A few days have gone by since we learned of the sad passing of Errol Brown M.B.E., lead singer of Hot Chocolate. Errol wasn’t just a performer (and what a performer he was!) – his writing partnership with bassist Tony Wilson (not the late Tony Wilson of legendary Factory Records fame) gave us some great songs and contributed massively to the band’s immense success (and their writing wasn’t limited to the world of Hot Chocolate…Peter Noone’s Herman’s Hermits were also the beneficiary of the talent). Elvis and Diana Ross were the only other acts who/which had UK hits in every year of the 70’s and the band went on to also have at least one hit every year between ’80 and ’84 – at least one hit in every year between 1970 and 1984 – THAT is longevity! The music scene changed dramatically between 1970 and 1984 and for a band to have at least one hit in each and every one of those years, that is an incredible feat!
I said above that a few days have gone by since we learned of Errol’s passing. It seems to have affected me quite deeply. Hot Chocolate was very much a part of the soundtrack to my youth and Errol was there when, as a kid (I was born in 1966), I first discovered the wonder and joy that is music. I remember the early 70’s but I imagine that a lot of that music is known to me through listening to it in the late 70’s. I remember, however, very well the late 70’s and listening to the music that was coming out at that time and Hot Chocolate featured large!
I listen to Hot Chocolate’s music today and it presses my buttons. The ‘intros’ (I can ‘name that tune’ in one!!) make me melt. The music is like a magic carpet back to those days, the songs put an instant smile on my face and they are songs which are as good today as they were back then, they are songs which travel and which will live on. Errol’s songs were ‘floor fillers’, up there with ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ and they still get my generation, us oldies, onto the dance floor. I never met Errol, I so wish I had and if I had, I would have thanked him profusely for the music, for his legacy and for all those great times.
It’s great that ‘The Full Monty’ helped to bring Hot Chocolate to a new audience but there is so much more to Hot Chocolate than ‘You Sexy Thing’ (and don’t forget that ‘Alan Partridge’ loved ‘It Started With A Kiss’…he got seriously carried away singing the “you don’t remember me, do you?” lyric!). I think it’s always a shame when a band or an artist has a huge hit which clouds people’s memories such that they forget, or don’t even get to know, other great songs and work. Other examples which always come to mind are Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacabana’ , ‘Bermuda Triangle’ and ‘Mandy’ – there is SO SO much more to Barry Manilow than those three songs. Barry became friends with the legendary lyricist Johnny Mercer late on in Mercer’s life and after he, Mercer, died, his widow asked Manilow to put some unfinished lyrics to music. One of the results is a beautiful song, ‘When October Goes’: I rest my case!
I also think it’s sad when great bands and performers don’t get the credit they deserve. Back to Barry Manilow but they do get the last laugh. I think history reassesses their contribution later on and the stats speak for themselves. As I mentioned above, Hot Cholcolate having at least one hit every year between ’70 and ’84, Errol’s stats speak for themselves (and Manilow’s stats are staggering!) and it’s not only in the UK where Errol’s passing will be felt – Errol cracked the US, too.
Errol was a consummate entertainer. He was there when the songs were born and he was there when we first met them. Errol was a terrific, unique performer, he gave the songs an ‘x’ factor just as a great comedian can write a funny joke but can deliver it in such a way that it cracks us up. No one could do more justice to the songs than did Errol and the band!
I don’t like to single out (forgive the pun) any songs as special because it detracts from other great songs but I want to mention a few which resonate with me personally and which I will never tire of listening to:
‘Emma’ (‘Emmaline’) (what a performance on the video!!), ‘So You Win Again’, ‘Brother Louie’ (not to be confused with Modern Talking’s ‘Brother Louie – one of my ‘guilty pleasures’), “I’ll Put You Together Again’, ‘No Doubt About It’ and, yes, ‘Girl Crazy’.
Errol Brown, thank you so much for the music, you have left us a wonderful legacy and we will never forget you! RIP