Black As The Night: Tracing A Clear Line From The Dark Comedy of Louis C.K. To The Chocolate Pop of Errol Brown
I’ve recently become hooked on the new Louis C.K. series Louie, which airs here on the FX channel. Louis C.K. plays himself, that is: a middle aged comic named Louie who is kinda famous but not so famous that he doesn’t live off his short sets at the Comedy Cellar, you know, like life. I’ll admit I’ve been reluctant to tell people about this show because I figured they might not get into it, so why bother? For starters, describing it as the weekly adventures of a comedian may be a misdirection. I mean it’s subversively funny, on a deep tissue massage “ooh-there’s-the-knot-right-there” level, but while it may start at the same juncture of Seinfeld (comedian does monologue at start, we follow him home) or Curb Your Enthusiasm (comedian is pissed off about how upsetting his life has turned out) the difference is that unlike Larry, Louie is not the curmudgeonly hero in his own play, and unlike Jerry, he’s not the jolly, playful critic niggled by the foibles of Upper West side Manhattan life.
No, Louie is beyond comedy, it’s more about the lonely, existential details (often mundane and profound at the same time) of a middle aged single dad who also happens to be a comic. Did I mention that it’s funny?
But speaking of misdirection, the reason I bring up Louie here on my MUSIC blog is that his theme music for the show, the rather obvious choice of “Brother Louie”, the American hit version as performed by Ian Lloyd and the Stories:
All of this reminded me of one of my favourite pop songwriters of the 1970s, yet one whose name rarely comes up in broad conversation. I speak (or write, rather) of Errol Brown, a Jamaican born Londoner better known as the lead singer of the funky U.K. rock band, Hot Chocolate.
You see, that’s because here in North America (need I remind my regular readers that I grew up in Toronto), many of Hot Chocolate’s hits, (written by Brown with bassist Tony Wilson, no relation to the Factory Records guy) were covered quite successfully by other groups. Thus, “Brother Louie” was a bigger hit on these shores when covered by Ian Lloyd’s outfit. Maybe in England you’d be more familiar with the Hot Chocolate version, which features spoken word interjections by U.K. blues legend, Alexis Korner:
And in Canada particularly, we all grew up with Montreal group April Wine’s version of the Brown/Wilson song “You Could’ve Been A Lady”, another big hit for Hot Chocolate back in blighty.
I rather prefer the peppy vibe and Fripp-like doubled lead guitar breaks on April Wine’s version:
The band had briefly been signed to Apple Records at the start, when John Lennon is said to have been impressed by Brown’s reggae-tinged, unauthorized recording of “Give Peace A Chance” (credited to The Hot Chocolate Band) and in a classic case of “should I sue ’em, or should I sign ’em?”, Lennon chose the latter.
I don’t recall hearing their U.K. hit “Emma” but I found it on YouTube:
Of course, we did get some of the Hot Chocolate singles over here, and even years before it was used in the film The Full Monty, I was a big fan of their song “You Sexy Thing”, with it’s comically horny lead vocal:
And I was really into “Every 1’s A Winner” (Brown was doing that numeral thing years before Prince, FY eye):
In 1990, a Canadian group named Bootsauce resurrected the song for the alt-rock crowd:
And I leave you with Tina Turner’s version:
The point is, the next time you hear any of this songs, take a second to give it up for Errol Brown, the guy knew his way around a hook and a groove. Hot Chocolate anyone?