“Emma”, Hot Chocolate, 1974
Most people know this band for its disco hits “Everyone’s a Winner” and “You Sexy Thing”, but there was more to this British band than meets the eye.
“Emma” has always been my favourite Hot Chocolate song. Originally I loved the first few funky bars of the song, it was infectious. When I listened a bit closer I started to understand what it was really about.
The reason this brilliant song only got modest radio play was it dealt with a taboo subject – suicide. People did not really want to hear about it. In the‘70’s it seemed to me it was very real. I knew kids in school that committed suicide. Why did people not talk about this more?
Pat Boone had done “Moody River” in 1961 about it but it really was not a topic covered in music. Later in the seventies ‘Queen’ did “Don’t Try Suicide”, and the ‘Police’ did “Can’t Stand Losing You”, about a teenager who commits suicide after losing his girlfriend. Neither of these versions had the same intimate treatment of the subject that “Emma” did - “Emma” was “a star in everyone’s eyes” and yet was found “still and cold upon the bed”. Very real. Very painful, yet somehow beautifully done. There was a message there too – The most beautiful people in the world do not always succeed all the time.
In the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s there seems to be more of a willingness to speak about this very painful topic, and a number of notable songs were released: “Jeremy”, by Pearl Jam, “Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor”, by the Eels, “Click, Click” by the English Beat, “Suicide Blonde”, by INXS (whose lead singer Michael Hutchence committed suicide in 1997), “A Day without Me”, U2. It would seem to me a lot of the songs were post-Kurt Cobain, who seeped into the psyche of a new generation who were more willing to openly talk about it.
The leader of Hot Chocolate, Errol Brown started the band by doing a reggae cover of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”, ..at least till he found out he needed permission. Fortunately a gracious John Lennon had heard it and like it, and so had them signed to the short-lived ‘Apple Records’.
In 1970 they got a deal with ‘RAK records’ in the U.K. and released songs like “Brother Louie1” and “Life is Life”. In 1974 the song “Emma” was released and went to #3 in the U.K. and #8 in the U.S. The reason this song sounds so heartfelt by Errol Brown, is because the topic of the song is his mother Emmaline, who died at age 38.
As disco started to come to the forefront in the mid seventies this band was well equipped with its excellent production, tight harmonies, and developed song-writing. It scored big with “Every One’s a Winner (sort of an answer to “Emma”), and “You Sexy Thing”.
In 1986 they disbanded after a string of some 16 hits (mostly in the U.K.). They since have been covered by P.J. Harvey and Urge Overkill.
1) In North America we most often heard the cover version of ‘Brother Louie” by the band ‘The Stories’.