Various Artists

Strawberry Bubblegum: A Collection of Pre-10CC Strawberry Studio Recordings 1969-1972

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More than three decades on from the group's inception, 10cc remains one of British rock's most collectible acts, not for what it achieved during its lifetime, however, but for all it wrought in the ten years before then. At least two different bootlegs, the Hotlegs album and a slew of Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders reissues, have pursued the topic into the CD age, but this is the first release to officially delve into the Graham Gouldman/Kevin Godley/Lol Crème/Eric Stewart archive with any serious sense of purpose -- and it emerges a triumph.

As the title implies, the emphasis is on the quartet's work as sessionmen for American bubblegummers Kasenatz-Katz, at their own Strawberry Studios in Stockport, England. Recording under such reliable brand names as Crazy Elephant and Freddie & the Dreamers, the team amassed several major American and European hits. But they also undertook a number of sessions under their own steam. Gouldman's Garden Odyssey and Tristar Airbus, latter-day Herman's Hermits vocalist Peter Cowap, Manchester City Football Club, and more trailed into the studios to record some lovely slices of pop, pursuing the Hotlegs experiment with such gems as "Umbopo," "Funky City," and a sensational reworking of "Da Doo Ron Ron." Indeed, across 23 tracks, Strawberry Bubblegum unwraps so many facets of the team's creativity that, in many ways, its eventual consolidation as 10cc saw the group reining in some of its greater excesses, to become almost one-dimensional by comparison.

Not everything on this album is amazing -- several tracks, the musicians admit, were written and recorded purely for the money. But even at their most mercenary, the four brought a perfectionist quality to the proceedings that few other jobbing sessioneers of the age would ever have bothered with. And, though the story remains woefully incomplete (wherefore John Paul Jones for a start?), still the story of 10cc has just taken one of its greatest steps forward in years. Now, how about volume two?

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