Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
In 1974, after kicking out two albums worth of infectious, absurdist and wonderfully weird pop music, Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, a.k.a. 10cc, sat down and decided they’d try something new. As Gouldman later described it, “we’d been discussing writing a love song.” And so began the saga of the most heavenly and eccentric ballad to ever grace the AM radio airwaves and sneakily embed itself into innocent Valentine’s Day playlists, “I’m Not In Love.”
The song was famously inspired by a complaint issued to Stewart by his wife Gloria after they’d been married for a few years, specifically “you don’t say ‘I love you’ much any more.” His defense was that if he said it too often the words would lose their impact and sound both cavalier and insincere. As Stewart explained to The Guardian in 2018:
I started wondering how I could say it without using those actual words. So “I’m not in love” became a rhetorical conversation with myself – and then a song. I wrote the lyrics in a couple of days.
The song’s famously incongruous lyrical line, “I keep your picture upon the wall, it hides a nasty stain that’s lying there” was not in fact a joke, but an actual real life remembrance. Stewart did indeed utilize a photograph of Gloria to cover a crack in his bedroom wall at his parents house in Manchester.
Still, it took some time for the song to morph into the evergreen behemoth we know and love today. Stewart felt the tune needed some refining and engaged Gouldman to assist him. They both loved “The Girl From Ipanema” and so decided to set “I’m Not In Love” to a bossa nova beat. They recorded it with bandmates Godley and Creme the old-fashioned way with guitar, bass and drums… but Godley in particular was unimpressed with the result, cuttingly declaring the song to be “crap.” And with that, the band decided to abandon the song and began working on other tracks.
Yet “I’m Not In Love” refused to go away quietly. Seems its insidious melodic charm had infected the studio staff, resulting in their regularly humming it around the office. This was duly noted by Stewart and led to his convincing the band to give “I’m Not In Love” another chance. Begrudging brainstorming sessions ensued and ironically it was Godley who came up with the most ingenious idea to better the song, suggesting that it be constructed using only voices; “the biggest choir you can imagine.” Lol Creme took the baton from there, mentioning that the grand choral sound could be created most efficiently by using tape loops. For 3 weeks the band sang and recorded vocal parts, adding layer upon layer with the cumulative total landing at somewhere around 624 voices. Combine that with fleshed out instrumentation, some Fender Rhodes, guitar, bass and Moog synthesizer, a toy music box, and an unspeakably gorgeous lead vocal from Stewart and “I’m Not In Love”…was still not finished. The famous (and sometimes polarizing) final touch involved persuading studio receptionist Kathy Redfern to fill in the bridge by whispering the words “big boys don’t cry.”
With that, voila: a classic was born. The song enjoyed massive success in the most prestigious pop charts, hitting #1 in the UK pop charts and #2 in the U.S in 1975.
“I’m Not In Love” is weird. It’s like a reversible shirt of a song (do they still make those?). While it was written as a clever, playful declaration of adoration, it can also be read as a cruel dismissal, depending on where your head is at when you hear it. Which is part of its unending genius and why it sits so comfortably next to The Police’s famously misinterpreted anthem of bitterness “Every Breath You Take” in those unsuspecting love-themed playlists. “I’m Not In Love” is technically in love, but there’s an oddly cruel edge and mournful spirit inside of it that allows it to shape-shift and take on the guise of perverse interloper amongst the sweet lambs. On the one hand it’s a loved-up hymn of true devotion, but flip that emotional card over and you’ll hear a painful, pitiless wake-up call.
Lol Creme says it’s “the best track I have ever had the pleasure of being involved with. You look up to the gods and say thank you when something like that comes in from the speakers.”
In turn, allow us mortals to look up to 10cc themselves and say thank you for delivering this lustrous, otherworldly pop song to humanity.
There have been roughly a trillion covers of “I’m Not In Love” by everyone from Peggy Lee (sadly, not good) to The Pretenders (okay) to Queen Latifah (also okay), but there is something ineffably special about these five versions that makes them stand out from the crowd. Welcome to the coolest, sweetest and most utterly transcendent “loves” around.
Kelsey Lu – I’m Not In Love (10cc cover)
When it comes to matching the ethereal power of the original version of “I’m Not In Love,” a cover can only get but so close. And no one on the planet has come closer than esoteric alt-dreamer Kelsey Lu did in her stellar 2019 cover. In an interview with Enfnts Terribles in 2019, Lu described the songs message and its built in ambiguity this way: ” It’s this feeling of obsession with love, but also discrediting it.” Lu’s version is a masterful piece of pop song origami, delicately unfolding in unexpected ways to beauteous effect. Featuring endlessly echoing vocal ad-libs, more space than “Space Oddity,” and the song’s signature heartbeat at the front and center of the mix, it is positively transcendent.
Song Sung – I’m Not In Love (10cc cover)
Song Sung are Georgina and Una McGeough, twin sisters from Monaghan, Ireland, and their 2016 version of “I’m Not In Love” was done in collaboration with cinematic composer extraordinaire David Holmes. The track has a distinct late night in the city Chromatics vibe, all breathy vocalizing and woozy beats and is the aural equivalent of neon lights reflecting on a rain streaked cab window at 2am. Yup, all the poetic over the top visual descriptions apply here, for it is just that transportive and gorgeous.
Lazlo Bane – I’m Not In Love (10cc cover)
Alt-rock band Lazlo Bane have kicked out not one but two cover-themed releases over their 25-year career. The first of those was a 20-song love letter to ’70s AM radio classics called, yup, Guilty Pleasures. Amongst the tracks included was “I’m Not In Love,” a song no one should ever feel guilty about loving. The band cleverly incorporates a Beach Boys “In My Room”/”Warmth Of The Sun” flavor into their arrangement, giving it a heretofore unseen but undeniably welcome sunset over the Pacific vibe. And megabonus points for the sweetly subtle drums/acoustic guitar in the song’s second half and the supremely handsome and inventive vocal ad-libbing in the coda.
Rick Springfield – I’m Not In Love (10cc cover)
Rick Springfield’s “I’m Not In Love” appeared on his 2005 album The Day After Yesterday, a compellingly oddball collection of covers that exposed him as a knowledgeable savvy straight-up pop nerd. In addition to 10cc, it features songs by The Church, The Blue Nile, and Gerry Rafferty, and it makes for a sweet and surprisingly poignant listen. As covers go, it’s pretty faithful, there’s no real coloring outside the lines, but here’s the thing: Rick’s vocal is delivered with such sincerity and raspy angst that it’s clear he really, really loves the song. To further clarify, this is not the same thing as your brother singing off-key at the top of his lungs to “Old Time Rock and Roll” as he washes his car. This is Rick Springfield, supremely underrated power-pop lifer, taking his fandom to another level and doing it very, very well.
Meg Birch – “I’m Not In Love” (10cc cover)
Meg Birch has been responsible for some pretty exquisite covers over the past five years, including a couple that we’ve featured here (and here). Her 2016 version of “I’m Not In Love” is positively skeletal compared to all the others we’ve mentioned, just piano, bass and Birch’s virtuosic voice. Her showy vibrato flourishes lend her cover a distinctly modern day pop flavor, yet the overall mood is half empty; this is a total torch song…and an old school, heartbreaking slow burn of a performance.