Updated: Feb 20
Clever-clever MOR popsters 10cc had four members when the group formed in 1972; Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme (of the Godley and Creme, highly annoying 70s/80s chart affliction).
Together in the 70s, this sometimes musical foursome wrote and recorded a series of single hits and released four LPs before splitting in 1976 (when Godley and Creme left to form, er, Godley & Creme). But it was 10cc’s fourth LP, How Dare You! (1976) that was to feature two of the band’s strongest singles; the very 70s take on oil-crisis hit Britain, Art For Art's Sake, and the far more interesting sex, travel and advertising homage, I'm Mandy Fly Me.
I’m Mandy Fly Me is claimed, by some, to be about drugs (Rock n rock! Drugs! No!), and specifically about Mandrex (also known as Mandies, or the love drug). Mandrex’s big claim to fame is that it slows down the heart ("What goes up must come down," as I’m Mandy Fly Me has it), and there is, in some quarters, a veritable industry devoted to reading the lyrical runes of 10cc’s Number 4 nearly chart-topper for signs of Mandies’ little tricks.
However, in 1976 there was also another kind of girl asking the heterosexual men of the world to try her and feel her thrills. Her name was Margie, Nancy, Cheryl and/or Barbara, and her vision, controversial to some at the time, filled the pages of newspapers and magazines. Our fathers may deny her existence, but that does not mean that she or these lovely, lovely girls were not clutched to the hearts of men who cannot now hear the sound of a mid-air doorbell without also affectionately recalling the words I’m Margie, Nancy, Cherly and/or Barbara, fuck me. Sorry, fly me.
It was National Airlines that in 1971 launched the ‘I'm Cheryl. Fly me,’ advertising campaign; a £4.7 million poster and print media onslaught focused on red-blooded heterosexual men everywhere: "I'm Margie [or Nancy, and/or Cheryl, or Barbara]. Fly Me," those adverts purred provocatively. National even went so far as to paint the names of these (fantasy) women on the noses of its planes (mmm, classy) and gave Fly Me badges to its stewardesses to wear on their uniforms.
Not totally unsurprisingly, as a result, some National stewardesses complained that the campaign amounted to a personal, rather than a commercial proposition and was a blatant sexist pitch, with them as the bait. Or, as stewardess Ilene Held put it at the time, "If the ads would just say, 'Fly with me,' we'd be asking people to fly as part of our airline. It's the live stuff that gets to men, that makes them think 'let's fly with National and see what they have.'”
In protest, some stewardesses refused to wear the in-no-way-insulting badges given to them and the campaign quickly blew up into court action, when Florida's Dade County Circuit Court turned down a protest group request for a restraining order to ground the campaign completely.
Holy media outcry. And this at a time when Northwest Airlines had stewardesses in hot pants and Braniff’s spot television campaign featured a stripper. Yes. Literally. Was she, do you think, a great way to fly? Would she have taken more er, care of you?
Through all this bra-waving (on both sides of the sex war battlefield) National pleaded a certain kind of corporate innocence: "The stewardesses became an extension of the airline. We had no preconceived idea of injecting a suggestive leer into the campaign,” as Public Relations Director Robert Mattel put it. Though it was National that ended up laughing (and leering). For, despite the controversy, the campaign did do the business, generating a 23% increase in passengers during the first year of the campaign (twice that of the industry as a whole).
The effect of Fly Me went far beyond the worlds of air travel and much-macho men in business class, however, as like many successful advertising campaigns, whether we welcome them or not, its combination of slogan, concept and appearance at a particular time (i.e. when feminism had begun to gain some traction) caused the campaign to have an impact far beyond the defined markets targeted by National.
Television advertising has a habit of doing this, perhaps more successfully than any other medium outside of the pop song, partly because adverts are generally short, designed to do what they do (as opposed to being artful creations for their own sake) and because they have so much time, money and expertise poured into them. We may resent them, we may consciously resist them, but deep down we love them.
And 10cc here are simply showing the love and the desire that men feel as they are pulled along on the scary fairground ride in the sky that is jet airliner travel, comforted along the way by the women who ply the aisles of those expensive metal tubes. It is sexy to some, apparently rarefied to others, and the next frontier as far as the battle between politics and business is concerned: Expand and live your individualistic dreams, one says to our heart: Think of the planet and the neighbours, the other mumbles into our ear. And all the time we queue, and queue, and pray that the easy relationship between terrorism and being above the earth contemplating a fiery death will not lead us to the disaster we most fear. Air travel is one of the great gifts of the technological age (despite recent lo-budget horrors) and perhaps the greatest factor in creating the world we live in today, for good or ill.
And it’s this dilemma that I’m Mandy Fly Me infatuates and congratulates, with its thread of hope in the confusing and frightening skies of potential liberation, represented here in the figure of the stewardess/sex symbol launched onto the world by National: “I've often heard her jingle/It's never struck a chord/With a smile as bright as sunshine/She called me through the poster/And welcomed me aboard/ She led me she fed me/She read me like a book/But I'm hiding in the small print/Won't you take another look/And take me away/Try me Mandy fly me away.”
But it’s also the potential death, and allied to it, the hope of angelic salvation which also nags at the edge of this particular fantasy of living through advertising high up there in the sky: “The world was spinning like a ball/And then it wasn't there at all/And as my heart began to fall.”
Death and sex: Heart raising and heart-stopping and both as powerful as the other.
After its whirlwind journey through hope, loss and salvation, I’m Mandy Fly Me ends as it began, with a sort of weightless mental meandering on the part of technology in life and death, and how all three are joined by the dreams of advertising: “I found me on a street/And starin' at a wall/If it hadn't have been for Mandy/Her promise up above me/Well I wouldn't be here at all/So if you're travellin' in the sky/Don't be surprised if someone said Hi/I'm Mandy fly me.”
It’s quite a sweet song about a fairly ridiculous proposition and one which, perhaps thankfully, no longer resonates quite as it used to. And it is also a reminder of how advertising, and particularly multi-media advertising campaigns, can take our dreams and fears and make something rather powerful out of them than we perhaps imagine is possible. To which resistance is, ultimately, futile: I’m Freddy, fly me.