R.I.P.: Errol Brown of Hot Chocolate, 1943-2015

May 9, 2015

Errol Brown.

Errol Brown, the Jamaican-born singer and co-founder of U.K. soul greats Hot Chocolate, died earlier this week at age 71 at his home in the Bahamas.

Brown and Hot Chocolate are today best remembered for “You Sexy Thing,” a wry 1976 disco smash that has enjoyed several revivals thanks to appearances in movies such as Reservoir Dogs, Boogie Nights, Deuce Bigalow and The Full Monty. The group also wrote and performed the song “Brother Louie,” a version of which is the theme song for Louis CK’s popular FX series, Louie. Hot Chocolate also hold the unique distinction of having had a hit on the UK charts in every single year from 1970 to 1984.

Like most of UK soul’s pioneering acts, Hot Chocolate’s roots were in London’s West Indian community: Brown formed the band in Brixton in the late 60s with Tony Wilson, a native of Trinidad. Their first release was a reggae version of The Beatles’ “Give Peace A Chance.” which caught the attention of John Lennon, leading to a short-lived deal with the Beatles’ Apple Records.

Reflecting the mixed racial makeup of the group, the sound of their debut album, Cicero Park, blended the progressive American soul of Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield with driving, rock guitars. Embracing disco, they would have their biggest hits in the mid ’70s, with “You Sexy Thing” and “Every 1’s a Winner.” Brown left Hot Chocolate to embark on a solo career in the mid 1980s, and while the group soldiered on, he took much of their identity with him. It was his distinctive vocals, and signature lookโ€”bald, moustachioed and flamboyantly dressedโ€”that largely defined the group.

Though they could often take on a playful edge, as on “You Sexy Thing,” Brown’s lyrics tackled taboo topics such as divorce (“Man to Man”), interracial romance (“Brother Louie”) and suicide (“Emma”).

Rest in peace, Brother Errol.