Hot Chocolate: “Emma” / Urge Overkill: “Emmaline”
Hot Chocolate (1974)
Urge Overkill (1991)
Cover Friday, Episode Twenty-Something-or-So . . .
Hot Chocolate was a British funk/soul/rock group in the mid-’70s, best known for their huge 1975 hit “You Sexy Thing.” But they had at least a few other great songs that aren’t quite as well known these days, and one of my favorites is from their 1974 debut album, Cicero Park, which apparently never really got much notice in the U.S., prior to their breakthrough here. It’s the song “Emma,” a very slow, cool song that details that sad story of one Emmaline, a childhood friend of the song’s narrator who dreams of stardom, but when it doesn’t come despite her best efforts, falls into depression and ultimately kills herself:
It was a cold and dark December night
When I opened up the bedroom door
To find her lying still and cold upon the bed
A love letter lying on the bedroom floor
It read : “Darling I love you,
But I just can’t keep on living on dreams no more.
I tried so very hard not to leave you alone.
I just can’t keep on trying no more.”
Fun stuff, huh? Well, the groovy wah-wah lead guitar line and syncopated bass funk it up just a bit, and lead singer Erroll Brown’s impassioned wails and sympathetic singing bring the song home in a way that keeps it from being overly maudlin (like, say, “Seasons in the Sun,” from that same era).
Fast-forward 17 years, to 1991 and Urge Overkill’s underground breakthrough, The Supersonic Storybook — they’d go on to greater recognition a couple of year’s later with Saturation, and with their cover of “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” featured in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, but they Storybook featured a number of great originals, and another great cover, “Emmaline,” their version of “Emma.” With the exception of a somewhat unnecessary 90-second instrumental lead-in, they played the song fairly note-for-note, but its their commitment to the song that makes it work despite a lack of trying anything different with it. They don’t poke fun at it (and if they had, would have come off as cads); rather, they play it as the great semi-forgotten gem that it is. Nash Kato’s voice, although a bit less soulful than Brown’s, is in the perfect range for the song and manages to sound as forlorn about Emmaline as Brown did.
In any case, either version of the song is “emma-nently” worthy of our listening time, don’t you think?