Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Hot Chocolate's 'It Started With a Kiss' have much in common. Hamlet is brilliant and yet there is something wrong with it. T.S. Eliot put his finger on it: ‘Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear’. For Eliot any emotion in a work of art must have an ‘objective correlative’, i.e. if a character is feeling something strongly, the reasons for that feeling must be found in the work of art itself. He outlines ‘a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion’.
And so to Hot Chocolate. ‘It Started With a Kiss’ starts out simply enough. Errol Brown sings the verses in his sweetest voice. We are taken back to his youth; he is stealing kisses with a girl in the back row of a classroom. The two of them promise to marry, but she is only eight years old and he has just turned nine. In a later verse they reach the ages of sixteen and seventeen respectively. The tune is still sweet, even though Brown realises that he can no longer hold on to her love. The choruses take us from these childhood memories right up until the present day. The music is lilting, numbing us to the slight foreboding in the lyrics. ‘It started with a kiss’, Brown trills; ‘I never thought it would come to this’.
Nothing prepares us for what follows. ‘YOU DON’T REMEMBER ME, DO YOU! YOU DON’T REMEMBER ME, DO YOU! YOU DON’T REMEMBER ME, DO YOU! The tune jolts suddenly and there is utter despair. Brown is so in excess of the facts that you worry about his state of mind. You hope to dear god that no one has left a bare bodkin lying around.
There is a difference between Hamlet and ‘It Started With a Kiss’, though. What spoils Shakespeare’s play makes the Hot Chocolate song. In fact, one of the great pleasures of popular music is when an objective does not correlate. It is the strange gaps in songs that give the listener room to enter in.
I’ve been there, Errol. I’ve been there.