Thursday, 8 November 2018

Hot Chocolate - A's, B' & Rarities


  

Hot Chocolate were notable, before their mid-late seventies/early eighties soul pop domination, for being a pioneer multi-racial band, like the Equals before them. This excellent compilation from RAK records' impressive "A's, B's & Rarities" series follows the same pattern as the others (Mud, Suzi Quatro, CCS) in that it chronologically includes all the singles and their 'b' sides and a few rarities thrown in at the end for good measure. If you are looking for a "greatest hits" compilation of the group's entire career then this is not it, but it is a comprehensive document of the group's pre-"You
Sexy Thing" period, which gave us some seriously good, credible soul-influenced funk/pop.

Strangely, the album's first two cuts are reggae ones, including a bizarre cover of John Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance", with a complaining West Indian voice proclaiming "rubbish! rubbish!" over a reggae beat. It is fetchingly amusing. The group's early sound was typified by their first hit, "Love Is Life" which took the sumptuous string backing used in early seventies reggae hit singles and applied them to a bassy, soul backing and Errol Brown's gently soulful voice introduced itself to us. It would be well known over the subsequent fifteen-twenty years as Hot Chocolate became a huge chart singles group. "Pretty Girls" and "Living Without Tomorrow" are both easy-listening reggae styled numbers.

The original version of "You Could Have Been A Lady" is a raw, edgy one, introduced by some funky wah-wah and delivered at a slightly slower pace than the more polished re-recorded later version. I remember seeing them in concert in 1976 and they did a barnstorming version of this. Further minor hits were gained with the melodic, easy soul of "I Believe (in Love)" and "You'll Always Be A Friend" before the group really clicked into their soul/funk/pop gear with the mighty anti-racist "Brother Louie". Tracks like this were really quite ground-breaking at the time and it is perfectly valid to say that this song got people to views things differently. You may laugh, but it really did. CCS's Alexis Korner is on the spoken bit as the outraged, chillingly adamant white father. The infectiously funky slow groove of "Rumours" was only a minor hit, but I loved it at the time and still do. "I Want To Be Free" is a gloriously dirty dose of funk.

What was it about RAK records and songs about cavemen? Here we have "Caveman Billy" ("I really want to come into your cave..."), while CCS and Suzi Quatro recorded versions of "Primitive Man". "Billy" was not one of Hot Chocolate's better efforts. "Mary Anne" and its 'b' side, "Ruth" see the band going full on pop soul, and, as a fellow reviewer has pointed out, they both have a real late sixties/early seventies "bubblegum" sound to them. "Go Go Girls" is a notable one, with a sixties, almost psychedelic guitar riff to it. Lyrically, it is a bit banal, though, I have to say. "Blue Night" was an underrated soulful number, and "Makin' Music" a typical slice of bassy, funky fun.

The huge chart hit, the moving, evocative "Emma" is included here, as well as the first version of the iconic "You Sexy Thing" (it was re-recorded and polished up a bit for the version we all know). It is a shame that "Disco Queen" and "Cheri Babe" were not included as I see them as just about part of this period of the group's career. Throw "Changing World" in there too. All of them came before "You Sexy Thing".

B

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