In addition to being America’s only rock ’n’ roll magazine, CREEM happens to be the world’s best rock ’n’ roll magazine—and, it could be argued, the world’s most masturbatory. Because we like ourselves a little too much, every now and again, we’re going to review past CREEM pieces in a series called CREEMAINS. Expect the most deliciously spoiled CREEM, like our take on Lester Bangs’ 1972 review of the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., or here, in our reevaluation of Hot Chocolate. Lap it up! And check out more from the CREEM archive, here.
Whether you know them from cruise ship cover bands, Electric-Slide-inclined uncles, or the soundtrack of a ‘90s feel good hit about industrial miners forced into sex work by national austerity measure; folks, in general, are pretty fond of the soul ‘n’ roll band Hot Chocolate. As soon as singer Errol Brown and bassist Tony Wilson (two immigrants to London, from Jamaica and Trinidad respectively) teamed up with producer Mickie Most in1970, Hot Chocolate produced a string of decade-spanning hit singles. Even after Errol Brown had left the band in 1986, the catalog kept charting. Most of those hits were in the U.K., on account of American music consumers being unwilling, for much of the ‘60s and ‘70s, to extend their anglophilia beyond white English bands approximating Black American blues and rhythm. Regardless, the band was huge in their prime and they, at least as repped by one particularly beloved song about faith and bonking, remain huge to this day.
So… why, since their success back when to their supposed hugeness today, has there been next to nothing written about Hot Chocolate? No essays. Few reviews. No biographies (outside a slimer than slim 58 page, hard to find, self-published autobiography by Errol Brown). No documentaries outside a couple YouTube shorts. Even typing in “Hot Chocolate” into both the RockPages or Google comes up with a depressing dearth of results, unless one gives up and allows “marshmallows” to be added to the search engine. And I tried countless critics; from Greg Tate to Greil Marcus to Ellen Willis to Chuck Eddy to Craig Seymour to Nelson George to… well, a lot more. With the exception of a stray mention, always in the context of another band, nothing. Worse than the early dismissals of Black Sabbath, critics didn’t seem to find Hot Chocolate even worth the time and ink of disliking.
Well, some were hip to the band. Or almost hip. CREEM didn’t devote any covers to Hot Chocolate, but in 1979 Simon Frith called them “Britain's premier pop band for years and years and years,” which isn’t not a compliment. CREEM’s own Dave Marsh, rated Hot Chocolate’s 1978 hit “Every 1’s a Winner” at No. 982 on his list of the 1,001 Greatest Singles Ever Recorded. Just enough to count.
So, if Hot Chocolate was beloved by millions of fans on both sides of the ocean, and critics were largely as dismissive of them as they were of anyone not Elvis Costello (whose “Green Shirt” Hot Chocolate would cover in 1980), what, exactly, was the problem?