AUGUST 23, 2020

ROCKWiRED REWiND: BiLLY OCEAN - SUDDENLY (1984) was a time when pop music was serious business and artistry and commerce could come together and be happy. These days it's all about commerce and the offerings of today's pop tarts and bruhs seem tuneless and unmemorable, but that's a middle aged man's perspective. I grew up in a time when pop music was artful. Not only was it filled with melodies you couldn't get out of your head, it also had a look and that was due largely to MTV giving the music of the day a cinematic grandeur. The height of this grandeur was the year 1984 which boasted some rather iconic releases such as PRINCE AND THE REVOLUTION's PURPLE RAIN, MADONNA'S LIKE A VIRGIN, TINA TURNER'S PRIVATE DANCER and CYNDI LAUPER'S SHE'S SO UNUSUAL. All of the sales for these albums were powered by MTV. Hell, MICHAEL JACKSON's THRILLER was still a hit album more than a year after its release and was still setting the course for pop music to come. In fact, it was the MICHAEL JACKSON/QUINCY JONES approach to album making that would have a profound influence over a certain Trinidadian-British R&B crooner who would burst onto the U.S. pop scene with a pulsating single that would climb all the way to #1 on the U.S. HOT 100 after years of attempting to crossover to the U.S. Market.

BILLY OCEAN's CARIBBEAN QUEEN (NO MORE LOVE ON THE RUN) eased its way onto the airwaves with the help of an insistent, pulsating groove, the kind that made MICHAEL JACKSON's BILLIE JEAN the massive hit that it became a year earlier. I was about eight or nine when the song was released and I remember people thinking that CARIBBEAN QUEEN was a mere imitation of the JACKSON hit, but such charges didn't make the strutting R&B number any less intoxicating. Especially when you had OCEAN's sweet, soulful honey tenor on top of the proceedings. After all, didn't MADONNA use the same pulsating rhythm for her hit, LIKE A VIRGIN?


Thematically, CARIBBEAN QUEEN takes the story of BILLIE JEAN and reverses the roles. In BILLIE JEAN, JACKSON is the fresh faced innocent being cornered by an obsessed fan who claims to be the mother of JACKSON's son. The compelling story never gets a resolution, but who cares about resolution when you've got a groove meant to go on forever? On CARIBBEAN QUEEN, it is OCEAN who is the one on a hot pursuit. He has cornered the girl just so he can have some fun and move onto the next conquest, but the unexpected has taken place. He has fallen in love. The hunter has been captured by the game and OCEAN's days as a player are over. The singer may have found love but that's no reason for the party to stop, especially with VERNON JEFFREY SMITH laying down one of the most signature saxophone riffs of the eighties. CARIBBEAN QUEEN was an instant eighties classic that soared to number one on both the US BILLBOARD HOT 100 and the BILLBOARD BLACK SINGLES CHART (Yes, they called it that back then).

In a pop market filled with PRINCE, MADONNA and the gloved one, a talent like BILLY OCEAN seemed to emerge out of nowhere. However the musical career of one LESLIE SEBASTIEN CHARLES took shape in 1971 when he released the single NASHVILLE RAIN on the SPARK RECORDS label under the name LES CHARLES with backing from the band SCORCHED EARTH. He would release two other singles after that before being signed to the GTO record label where he would become BILLY OCEAN and release his self-titled album in 1976 featuring the MOTOWN-styled soul stomper LOVE REALLY HURTS WITHOUT YOU which made it to #2 on the UK Charts and to #22 on the US BILLBOARD 100. After a brief brush with success, OCEAN would go on to release three more albums under GTO but none proved hit worthy. When the GTO label was bought by SONY, OCEAN was shifted to the JIVE label which would oversee the R&B singer's return to transatlantic success in a bigger way than before.

OCEAN's fifth album SUDDENLY hasn't gone down in pop history as a classic recording in the same way as PURPLE RAIN or TINA TURNER's PRIVATE DANCER, but its ambitions feel and sound legendary even 36 years after its release. Clearly, OCEAN was paying attention to the pop landscape of the time and was ready to play the game to win. Assisting OCEAN in the songwriting and seated behind the recording console was fellow Trinidadian KEITH DIAMOND who had worked with with the likes of DONNA SUMMER, SHEENA EASTON, MICK JAGGER and NATURAL SELECTION. DIAMOND's production work is in step with what QUINCY JONES was able to do for THRILLER but it is OCEAN who is the true star – an R&B Prince Charming who can back up the bravado with experience and know how and eschews all of the boyish PETER PAN schtick made popular by you know who. As a singer OCEAN has a big heart that steals the show on SUDDENLY but at times the good-guy-done-in-by-love routine can grow a little tiring as it does on the weaker tracks MYSTERY LADY, LUCKY MAN and IF I SHOULD LOSE YOU. Still, OCEAN and DIAMOND bring a considerable amount of savoir faire and some good, clean streamlined R&B fun to the party and that is why SUDDENLY is an album worth remembering. No wonder the thing sold two million copies in the States.

MARVIN GAYE's SEXUAL HEALING comes to mind and with a bass line like the one that gets SYNCOPATION started, we shouldn't be surprised that OCEAN is in the mood for feeling good. The problem is that he didn't know a good thing until she was gone.

Ah, the obligatory BEATLES cover! Artists were still paying tribute to JOHN LENNON four years after his murder and OCEAN covers the wistful THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD from the LET IT BE album and gives it a nice R&B touch. OCEAN's soulful rendition recall's TINA TURNER's version of HELP from PRIVATE DANCER and boasts a mean guitar solo that sends the song to heaven. There is no doubting OCEAN's rich R&B tenor but so far on SUDDENLY, it has simply gone through the motions of falling in love and losing in love. With ...ROAD we finally hear the man emoting and it's a real treat. The guy should rock out a little more.

Songwriters OCEAN and DIAMOND get a little help from ROBERT “MUTT” LANGE on LOVERBOY – a chance for OCEAN to crossover into a white rock audience. The song begins deceptively with odd, space age synth effects that are punctuated every couple of measures with a sharp staccato keyboard riff. The curious introduction takes way too long but fortunately a very pleasant galloping reggae rhythm a'la WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT is established and we are right on board with yet another tale of a fool for love and his desire to do anything for his one and only. The verse builds to a rock out chorus where the word “lover” gets a little help from one mean repeated power chord riff. Following an intoxicating guitar solo that does battle with some keyboard riffs, the song's final chorus gets kicked up a notch when it is sung in the counter melody by some treated backing vocals and the glorious number sets sail for a fiery outro filled with oohs and aahs. And a STAR WARS-themed music video didn't hurt either. I just wish it went all the way to #1 instead of #2. See what happens when you let the guy rock out a bit?

The dancefloor has saved many a soul in pop music and it does the same for Mr. OCEAN. Trinkling keyboard sounds and a bubbling bass line kick off DANCEFLOOR, once again a variation on a theme and groove established by MICHAEL JACKSON. JACKO wanted to rock with somebody but OCEAN wants to get on the floor and rock the feeling of heartache away and if he finds another love in the process, perfect. Some dance to hookup and some dance to forget. 

This classic 1980's slow burn opens with the plinking of a keyboard and maintains the dramatic yet sparse progression for most of the song. Comparisons to LIONEL RITCHIE's HELLO were abundant at the time of its release but the song is a quiet storm  classic  all on its own thanks to OCEAN's signature delivery. So what if it lacks any real urgency? The moody title track is a moment of reflection for OCEAN who always believed that love was a fairytale and has found new meaning in life thanks to a new love. Some synth strings elevate the ballad to something a little more grand but the plaintive, unassuming piece serves as the perfect close for an album destined for that often elusive mass appeal. The song went to #4 on the U.S. BILLBOARD TOP 100.

*** made BILLY OCEAN one of the great R&B crossover artists of the REAGAN era. The album went double platinum and OCEAN walked away with the 1985 GRAMMY for BEST MALE R&B VOCAL PERFORMANCE for CARIBBEAN QUEEN. Fortune would smile again on OCEAN in 1986 with the release of his sixth album LOVE ZONE which also went double platinum and was preceded by the bouncey WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH (THE TOUGH GET GOING) which was earmarked for the soundtrack for the 1985 film JEWEL OF THE NILE starring MICHAEL DOUGLAS, KATHLEEN TURNER and DANNY DEVITO. The song went on to be a #2 hit in the U.S. while subsequent releases from the album THERE'LL BE SAD SONGS and LOVE ZONE went to #1 and #10 respectively. In 1988 OCEAN had another number one single with R&B dance classic GET OUT OF MY DREAMS (GET INTO MY CAR) which was featured in one of those late-eighties COREY films LICENSE TO DRIVE and preceded the release of his  last album to go platinum,  TEAR DOWN THESE WALLS.  The forementioned Prince Charming of R&B broke through and conquered the American airwaves with an impressive string of number one singles and top ten hits, so if GET OUT OF MY DREAMS... ended up being his last significant hit, this cat at least went out in style. Five years after the release of TEAR DOWN THESE WALLS, OCEAN released TIME TO MOVE ON but things were different. It was the nineties and the streamlined R&B that typified OCEAN's sound and appeal had been replaced with more New Jack Swing and harder edged hip hop sounds. TIME TO MOVE ON sank without a trace but the very resiliency we've come to expect from OCEAN through his music is present in his music making. Only a couple of albums were released in the past eleven years (BECAUSE I LOVE YOU (2009) and HERE YOU ARE (2013), but we see no reason to discount this Trinidadian dynamo. OCEAN will be releasing a new album on September 4, 2020 called ONE WORLD. Earlier this year, OCEAN released two singles from the album, ALL OVER THE WORLD and LOVE YOU MORE where OCEAN fully and enthusiastically embraces a reggae sound. After all of these years, this commited  troubadour is still all about love.

FOR MORE iNFORMATiON GO TO: Lush is a music industry professional and entrepreneur. In 2005 he launched the online music site to help promote new music artists in conjunction with the weekly radio show Rockwired Live which aired on KTSTFM.COM from 2005 - 2009. In 2010 He launched the daily podcast series Rockwired Radio Profiles which features exclusive interviews and music. He has also developed and produced the online radio shows Jazzed and Blue - Profiles in Blues and Jazz, Aboriginal Sounds - A Celebration of American Indian and First Nations Music, The Rockwired Rock N Roll Mixtape Show and The Rockwired Artist of the Month Showcase. In 2012, Brian Lush and his company Rockwired Media LLC launched the monthly digital online publication Rockwired Magazine. The magazine attracts over 75,000 readers a month and shows no signs of stopping. Rockwired Magazine also bares the distinction of being the first American Indian-owned rock magazine. Brian Lush is an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Brian Lush's background in music journalism, radio and podcast hosting, podcast production, web design, publicity, advertising sales, social media and online marketing, strategic editorial planning and branding have all made Rockwired a name that is trusted and respected throughout the independent music industry.