10cc’s “I’m Not In Love”: The Backstory

10 cc

What’s the deal with 10cc’s hit “I’m Not in Love”?  What’s with the wispy vocals? Or the line, “Big boys don’t cry”? And what the heck do lyrics that begin “I’m not in love, so don’t forget it. It’s just a silly phase I’m going through” mean?

“I’m Not in Love” is the product of supergroup 10cc, famously comprised of Eric Stewart (The Mindbenders), Graham Gouldman (The Mindbenders), Kevin Godley (Godley and Creme), and Lol Creme (Godley and Creme).  Some regard the original makeup of the band as being comprised of two separate two-person groups that each had their own style, which contributed to the variety of the music released by 10cc until Godley and Creme left to form their band.

Famously, the origin of the song was in response to Eric Stewart’s wife of eight years who continually asked him if he loved her. Rather than write a song about being in love, he wrote one essentially about falsely denying it.  Stewart composed the melody, worked with bandmate Graham Gouldman on a basic arrangement.  When he performed it for bandmates Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, they described it as “crap” and suggested it be tossed aside.  Stewart obliged and turned his attention to other tracks.

But then he regularly caught his bandmates quietly humming the melody of the song. He approached them again and asked them to reconsider.  Godley agreed but only if they did something completely unexpected with the track.  And boy, did they.

Listening to the track, the first thing you’ll hear is a near lack of instruments. Instead, a ghostly “ah” sound provides an eerie backing track.  The sound is much like something you’d hear from a modern synth pad.  To accomplish this, Stewart recorded the other three band members singing “ah” 16 times, chromatically, eventually leading to 48 overlayed voices over 12 tracks, one for each note in the scale.  Then he took the tapes and physically looped them so they would play “forever.”  These were then connected to a mixing board. Further, the fader slider for each track on the board was taped off so none of them could be completely silenced.  This is why you always hear that quiet backing track that includes each of the 12 tapes playing on top of each other – every note played simultaneously, quietly.   The result is something uniquely haunting. The only other instruments are an electric piano, electric guitar, and a Moog bass drum effect dialed back so that it sounds like a heartbeat.   The middle portion of the song introduces a bass guitar and piano, but sparingly.

The other odd part of the song is the whispered line, “Big boys don’t cry.”  The origin of that phrase is something random that Godley said into a mic as he was creating some of the solo passages. The band liked this odd directive, but who should provide these vocals?  The answer appeared when their assistant Cathy Redfern interrupted one of their sessions and quietly told them that there was a call holding for them.  Her whispered interruption was all they needed to hear to recruit her in recording the now-famous line.

When their label UK Records came to hear the track, they were so impressed that they immediately offered 10cc anything they wanted to lock them into a contract.  The result was a five-year deal that included significant funding and five albums – all based on this unique and mesmerizing song.

The quirky lyrics explain that while the singer is not in love, items like the photo received from his lover can’t be returned because it’s still needed to cover a stain on the wall.

The full six-minute version of the tune was released in the UK; the US version was cut down to just over three-and-a-half minutes.  It quickly become a number one hit in the UK, the band’s second after “Rubber Bullets” (1973).  And while 10cc went on to record more great music, “I’m Not in Love” is one of their most iconic releases.

More than forty-five years have passed since the song was released and still, it continues to be popular.  Most recently, inclusion in the Guardians of the Galaxy Marvel movie introduced it to a whole new group of young listeners.  The ongoing success of this song can be attributed to Eric Stewart’s wife’s insecurity, and the fact others in the band hated the song and refused to record it was originally conceived.

-Will Wills

Photo: Getty Images

PS. We first posted this in 2021, but love the song so much we wanted to see it again…

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Will Wills — a native-born Italian, raised in the US — does a killer impersonation of Mario (“a-letsa-go!”). Generally, you’ll find him frenetically bouncing between software development at a large US firm, leading a local dance/pop band, playing COD and watching MST3K. Yes, he’s sleep deprived, but you can follow his resulting incoherence at @WillrWills or his band at @WillsAndTheWays or his blog, "A Day in a Monkey's Life," if you’re suffering from insomnia, too.

6 comments on “10cc’s “I’m Not In Love”: The Backstory

  1. This may be my favorite track of the 70s. Studio magic by the masters, with real emotion.

  2. My interpretation even as a kid when released is that the song was a guy insisting that he was not in love with this gal even after they’d broken up. And he quite obviously is still hopelessly in love with her.

    Great song. The full version is downright affecting.

    Really good piece, WW. As per usual.

  3. Larry Lewis

    I’d had no idea on the song’s origins nor the studio manipulations involved. Fascinating article on a great song.

  4. John B.

    Clearly one of my favorite recordings of all time. I saw the “new” 10cc (sans Kevin Godley a

  5. (continued:) and Lol Creme in 1978 and they magnificent! “I’m Not In Love” was their encore number and the entire audience was mesmerized!

  6. When I was a young ‘un, I thought she was saying “requesting climb”.

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