#180: Emma by Hot Chocolate
Peak Month: May 1975
11 weeks on Vancouver’s CKLG chart
Peak Position: #1
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100: #8
Peak Position on Belgian Singles chart ~ #2
Peak Position on Dutch Singles chart ~ #2
Peak Position on New Zealand Singles chart ~ #2
Peak Position on UK Singles chart ~ #3
Anthony Wilson was born in Trinidad in 1947. He learned to play bass guitar and at the age of 20 helped form Hot Chocolate. Patrick Olive was born in Grenada in 1947 and learned to play bass guitar and percussion in his youth. He was one of the original members of Hot Chocolate in 1968, and has stayed with the band to the present. Larry Ferguson was born in the Bahamas in 1948. He learned to play piano growing up, and became the keyboard player for Hot Chocolate in 1969. He remained with the band until 1986. Harvey Hinsley was born in 1948 in Northampton, UK. He joined Hot Chocolate on guitar in 1970. He remains with the band to this day. Anthony “Tony” Connor was born in 1947 in Romford, UK. He was part of a band called Audience in 1969. Connor joined Hot Chocolate in 1970, adding drums and percussion. He was born in 1947. Errol Brown was born in 1943 in Jamaica. In 1969 Brown revised the lyrics to “Give Peace A Chance” and sent it to Apple Records in London. John Lennon loved the version Brown sent and his group was named The Hot Chocolate Band, later shortened to Hot Chocolate.
In 1970 Hot Chocolate had a #6 hit in the UK with “Love Is Life”. It also climbed to #13 in Ireland. Their followup single was “You Could’ve Been a Lady”. It stalled at #22 on the UK pop chart. It was successfully covered by April Wine who enjoyed Top Ten success in most Canadian radio markets in 1972, including number-one in Vancouver. Brown wrote the song “Brother Louie” in 1973 and Hot Chocolate had a #7 hit with the single in the UK that year. It was covered by The Stories later that year who had a number one hit with the song in the USA.
Next Errol Brown wrote “Emma”.
“Emma” was co-written by Errol Brown and Tony Wilson. The song addresses themes of suicide, early death and lost childhood. Brown’s lyrics celebrate his recently passed mother. The rawness of the lyrics and instrumental mood was developed after the producer Mickie Most asked him for further “depth and darkness.” The song details the love of the (nameless) singer and a girl called Emmalene from the age of five, through a wedding at 17 until her suicide at an unspecified later date. Emma it seems wanted to be a “movie queen” but could never find the breaks and eventually kills herself because “I just can’t keep on living on dreams no more.”
The Guardian wrote that Hot Chocolate surprised everyone in the music business with “the astonishing 1974 hit Emma, an impossibly morose tale of poverty, failure and suicide. The latter featured a remarkable vocal from Brown: he’s the model of resigned stoicism until the song’s closing minute, where he unleashes a series of harrowing screams.” “Emma” was released in February 1974 in the UK where it climbed to #3. The song slowly caught on across western Europe and eventually started to chart in Canada and the United States in February 1975. The single peaked in the USA in April, but waited until the end of May to peak in Vancouver at #1.
Other songs that discuss or infer suicide include “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones (“I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black” (hearses)/”I could not foresee this thing happening to you…”), and “Fire And Rain” by James Taylor.
“Emma” climbed in April 1975 to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100. In a dozen and a half states “Emma” got very little chart action. In Canada, the single got its best chart performances in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. “Emma” peaked at #1 in Vancouver (BC), #2 in Harrisburg (PA), Endicott (NY), #3 in Cleveland, Wichita (KS), Washington D.C., Chicago and Peoria (IL), Little Rock (AR), and San Bernardino (CA), #4 in Columbus (OH), Albany (NY), Milwaukee (WI), and Sioux Falls (SD), #5 in Reading (PA), Springfield (MA), Akron (OH), #6 in Buffalo, Troy (NY), Windsor (ON), Hamilton (ON), Boston, San Diego, Montreal and Palm Springs, #7 in Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Kansas City (MO), Springfield (MO), Salt Lake City, New Haven (CT) and Hartford (CT), #8 in Escondido (CA), and Salina (KS), #9 in Denver, Louisville (KY), and #10 in Salinas (CA) and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Internationally, “Emma” climbed to #2 in Belgium, the Netherlands and New Zealand, #3 in the UK, #6 in Australia, #7 in Ireland, and #19 in West Germany.
In 1975, Hot Chocolate had a hit single with “Disco Queen” which peaked at #11 in the UK. In addition, Errol Brown wrote “You Sexy Thing”, which climbed to #2 in New Zealand, the UK and USA’s Cashbox Top 100, #4 in Australia and Ireland, #5 in the Netherlands, #10 in Norway, #12 in Austria and #16 in Sweden. In 1976 both “Don’t Stop It Now” and “Man To Man” were Top 20 hits in Ireland, the UK and West Germany.
In 1977 Hot Chocolate found themselves at the top of the UK singles chart for the only time with “So You Win Again”. The single peaked at #2 in Ireland, #5 in the Netherlands, #6 in Austria, Belgium, Norway and West Germany, #8 in New Zealand and #12 in Australia. And later in ’77 “Put Your Love In Me” was a Top Ten hit for the band in the UK and West Germany.
In 1978, “Everyone’s A Winner” landed at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, #10 in the Netherlands, and was a Top 20 hit in Australia, Ireland, the UK and West Germany. Another Top Ten international hit for the band that year was “I’ll Put You Together Again”. In 1979 they released a single titled “Mindless Boogie” whose subject matter was the Jonestown Massacre. The single managed to climb to #21 in Ireland, perhaps as a reminder to the Irish not to drink the Kool-Aid.
In 1980, “No Doubt About It” was a Top Ten hit in Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK and West Germany. In 1982 “It Started With A Kiss” climbed to #1 in Belgium, peaked at #2 in New Zealand, and made the Top Ten in Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK. Other Top Ten hits for Hot Chocolate into the mid-80s were “Girl Crazy”, “What Kinda Boy You’re Lookin’ For (Girl)”, and “Tears On The Telephone”.
In 1987, “You Sexy Thing” appeared in the soundtrack for the horror film White of the Eye. As a result, the song had a second chart run in the UK and peaked at #10. When the comedy The Full Monty was released in 1997, “You Sexy Thing” climbed back up the UK Singles chart, this time to #6.
In 2015 Errol Brown died from liver cancer at the age of 71.
April 8, 2023
Alex Petridis, “Why Errol Brown’s Hot Chocolate were a far stranger group than they are given credit for,” Guardian, May 6, 2015.
Errol Brown Biography,” errolbrown.com.
“Errol Brown, Hot Chocolate singer, dies aged 71,” BBC, May 6, 2015.
“CKLG Thirty,” May 30, 1975.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.
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