Godley and Creme: Playfulness, pastiche and the grotesque.

“We tend to treat the studio rather like a sort of sophisticated sandpit. So it’s just a place to play around in. Which is how we usually work. We get an idea, which might be a word or a lyric or an idea for a sound and we play around with it. We literally do play with the sound. We enjoy ourselves with sound and music. And we construct tunes and songs in that manner.” (Kevin Godley in Oakley, 2008)

Regardless of the medium or era, most of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme’s creative output is notable for its playful, imaginative take on subject matter, its eclectic nature, and a love of the silly and grotesque. As detailed in the above quote, it also emerges from an atmosphere of fun.

In a 2012 article, the interviewer commented that Creme’s old band (10cc) came across on record as enjoying themselves and having fun. Creme responded: “SOME fun?! A LOT of fun! We certainly didn’t take ourselves seriously in 10cc at all and I think that it does show in all of our records” (Man On The Moon, 2012). The same can be said for Godley and Creme’s subsequent work. Ex-Beatle, George Harrison has referred to the duo as “a couple of loonies, especially Lol” (Badman, 2001, p. 358).

Godley and Creme’s musical output consists, as often as not, of pastiches of musical styles that usually don’t feature comfortably in a post-Beatles hit parade: showtunes, Doo-wop, movie soundtracks, Gershwin-esque “spiritual” choirs. In particular, the duo relish resurrecting genres and stylistic conventions that have not aged so well, playing up (though affectionately) past the point of parody into the realm of absurdity (Lol’s impersonation of the female object of the singer’s desire in the bridge of “Donna,” 1972 – their first hit as members of 10cc – is a case in point).

Godley and Creme are mostly widely known as:

  1. writer/directors of seminal music videos for acts including The Police, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Duran Duran, Herbie Hancock, Elton John and George Harrison,
  2. producers of their own videos and songs as a duo (for e.g., the hits “An Englishman In New York,” 1979, and “Cry,” 1985), and
  3. members of the band 10cc, along with Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart.

This list accounts for only a small portion of the team’s creative output since meeting as teenagers in the late 1950s (to collaborate on a homemade 8mm film of “Dracula”). Since that time, Godley and Creme have worked professionally as creatives in a variety of media, including: print, film, cinema/TV advertising, and musical instrument-related design/manufacture (Blair, 1988).

Diverse Creative Output

A small sample of Godley and Creme’s creative output between 1969 and 1988 includes:

  • book design for Pan publishing (including cut-out 3D models, designed and/or illustrated by the duo)
  • album cover design for bands such as The Alan Parsons Project
  • writing and illustrating a satirical, quasi-fictional memoir
  • the invention, production, and marketing of a mechanical musical device called the Gizmotron that bows the strings of an electric guitar (see photo). This device’s launch was accompanied by a separate three record-set concept album called Consequences, 1977, that showcases the wide variety of musical and timbral possibilities it’s capable of producing
  • the writing and directing of TV commercials for Wrangler Jeans, Nissan, and Yellow Pages (among many other notable clients)
  • the writing, storyboarding, and signing a deal for the production of a Hollywood feature film (never put into production)
  • playing as session musicians for a wide variety of clients including Neil Sedaka, (“bubble-gum” producers) Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffrey Katz, Mike McGear, Hermin’s Hermits and others (Inoue, 2014)
  • Click Here for an up-to-date and exhaustive listing of both Godley and Creme’s creative output.

Notable works

A selection of Godley and Creme’s work follows (both audio and audio-visual), demonstrating the scope of their imagination, sense of fun, novelty, and irreverence. It spans their time with 10cc (1972-1976) and as a duo (1977-1989):

“Hotel” (1974): The 80 second-long introduction features a jungle soundscape created by Lol Creme using a moog synthesiser to emulate bird sounds and unidentified cooing animals, in addition to exotic-sounding melodic fragments. Complete with ominous, muffled, distant drums, this piece wouldn’t sound out of place in a 1940s Hollywood Tarzan feature.

“I Wanna Rule The World” (1976): This record production comes across as pantomime-like exploration of the motivation behind a would-be dictator. The music features (once again) clichéd Hollywood musical signifiers, this time adopted from the war movie genre (for e.g., snare drums and timpanis). It’s also notable for a maniacal Hitler-esque rally rant and some cartoon-esque “villainous” organ chords. Lol Creme’s lead vocal sounds not unlike a young Woody Allen playing the role of fumbling, would-be ruler-of-the-world Jimmy Bond, from the James Bond spoof Casino Royale (Hughes, Huston, McGrath, Parrish & Talmadge, 1967).

“Seascape” (1977): The first minute of this piece–the opening track of the triple-album Consequences–is an evocative musical representative of the ocean, featuring undulating musical waves and intermittent splashes of sonic surf. All musical sounds heard are created using multi-tracked electric guitars fitted out with Godley and Creme’s mechanical bowing device called the “Gizmotron.” The piece is something like a movie soundtrack without visuals to pin it down. It’s therefore, a poor attempt at program music in the Romantic-era sense (but that was never the point): the last two minutes suffering from a lack of sufficient extra-musical cues to bring much-needed coherency. The sounds and atmosphere of this track are nonetheless stunning.

The following track “Wind” (1977) was used in a Benson and Hedges cigarette commercial in the late 1970s, and in that context, gains greater coherence as a result of the visual narrative. The track “Stampede” (1977) works better as program music, with a strong melodic figure adding formal strength, along with the musical signification of charging animals being stronger than the more abstract elemental themes of water, wind, fire and earth.

 

“This Sporting Life” (1978): Consider the following words spoken as if over a telephone receiver (at 4 minutes, 17 seconds into the song): “This is the Bad Samaritans. Hello, loved one. Sorry there was nobody here to take your call personally. However, we understand what you’re going through. How you’ve travelled life’s highway with your smile on upside down. And now you think you’ve found the ultimate answer to all your problems. Don’t be hasty. Why waste a life. Wait ‘til there’s a crowd down below. Give a little when you go.”

I Pity Inanimate Objects” (1979): A simple premise with fascinating-yet-grotesque results. A study in dissonance and distortion anchored by a one-bar acoustic guitar ostinato. The vocal is fed through a digital harmoniser and contorted to all manner of whimsical pitch leaps and contours. A piercing, improvised solo electric guitar obbligato adds much-needed contrast between most verses.

“The Problem” (1981): Lyrics: “If a man, A, who weighs 11 stone, leaves his home at 8.30 in the morning in a car whose consumption is 16.25 miles per gallon at an average speed of 40 miles an hour to his office which is 12 miles away and he stops for coffee on the way for 15 minutes…”

“Cry” (1985): This video has a simple premise. A wide variety of faces, ranging from striking to unexceptional are photographed close-up in black and white, steadily dissolving from one into another as their owners mime the song lyrics. The use of digital audio sampling (then a relatively new gimmick) to create an impossibly high-pitched, corny, and emphatic “Mickey-Moused” major-chord vocal arpeggio finale is hilariously incongruent and grotesque, given that up until that point it was a brooding, yearning, and quite serious song.

No Money Down” (1986): This video was directed for client Lou Reed who had requested not to be in it. In a way he isn’t and yet, is. The video is unnerving from the very beginning as, at first, its not clearly evident if the single visible figure is Reed or not. Once it becomes clearer that it’s in fact an animatronic double, it isn’t long before “his” own hands start violently tearing away his prosthetic face, tongue and jaw. Grotesque yes, but also very funny.

Mondo Video” (1989): This piece was conceived, directed, composed, and performed by Godley and Creme as a fully integrated audio-visual whole (it was never released in an audio-only format). The edits and movements on screen each correspond to musical motifs in such that way that it’s difficult to detect which came first. The visuals adopt a similar approach to that of audio sampling techniques popular at the time. Divorced from any clear context, they’re triggered and retriggered continuously. There’s no message or narrative here, other than a combining of synchronised visual and sonic elements for the sheer delight of doing so.

It’s as if Godley and Creme are saying: “Here are some motifs, visual and sonic, and this is what we did with them. We not only played them, but we played with them.” Of all Godley and Creme’s creative output, this piece stands out as one of the most playful (defined by Lieberman, 1977, as a fun observable element occurring within specific instances of play). It’s more like an etude (a “study”) or experiment rather than a composition done with paying audiences in mind. “Mondo Video” comes across as a by-product of playfulness: an “artefact of play.” Click here to watch Goldey and Creme discuss the project with Terry Wogan (notice Lol’s emphasis on the importance of having fun with the project).

Regarding the grotesque in creative practice

Along with Eno, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan, Godley and Creme’s love of the grotesque is a quality observable in the work of many creatives. Consider the following quote taken from Getzels and Jackson’s (1962) study of “gifted” students:

“The stories, the drawings, and in a measure the autobiographies of our highly creative adolescents demonstrate quite clearly that the world of fantasy contains anxieties as well as delights. It is a world that may be entered to escape the mundane, the pedestrian, and the trivial aspects of reality–a secret chamber providing solace to the Walter Mitty in everyone–but it is also a world containing the shock of the unexpectedly grotesque, a carnival funnyhouse in which the daydream may be transformed into a nightmare. Although it is customary to portray the “dreamer” as the person who shies away from the battle of practical affairs by retreating from the onslaughts of reality, there is a special sense in which he [sic], the explorer of his own fantasy, may exhibit a courage unknown to those whose vision remains focused only on the means and ends of everyday existence.” (p. 104)

Their own words regarding their creative process

Kevin Godley: Click Here to buy Kevin Godley’s new multimedia e-book Spacecake (2015). It’s part memoir, part discussion of his creative works over the years. Importantly, in it he gives a contemporary re-appraisal of Godley and Creme’s formidable Consequences (1977) album.

Lol Creme: Click Here to read a 1997 interview with Lol Creme regarding the making of Consequences. In the interview he states (regarding the album’s commercial failure): “I didn’t give a shit, I really didn’t. And I never have, to me it’s the doing of something that’s the vibe, it’s not necessarily the result” (Booth, 2015).

Creme has described here what Apter (1991) calls the paratelic (playful) frame of mind where “the activity comes first and the goal is secondary and chosen in relation to the activity” (p. 16). Within the protective frame of a playful (paratelic) mindset, incongruous categories no longer seem to create the anxieties they would for a “reasoned” (telic) frame. In the paratelic state, the future results of one’s thoughts and actions are pushed aside. Therefore, incongruities–along with the high arousal that they produce–are not only tolerated but also experienced as enjoyable and exciting. In the telic frame of mind the situation is reversed.

My favourite Lol Creme quote regarding the making of Consequences says so much about the inter-relatedness of science and art: “To us, doing ‘Consequences’ was like a laboratory of music, a scientific experiment but instead of being built on fact, it was built on emotion” (Doherty, 1977, p. 45). Nuff said.

(c) 2015 Marshall Heiser

Please note: Portions of some of the articles and postings contained in this website were presented in thesis form in fulfillment of the requirements for the PhD of Marshall Heiser from Griffith University (Qld. Conservatorium of Music).

References:

Apter, M. J. (1991). A structural phenomenology of play. In J. H. Kerr & M. J. Apter (Eds.), Adult play: A reversal theory approach (pp. 13-29). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger.

Badman, K. (2001). The Beatles–The dream is over: Off the record 2. London, England: Omnibus Press.

Blair, I. (1988). The weird and wonderful world of Godley & Creme (or how two old friends took to multimedia wizardry like ducks to water). In Pulse!, 66-72.

Booth, G. (2015). Lol Creme’s interview for Uncut magazine, 14th December 1997. [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.suppertime.co.uk/blint/lol.shtml.

Doherty, H. (1977, September 24) The things we do for art. In Melody Maker, 10-45.

Getzels, J. W., & Jackson, P. W. (1962). Creativity and intelligence; Explorations with gifted students. London, England; New York, NY: Wiley.

Godley, K., and Creme, L. (1978). This sporting life. On L. [Vinyl album]. London, England: Phonogram Ltd.

Godley, K., and Creme, L. (1981). The Problem. On Ismism. [Vinyl album]. London, England: Polydor Records.

Hughes, K., Huston, J., McGrath, J., Parrish, R., & Talmadge, R. (Directors). (1967). Casino Royale [Motion Picture]. USA: Columbia Pictures.

Inoue, K. (2014). The works of Godley and Creme. Retrieved from http://gcworks.web.fc2.com.

Lieberman, J. N. (1977). Playfulness: Its relationship to imagination and creativity. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Man on the moon. (2012). Lowdown Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.thelowdownmagazine.com/Man_on_the_Moon-4918.html

Oakley, A. (2008, February 27). Lol Creme & Kevin Godley interview 1980(ish) [Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbNBygTzjlo.