408. ‘So You Win Again’, by Hot Chocolate

Taking up where The Jacksons left off – I’m sure any DJ worth their salt could spin this and ‘Show You the Way to Go’ together seamlessly – here’s Hot Chocolate with another slice of disco-lite.

So You Win Again, by Hot Chocolate (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 26th June – 17th July 1977

I love the guitar sound on this record. It sounds like a whale bellowing from the ocean’s depths: primal and deep. Is it even a guitar? A synthesiser? Electric violin? Whatever it is, it works brilliantly. It helps create a really thick, sticky sound, as if this whole record has been dipped in a vat of honey.

There’s also a hypnotic bass to drag you along. This record has a pretty sleazy-sounding undertone to it, which the lyrics don’t really justify. It’s a song about a man spurned: Your perfumed letters didn’t say, That you’d be leaving any day… She does sound flighty – can you really trust someone who sends perfumed letters?

So you win again, You win again, Here I stand again… Under all the heavy instrumentation, however, a great pop song lurks. There are plenty of hooks: the do-do-dodoops and a catchy middle-eight in the I can’t refuse her… line. Plus the way lead singer Errol Brown draws out the ‘lo-ser’ in the chorus is great. But I think what makes the whole song complete is the little ‘So’ in the title. It adds weight to the singer’s resignation, to the fact that he’s a schmuck who’s been fooled before and will be fooled again…

This is sophisticated, and layered pop music. There’s a marimba in there somewhere, a horn, and strings, while the rest of the band wrap themselves around the lead vocals. In my last post I mentioned bands whose sole #1 single isn’t their most famous. Hot Chocolate are better known for ‘You Sexy Thing’ (a #2) and probably ‘Every 1s a Winner’ (only a #12!) But, out of these three, I’d say ‘So You Win Again’ is the better record.

This was already their seventh Top 10 hit, though, in a run stretching right back to the start of the decade. They’d have a few more, and are still a going concern, still with three of the members that appeared on this record. Lead singer Brown, he of the velvety voice, left the group in the eighties and passed away in 2015.

Before I finish, can I just give a shout out to ‘Hot Chocolate’ as a brilliant band name? I recently called out ‘Pussycat’ for having a ridiculous name, and there is an even worse one coming up shortly. But ‘Hot Chocolate’ stays just the right side of cheesy, and sums up the group’s sound perfectly.

407. ‘Show You the Way to Go’, by The Jacksons

And so, with a minimum of fuss and very little fanfare, one of the most famous voices in pop history shimmies onto the stage.

Show You the Way to Go, by The Jacksons (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 19th – 26th June 1977

We’re back in a disco groove, but a very gentle disco groove. It’s the sort of record a DJ throws on at half nine, just as the night is getting going. I don’t know everything, But there’s something I do know… The lyrics are very generic ‘let’s get together and dance’, on first listen, as we enjoy a little horn solo and some MJ adlibs (no ee-hees or sha-mons, yet, but plenty of come ons and whooping). As it fades, he does something remarkable, looping his voice to make it sound like the needle is skipping. Or maybe it’s studio trickery…

Is there a deeper meaning here? We can come together, And think like one… Live together underneath the sun… It sounds like they’re looking beyond the dancefloor, to a world of harmony between brothers and sisters, united in dance. All the while, the groove keeps your feet tapping. At first, I thought this sounded a bit lightweight; but it’s improving with every listen.

This is far from The Jacksons’ first visit to the charts. It was their 7th Top 10 hit in the UK, but their 1st since 1972, since leaving Motown and dropping the ‘5’. It signalled the start of a run of disco classics: ‘Blame It on the Boogie’, ‘Can You Feel It’ and more. Meanwhile, in terms of their young lead singer’s solo career, ‘Off the Wall’ was just two years away. His voice here is a sort of happy medium: he’s not the high-pitched little boy from ‘Want You Back’ or ‘Rockin’ Robin’ – he was eighteen when this hit – but there aren’t any of the trademark clicks and ticks that mark his huge ‘80s and ‘90s hits.

If you were just getting into the groove with this one, there’s an extended album cut that runs to well over five minutes. I might just keep spinning this disc, it’s definitely catchy, although it’s not instant. It takes a while for the wave to wash over you… And that’s it for The Jacksons as a band. They’re not the first, or the last, act whose only #1 is far from being their most famous hit – think Fleetwood Mac, Dusty, Chuck Berry, and the band coming up next…

406. ‘Lucille’, by Kenny Rogers

So, while The Sex Pistols perhaps should have kicked Rod Stewart off the top, in the end he was replaced by another crazy-haired, middle-finger sticking punk rocker… Only kidding, he was replaced by Kenny Rogers.

Lucille, by Kenny Rogers (his 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 12th – 19th June 1977

The two main sounds of the mid to early-late seventies, since glam died, have undeniably been disco and slushy soft-rock. But coming up behind, in the bronze medal position, surprisingly, is country and western. We’ve had Tammy Wynette, Billy Connolly as Tammy, J. J. Barrie, Pussycat… and now a proper legend of the genre.

Country music is often sad; and yet often ridiculous. It is a melodramatic genre. And the opening line of this record is up there with some of the very best. In a bar in Toledo, Across from the depot, On a bar stool she took off her ring… Talk about setting a scene! A tawdry tale is told, as the singer approaches this beautiful, sad woman.

She’s been living on dreams, she’s finally had enough, she needs more out of life… Kenny’s about to make his move, when in through the barroom doors strides Lucille’s ex. The big hands were calloused, He looked like a mountain, For a minute I thought I was dead… As silly as all this is, when Kenny Rogers is on form he tells a story like no other.

You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille… The story spins on its head. Four hungry children and a crop in the fields… We assumed she was the victim, finally breaking away from hardship and abuse… But is she? Kenny takes her to a hotel, but when the time comes to do the deed, all he can hear is her estranged husband’s voice… This time your hurtin’ won’t heal…

What this song really needs is a third and final verse. Who’s really to blame? Who’s telling the truth? Does she go back to her family farm? Does Kenny get his leg over? We need closure! Instead we get the chorus and a slow, slow fade. He may have set an excellent scene; but Rogers needs practice in wrapping up a story. Thankfully, come his next #1 single – yes, he has more than one – he will have mastered the art of storytelling, and produced a classic.

If it weren’t for the pretty gritty subject matter, I’d describe this as a lullaby. The guitar sways and soothes, while the bass keeps time like a metronome. Many Kenny Rogers hits I can think of do this, hide a tough subject matter behind a soothing rhythm: ‘Ruby’, ‘The Gambler’, his aforementioned 2nd chart-topper… ‘Lucille’ was his first big smash since breaking with his band The First Edition, and it set him off on an extended run of hits.

I was going to ask why on earth this record made #1, for a near forty-year-old country singer. But perhaps we’re past that. ‘Lucille’ made #1 simply because country and western music was a very popular genre at the time. It’s not an ever-present, but this is far from the last time we’ll be hearing it…