332. ‘Rubber Bullets’, by 10cc

On the face of it, this next #1 isn’t a glam rock record. But there are enough glam touches here to keep it sounding very ’72-’73. It chugs, it boogies, it makes you wanna shake something…

Rubber Bullets, by 10cc (their 1st of three #1s)

1 week, from 17th – 24th June 1973

If it isn’t a glam rock record, then… What is it? Well, it’s got huge nods towards fifties rock ‘n’ roll – Elvis’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in particular – some Beach Boys’ harmonies, some CCR-style Americana, a middle-eight that goes all Simon & Garfunkel, as well as lots of squiggly, experimental-sounding effects. Recently, we heard Roy Wood and Wizzard chuck every idea they’d ever had into the mix on ‘See My Baby Jive’ to produce a wondrous piece of music, and this is 10cc’s attempt at something similarly epic.

Except, ‘See My Baby Jive’ wasn’t testing any lyrical limits. It was about the singers baby, jiving. ‘Rubber Bullets’, on top of all the sonic fun and games, is also trying to make a statement. I went to a party at the local county jail, All the cons were dancing and the band began to wail… In ‘Jailhouse Rock’, Elvis and the lads have a great time at their party. Here, the governor is quickly forced to call in the police

Load up, load up, load up, Your rubber bullets… Sargent Baker and his men shoot over to the jail, to keep order. From here on, the story is told in different voices. The cons: Is it really such a crime, For a guy to spend his time, At the local hop at the local county jail… And the police: I love to hear those convicts squeal, It’s a shame these slugs ain’t real… There are a few gems, too. The line about having a tear-gas of a time, and the all-time classic: We all got balls and brains, Some have balls and chains… (which was cut when this disc got a spin on the radio…)

By the end things have escalated to such a point that they’ve called in the National Guard. (And suddenly a forty-seven year old song sounds very 2020…) In 1973, despite the band putting on very deliberate American accents, and the lyrics being all very small-town US, the controversy came from the fact that the British army had just started using rubber bullets to deal with the troubles in Northern Ireland.

So. While ‘See My Baby Jive’ flourished under the ‘kitchen sink’ method, I feel that ‘Rubber Bullets’ suffers a little from all its many influences. It’s an exhausting listen at times. But it’s still great fun – don’t get me wrong – and not for a second does the record drag. Apparently, as it was one of the first singles recorded by 10cc, the band were simply enjoying having an entire recording studio to mess around in. And for my money, the very best bit of the song is the super-scuzzy, sped-up, distorted guitar solo.

That guitar returns to end the well over five minute album version of ‘Rubber Bullets’, while the radio-edit comes in well under four minutes. I think I’ve attached the right, somewhere in between those two lengths, single version below. 10cc, the sort of band that you know more songs from than you realise, had had one #2 hit before this – ‘Donna’ – and will go on to have two more #1 singles in the 1970s. Neither of which sound anything like ‘Rubber Bullets’. They were fun, experimental, and I need to listen to more of them. And I dare you to look up the inspiration behind their name…

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11 thoughts on “332. ‘Rubber Bullets’, by 10cc

  1. Some journo at the time, I think it was the late Charlie Gillett, wrote a piece on 1973 chart music in which he pointed out that both Wizzard and 10 cc were the masters of making really sophisticated, ambitious major hit singles that weren’t too clever for their own good and still made great pop records. I agree with him. There’s a lot going on in both of them, and unlike a lot of other chart fare, you’d spend much longer than five minutes working out the chords for each one while hunched over an acoustic guitar – there’s so much going on. Two great object lessons in being clever and still selling thousands of copies without having to appeal to the lowest common denominator. (And would it have turned into another ‘Relax’ if the BBC had banned it after all?)

    1. They are both really good records, though I would stick to my initial feeling that Wizzard’s is truly great, while this one has just one ‘thing’ too many. What that ‘thing’ is… I couldn’t tell you!

  2. Wow. Their sound changed a LOT in 1975 with I’m Not In Love. At the beginning, they almost sound like they are banging on bamboo rods or something.

    Now I know where Godley & Creme came from.

  3. 10CC are my 2nd fave band of the 70’s (after Abba) and the band most needing re-evaluation critically and commercially. They were smart, witty, inventive, genre-hopping, emotive and much much more. The first two albums are brilliant, so varied, and pushing pop music into new areas, but the clever lyrics and wit worked against them in the long run as people dismiss humour as somehow lowbrow.

    Like fuzzy or climaxing guitars? Check out Speed Kills and Wall Street Shuffle, a biting indictment 35 years early for the banking crisis. Avante-garde? Worst Band In The World. Haunting? Old Wild Men. Amusing? The Dean And I. Clockwork Creep – seriously that one is about an exploding atomic bomb from the point of view of the bomb! Menacing? Baron Samedi.

    Plus, Eric Stewart was in The MIndbinders (Groovy Kind Of Love), Graham Gouldman was a teenage hit songwriter (Bus Stop, For Your Love, No Milk Today and others), and 3 of them had hit as Hotlegs in 1970 (Neanderthal Man). OK, I’m a huge fan! 🙂

  4. Pingback: 345. ‘Jealous Mind’, by Alvin Stardust – The UK Number Ones Blog

  5. Pingback: Recap: #331 – #360 – The UK Number Ones Blog

  6. Pingback: 372. ‘I’m Not in Love’, by 10cc – The UK Number Ones Blog

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