Wednesday, January 2, 2013

CD Odyssey Disc 472: Hot Chocolate

I recently had a whole bunch of time off, during most of which I was terribly ill.  Today was the first day I was feeling like myself again, but was also my first regular day back at work.  This has made me quite grumpy with the universe which repays my grumpiness as it always does, with celestial indifference.

And so since grumpy won’t do me any good, this next review delivers groovy.  I can’t believe in a universe that doesn’t dig groovy.  That would just be ridiculous.  There’s always room for groovy.

Disc 472 is…Every 1’s a Winner:  The Very Best of Hot Chocolate
Artist: Hot Chocolate

Year of Release: 1993, but with music from 1970 through 1984

What’s up with the Cover?  Pretty basic signage but the red background has a subtle fiery effect.  Or maybe that’s just the smooth ripples in the surface of a warm mug of hot chocolate, baby.

How I Came To Know It:  Along with a bunch of my friends, I went through a funk and soul phase in the late nineties, and I probably bought this in the euphoria of that experience.  My buddy Nick probably played this for me first so I’ll give him the credit for this one.  Nick is from England and Hot Chocolate was much bigger in the U.K., so it stands to reason he took the lead on their rediscovery for me over here.

How It Stacks Up:  I only have this one Hot Chocolate album, and it is a compilation, so it can’t stack up.  I like it though.

Rating:  ‘best of’ albums are not albums, and can’t be properly rated.  They are just a collection of singles.  Groovy, groovy singles.

When I upload compilations from CD to my computer, I like to change the year of each song so that it reflects when the song came out, rather than the release date of the compilation.  When I did that with this Hot Chocolate record, and saw that the music ran from 1970 through 1984 I was more than a little nervous.  Here was a band well known for two or three songs, spread from 1971 through 1978.  Would I regret hearing another great soul/R&B band degenerate into disco as the eighties approached?

As it turns out, not at all.  Disco lives, my friends, and it lives in this glorious hot mug of fun that is Hot Chocolate’s greatest hits package.  In fact, this album shows that disco’s roots go well back into the early nineteen seventies. 

Some of the tracks on here are so full of disco’s sexy goodness that Donna Summers would be jealous, such as the space-age “Put Your Love in Me” from 1977 or even that earliest of disco references, 1975’s “Disco Queen.”  The latter song is both exceptional disco and exceptional funk music, and shows the common roots of both forms of music in what is essentially up tempo soul music.

Hearing “Disco Queen” makes me wish I was fifteen years younger, so that I could’ve spent my clubbing years dancing to these groovy rhythms rather than wasting my time with the comparatively pedestrian derivatives like Bel Biv Devoe or Salt N’ Pepa.  “Disco Queen” is a funky song that is original and compelling.  No samples (that I know of) and no electronic tricks, just a bass line, some horns and a guy not afraid to sing about a girl who’s not afraid to move.

Much has been said of the three main hits from this band, and frankly of the three the biggest (“You Sexy Thing”) is the least interesting of them all, although still excellent.  For my tastes, I would bump perennial runner-up “Every 1’s a Winner” to first place, with its rolling drum opening, and that rock guitar riff, so instantly recognizable that jumps in like a house guest that grabs your guitar without asking, but then plays it so well you can’t complain.

In fact, I’d also put “You Sexy Thing” behind the very early “You Could Have Been a Lady” with that opening bass line, those Caribbean beats (band leader and main songwriter Erroll Brown hails from Jamaica) a horn section that would make Mick Jagger’s hips fall off (if not then, certainly now) and, yes another fine bit of guitar that is as smooth and eager as all of the band’s music.

I spend large parts of this blog dismissing compilation albums, but knowing that I’m not likely to buy a half dozen Hot Chocolate albums, I’ve got to say this is one of the better collections I’ve got.  At nineteen tracks it is a bit overlong (even Greatest Hits packages rarely need more than fourteen songs), but it is only slightly bloated, and even songs from later in the career, such as “Girl Crazy” and “Are You Getting Enough Happiness” are strong dance anthems.

With the exception of “Brother Louie” (a song in support of inter-racial love affairs that coming in 1973, is both brave and compelling) this isn’t an album you should search for deeper meaning.  This is an album about getting down and dirty; on the dance floor and (if things go well there) then maybe later on some thick ply shag carpet.

Having been sick for a week this was the first day I felt like I had some energy to spare, and it was happily spent getting down to this record.  Hot Chocolate reminds us that sometimes music is just about good clean, sexy fun.

Here are some best tracks, and I’ve included the year for each just to demonstrate that these guys stayed consistently good for a very long time, which isn’t easy.

Best tracks:  You Sexy Thing (1975), Girl Crazy (1982), Love is Life (1970), Every 1’s a Winner (1978), You Could Have Been a Lady (1971), Disco Queen (1975), Don’t Stop It Now (1976), Are You Getting Enough Happiness (1980)

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