Hot Chocolate – Box Selection

Hot Chocolate scored three proper hit singles in America. There was the throbbing goth-pop tragedy of “Emma” in 1973, followed by the lite disco of 1975’s “You Sexy Thing,” and then a late rally with 1978’s synthy/funky “Every 1’s A Winner.” The disco hit would become the band’s cash cow as a feel-good movie anthem. “Emma” was weird enough to score a cover by Urge Overkill at the start of the ’90s, while “Every 1’s A Winner” got a more immediate hipster endorsement when Alan Vega of Suicide covered it for 1983’s Saturn Strip.

That’s all most people know about a band whose multiple British hits between 1970 and 1984 were just as eclectic as what broke through in the States. There’s actually a long history to Hot Chocolate even before their debut LP in 1974. Stories, for example, had the American hit with “Brother Louie” in 1973, but it was originally a Hot Chocolate song – co-written, like nearly all the band’s hits, by frontman Errol Brown.

You don’t get that single on Box Selection: Their 8 RAK Albums 1974-1983. Nobody’ll be missing it, either. The first disc opens with Hot Chocolate’s proper LP debut of Cicero Park, and the first three tracks are worthy of any classic rock album. The opening title track has the same Ennio Morricone influence that Cameo would take a decade to turn into a pop hit. “Could Have Been Born In The Ghetto” is an epic soul track worthy of Curtis Mayfield, and “A Love Like Yours” matches ’60s psychedelia with a Nashville influence. The album crams in so much weirdness that it’s a shock when “Disco Queen” is actually a dance track.

Each disc contains two Hot Chocolate albums, and that quality and vision never lets up. The second disc opens with the single-only “Dollar Sign,” and it’s a dismissal of materialism backed by sweeping orchestration. What does it mean that the song is followed by “Heaven Is In the Back Seat of My Cadillac” as Man To Man‘s opening track? It means Hot Chocolate wants to take you there, and it’s not like anybody said you had to go dismissing all materialism. Besides, the next song is about the joys of living on a shoestring, and there’s a disturbingly mature title track about infidelity that concentrates on what’s truly important.

The entire box set – actually a jewel-boxed collection at a very affordable price – feels like that kind of rushed genius. By 1980’s Class, they’re covering Sting and Elvis Costello in tastefully lush settings that are probably still the envy of the original artists. Then the final disc has the band wrapping things up in the early ’80s with two fine albums of stylish and funky pop tunes. Mystery and Love Shot could have been the debuts of ABC or The Style Council, and most of the songs would’ve been fashionable on the U.S. pop charts of 1988. It’s an impressive end to a decade-long run of brilliant work, and a lot of important lost music waiting to be rediscovered. There’s good reason no one even tried to fill Hot Chocolate’s white loafers in 1984. Elvis Costello might have pulled it off, but he was too busy dressing up like a member of Wham!

Hot Chocolate
Box Selection: Their 8 RAK Albums 1974-1983