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I’ll make you a bet: I’ll bet you that if we walked into a room and started playing a game of word association, and one of the words (or, rather, phrases) you tossed out there was “Billy Ocean,” you would get a surprising range of responses. Factoring out all the people who said, “Who?”, the replies would no doubt include “Caribbean,” “Suddenly,” “Trinidad,” “goatee,” or maybe even “pastel suit,” without a clear favorite. From the moment he appeared on the US pop charts with his ever-so-sincere brand of West Indian lite, Mr. Ocean has, like the tide, just kept coming back, sometimes in some unexpected places.
For my money, Billy’s greatest hit is still his first, the yearning romantic r&b groove of “Caribbean Queen,” which I adopted as my personal theme song when I went on vacation to the French West Indies for the first time in 7th grade. The object of Billy’s affection in the video had big bushy hair, like mine, though she did not have giant eyeglasses, braces, or a fondness for fluorescent headbands. After that suggestive yet gentlemanly record, who could have predicted that Billy’s next single would be the slightly creepy “Loverboy,” which sounds like someone’s attempt to mix together the soundtracks of STAR WARS and some low-budget porno? Indeed, the video is a straight-up copy of the Cantina Scene plus Jabba the Hutt’s Party Room, intercut with Billy dancing around in the middle of a laser show dressed like a Jedi. When I saw it, I remember feeling as if someone had somehow videotaped my dirty dreams. Then again, I had nightmares about THE BENNY HILL SHOW, so maybe my dreams aren’t the best standard.
Billy continued to confuse us for the duration of the decade: how could it be that the same guy who recorded “Suddenly,” possibly the most swooningly romantic ballad of the decade, also sang a lyric as potentially stalker-y as “Get out of my dreams – get into my car” (complete with rough instructions to “Get in the backseat, baby”)? What the hell was he doing on the soundtrack for the ROMANCING THE STONE sequel THE JEWEL OF THE NILE? Jamaican singer Eddy Grant did the title song for the first movie…was it somehow necessary to continue the Afro-Caribbean theme? Whatever the reasons, Billy Ocean has made himself indispensable to lovers of ’80s pop: when you find yourself slow dancing to “Suddenly” with a cat at 2am – and if you haven’t yet, you will…that’s when it hits you: no one can resist the pull of the Ocean.