Emma by Hot Chocolate (Big Tree, 1975)

There’s a scene in the 1997 movie, The Full Monty, where Dave & Gaz are thumbing the LPs in an abandoned warehouse, trying to find some music to try to strip to. The pile of records is pretty worthless until they come across “Hot Chocolate! Now you’re talking…” They proceed to put the track, You Sexy Thing on and Gaz clumsily tries dancing and taking his clothes off. That’s how we mostly remember Hot Chocolate, fun even a little goofy, but always a guaranteed good time for all. That’s because we’ve blocked out Emma, which was their breakthrough US hit in 1975, reaching #8. Emma is not fun, goofy and no one ever had a good time listening to this song.

The interracial London band, Hot Chocolate, had been racking up hits in the UK since 1970. The NY band, Stories, took a cover of their Brother Louie up to #1 in the US in 1973. They were definitely poised to break in the States and thought they had the perfect song to do it: Emma. They right of course, or just cocky. How did they think a song about her a woman who commits suicide be a ticket to American Bandstand?

The song starts out with a slowed down Philly soul style drum and an organ low in the mix. Then a guitar line that feels like scissors cutting thick paper, with a couple of string echoing note for note. Right in the first 20 seconds before a word is even sung, you know this is not going to end well. Lead singer, Errol Brown, starts off We were together since we were five. She was so pretty. Emma was a star in everyone’s eyes., and you can already hear the pain in his voice. You know what’s gonna happen. You can feel right off the top that Errol is eulogizing little Emmaline. I can’t take it. But I keep listening. [I always intrigued by these spooky little songs as a kid.]

Anyway the gist of the song is that Emma wanted to be actress. She gets married at 17, and is constantly depressed because she can never get a role in a play. One December night (cause a holiday death is always worse), he comes home to find her dead in their bedroom with a suicide note on the bed.

Now I know why I keep listening to the song. Errol break down after reading the note, screaming her name over and over. It’s heart wrenching. Can you imagine going to your prom in 1975 and the DJ puts this 45 on? Man we sure were into tragic female death songs back in 1975. With songs like Emma, Run Joey Run & Rocky, the Top 10 felt an episode of CSI.

Check this out: During the week that this peaked at #8, Barry White was at #9 with What Am I Gonna Do With You. Talk about your highs and lows. Casey Kasem must’ve had fun that week.

Anyway this goes without saying, but I will anyway. Need your party to end early? Have some guests that would leave? Time for some Emma by Hot Chocolate…now you’re talking!

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3 Comments

  1. porky

     /  March 15, 2012

    this song destroys me. Has since I first heard it in ’75; I even have a mental picture of where I was when I first heard it. This kind of stuff sounded great coming out an AM dashboard radio.

    Reply
  2. W.B.

     /  March 10, 2015

    “Emma” first came out in the U.S. as a single on Bell Records (single #45,466) in 1974, where it didn’t do squat (promo copies are far more plentiful than stock copies, though the latter do exist). However, they got the (E. Brown – T. Wilson) songwriting credit correct – unlike Big Tree’s (T. Brown & E. Wilson). For me, I associate “Emma” with its initial Bell release.

    Reply
  3. Urge Overkill did an inspired cover of this on their Supersonic Storybook album.

    Reply

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