Hotlegs began back in 1970, when Eric Stewart was testing out his new recording studio with Kevin Godley bashing the drums, then Lol Creme started accompanying him with a bit of guitar and some silly lyrics and they ended up with the novelty hit single Neanderthal Man. They had nothing to follow it up with immediately, so the fickle public soon forgot about them. But what they eventually came up with was an album that contains some good time rockers (Um Wah Um Woh, Desperate Dan, Run Baby Run, The Loser), beautiful mellow songs (How Many Times, Take Me Back, Fly Away, Today) and the conceptual Suite F.A. Hotlegs were later joined by Graham Gouldman and became 10CC. This album could be considered to be the first 10CC album.
Having once owned the cheap vinyl compilation of the same name, I've been looking out for this collection on CD for a few years. Apart from the running order and an extra mix of the hit, 'Neanderthal Man', it's the same. That isn't surprising as it consists of the band's entire output: an album and a few singles.
Eric Stewart bought a Manchester recording studio in the late 1960s with money he'd made from his time with The Mindbenders and renamed it Strawberry Studios after his favourite Beatles song. There he hooked up with fellow Mancunians Kevin Godley and Lol Creme who had been collaborating for a few years. This music then is the result of a new partnership experimenting and casting for ideas. With hindsight, it can be viewed as the first footing of 10cc, two years ahead of that band's debut. The fourth 10cc member, Graham Gouldman, was already a working acquaintance. He'd played in a beat group with Godley before contributing material to The Mindbenders' final album. Here, however, he appears on just one track.
With such a diverse collection of songs, none of the tracks can be said to be representative of the whole. The gentler songs feature Godley's angelic vocal. Of these, 'How Many Times' seems only part-formed whereas 'Take Me Back' is very satisfying. 'Fly Away' meanwhile is the most delicate track, perhaps too sugary. 'All God's Children' with its fuller arrangement and 'Today' are, however, outstanding. The latter is a simple song wrapped in a beautiful acoustic guitar, organ and string arrangement.
The grittier tracks come in several shades. 'Desperate Dan' is a comic, throwaway bar room boogie; 'Run Baby Run' is a sardonic, bluesy song featuring Stewart's vocal and guitar prowess; 'Loser', sung by Creme, has more urgency. All of these have merit, but the fast, funky 'Um Wah Um Woh', with its intricate vocal arrangement, tops them all. So does the title track, which moves furiously through moods and tempo changes, starting with a jazzy slant and featuring a section which would be lifted wholesale for 'Fresh Air For My Mama', a track from the first 10cc album.
The band apparently hated 'Lady Sadie', but it's one of my favourite tracks, picking up momentum as it progresses. There is though a big question mark over the thirteen-minute opus, 'Suite F.A'. Lol Creme commented that the public probably wasn't ready for it, but I suspect that it was the other way round. The first of the three sections is satisfying: mellow guitar and a choir, the kind of sound Mike Oldfield would achieve on his early albums. Creme's vocal too is good. It loses momentum after this, however, and offers little to make the listener sit up.
On the whole, this is an interesting and entertaining album, but does contain a few wrong turnings. Although probably only of interest to 10cc fans, it is the best of the quartet's pre-10cc work. The 'Strawberry Bubblegum' collection, by contrast, consists of conveyor-belt pop which was churned out to pay the bills. They can also be found backing Ramases on 'Space Hymns' (don't bother) and Neil Sedaka on (I think) 'Emergence'.
Just to add to previous reviews, and maybe the collectability of this issue, the newly released CD features different mixes from those that appear on the "Thinks School Stinks" CD, issued some years back, and indeed the vinyl release of this very album, released way back in the '70's, a copy of which I still own.
So to add to your brand new US mix of "Neanderthal Man" you get different mixes of the tracks "Um Wah Um Woh", "Take Me Back" and "How Many Times" - some quite significantly different.
"How Many Times" has different violin on the end section of the new release. Its probably different in other ways too, but this is what jumped out.
"Take Me Back" loses the wildly and pointlessly panned guitar solo of the "Thinks School Stinks" release and adds an additional lead guitar in the left speaker. Other differences: no dodgy gong sounds at the start of the solo and the "aaah" backing vocals are further down in the mix.
"Um Wah Um Woh" is really different. For a start it loses the tacked on (an iffy edit) drums and bass only fade out that appeared on "Thinks School Stinks". Instead the rythmn section comes back in but is added to the vocals for the fade. During the massed "Um Wahs" that precede it, the mouth drums and some previously unheard guitar pop in and out and, like "Take Me Back", the wildly panning guitar solo isn't now stilled but is at least panned with some purpose, to simulate (without much success it has to be said) duelling guitars. Still an improvement though. Another big difference is the "School Stinks" version had an acoustic guitar break early on during which everything dropped out; that doesn't happen on this release.
There are other different edits (notably the nonsense count in to "Desperate Dan") but mostly the rest of the tracks seem to be the same mixes.
So why mention all this? Well us Anorak's - sorry, completists - like to know what we're getting and this to my ears is far superior than the only other CD version available of most of these songs. If you were to ask me which mixes were best overall, I'd probably say those on the vinyl, but I've been listening to them since I was 14 so I would say that.
The sad thing about 10cc is that the classic line up of Godley/Creme/Stewart/Gouldman only recorded four albums (o.k, Stewart & Gouldmans 10cc 'Deceptive Bends' was a good one if not any where near as good as the first four). So what we have here is 10ccs 1st album in all but name. It even has Gouldman playing on one track. Hotlegs were Godley/Creme & Stewart pre 10cc. This is an album of superb playing and wonderful songs. A worthy addition to any 10cc fans collection or for any body who just likes clever, tuneful, rock/pop music.
If you are a follower of 10cc this is a must.There are phrases both musically and lyrically that became big album tracks in later years.I have played and listened to it a lot, its a great insight to how 10cc became a fantastic but sadly greatly overlooked band.Recommended.
I'm no anorak about the history of this record, but as a fan of 10cc (when there were four of them) I was curious about this release. Over 40 years old it bears all the hallmarks of the first 10cc record - clocking in over one hour and yes some it sounds dated but overall this is an overlooked gem. The other reviewers seem to know the band and their history much better than me so let me just say this is an innovative, clever, British pop record and well worth a purchase.
Great to finally replace my old vinyl copy of this long overlooked album with a CD.Some hidden gems,mainly sung by the heavenly voice of Kevin Godley, and a tantalizing taster of the musical masterpieces that were to follow under a different name.