had knocked up for us. The sound was great. By the time we did “Rubber Bullets” we had an eight-track Scully machine using these eight Helios mic-and-line modules. It sounded gorgeous.

GRAHAM GOULDMAN: We were learning all the time with everything we did. Eric was an engineer, so the fact that we were a completely self-contained unit was quite unusual. No-one else would be in the studio, no other engineers were necessary.

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KEVIN GODLEY: It quickly became obvious that these faders, these knobs, these little boxes, are capable of providing any noise that you can think of. All you have to do is think of them.

GOULDMAN: It became apparent while we were recording “Donna” that it had that indefinable thing that we’re always searching for. We were just having a good time, so it was a surprise when “Donna” did really well. We didn’t have any expectations about becoming a massive band or anything.

GODLEY: We’d had one hit, and we kind of figured, “Oh, that did well, let’s try and do something similar.” But we quickly realised that formula wasn’t going to be our strong point.

STEWART: [Second single] “Johnny, Don’t Do It” was really a take-off of a Shangri-Las song, “Leader Of The Pack”, that Godley and Creme had dreamed up. It’s quite a funny song, but no, Johnny didn’t do it for us.

GOULDMAN: It was a bit of a disappointment when it didn’t chart. But looking back, you know, it was another pastiche. I don’t think we had a conversation after… I think it was just bloody obvious that we couldn’t do another pastiche.

STEWART: Then Godley and Creme came up with “Rubber Bullets”. It was a brilliant idea. We couldn’t imagine writing a song about rubber bullets being fired at people – typical Godley and Creme. Perfect.

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GODLEY: It may be true to say that “Rubber Bullets” was the next thing that we wrote after “Johnny…”. Our way of writing, Lol and me, was just to accept what came out when we sat down and played and sang. So it was like, “Ok, ‘Johnny, Don’t Do It’ didn’t work, let’s not even think about what we do, let’s just do.’ Lol may have been working with a strange tuning, I’m not sure, but undoubtedly he was playing this smelly old Spanish guitar, and I’d sat down with a notebook opposite him. I think we started writing it in my parents’ house, and it just came out. It was one of those lucky songs that didn’t take a fortnight to write. We knew what the feeling of this thing was, which is kind of weird because the lyric is essentially about a fictitious prison riot, taken from a fictitious black and white movie from the era of James Cagney. We were big movie buffs in those days, me and Lol, so it was one of those kind of films… you know, with a prison riot, and there’s always a padre there, and a tough cop with a megaphone. It was caricaturing those movies. But the chorus talks about rubber bullets, which weren’t invented until the 1970s by the British government to quell the troubles in Northern Ireland. So it didn’t make any sense at all. But it just worked.

STEWART: The lyrics are great. Godley and Creme could come up with anything. They were graphic designers by trade, but they had that sort of mind that would just come up with something you’d never dream of. They did it so many times – you think of songs like “Sand In My Face”, an eight-stone weakling taking a body-building course so he can fight off a guy who’s trying to get hold of his girlfriend… or “Clockwork Creep”, a bomb on an airplane singing just before it’s about to blow the bloody plane up! No-one could come up with stuff like that. I used to look forward to going down to the studio each morning just wondering what crazy things we would get into. Godley and Creme really are the wackiest people I’ve ever met in the music business.

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