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.