Pop/R&B Legend Billy Ocean Talks About Writing His Hits “Caribbean Queen, “Loverboy,” “When The Going Gets Tough,” “Suddenly” And Other Songs
Now in his fifth decade in the music business, Billy Ocean is a Grammy-winning, multi-platinum artist who is still going strong. Best known for his tremendous success in the 1980s, with three number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and four more Top 10 hits, Ocean continues to be a dynamic live performer who steadily tours worldwide. In addition, he’s getting ready to release his next studio album, called One World.
Ocean, who was born in Trinidad and lives in the United Kingdom (near London), was one of the most popular artists of the ‘80s. In 1984, he broke through with his #1 hit “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run),” which is a joyful, vibrant pop/dance song that sounds as good today as it did then. This single was a perfect example of how Ocean blended his Caribbean music roots with a contemporary pop sound. Notably, Ocean won a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (for “Caribbean Queen”). Ocean is known as a soulful, expressive vocalist who is equally adept at singing high-energy dance songs as well as heartfelt ballads.
“Caribbean Queen” was the leadoff single from Ocean’s album Suddenly, that contained three hits and went double platinum. The second single from the album was “Loverboy,” a very catchy, electronic/pop/rock song that reached #2 on the charts. And for his third single, Ocean displayed his versatility by releasing the ballad title cut “Suddenly,” that was another Top 10 hit.
For his next album in 1986, Ocean released Love Zone, which also went double platinum and featured two more hits, the uptempo “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” and his most popular ballad, the #1 hit “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry).” “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Gets Going” was the theme song for the hit movie The Jewel of the Nile, that was the sequel to Romancing the Stone (starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito).
In 1988, Ocean continued his platinum success with his next album, Tear Down These Walls, that included another #1 hit, the fun, exuberant “Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car.”
Most of Ocean’s hit songs were written by him with top collaborators, such as hit writer/producers Keith Diamond, Robert “Mutt” Lange, Barry Eastmond and Wayne Brathwaite.
Following the ‘80s, Ocean released the albums Time to Move On (1993), Because I Love You (2009) and Here You Are (2013). Currently, Ocean is set to release his next album called One World, that reunites him with collaborator Barry Eastmond on many new songs.
Notably, Ocean has recently signed an agreement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which will be representing his song catalogue.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Billy Ocean. He tells how he got started in the music business, how he wrote his classic hit songs, and he discusses his current touring and upcoming album.
Here’s a video of Billy Ocean performing his hit, “Caribbean Queen
(No More Love on the Run).”
DK: How did you get started as a musician?
Billy Ocean: My father was a musician, and I always wanted to be a musician since I was a little boy in Trinidad. When I was in Trinidad, I used to make my own instruments out of old milk cans and things like that, mimicking the steel pan (drum). When I was around 6, I started to play ukulele and I sang in the school choir. Then when I was 10, I moved to England and I found myself singing in school and doing the same things.
When I left school (around age 16), I was working in the rack trade, and one of the women machinists was getting rid of her piano. I borrowed the money from the owner of the firm, so I could buy it. After I bought the piano, I couldn’t wait to go home at lunchtime and in the evenings to play it.
DK: When did you start writing songs?
Ocean: I was listening to a lot of American musicians who were coming over to England, like Otis Redding, and the Tamla/Motown artists. Then one day I sat at the piano, and I got this riff idea and started playing it (he sings a Motown-style riff), and the words and everything came together. What came out of it was the first song I ever wrote, “Love Really Hurts Without You” (which later became his first hit in the U.K. and Europe). But I sat on the song for a while, until I got into the recording world.
A few years later, I began working with a producer and I thought…I like this guy, he seemed to know what he was doing. I played him my songs, and we finished it off and recorded it. Then together, we wrote “L.O.D. (Love On Delivery),” and we did “Red Light Spells Danger” which also went to #2 in Europe. By then, I’d had four or five chart records in England and Europe.
DK: In 1984, you had a breakthrough with your album Suddenly, which had three hits including “Caribbean Queen,” “Loverboy” and the ballad, “Suddenly.” Can you talk about the success of the Suddenly album, which was on Jive Records?
Ocean: I had been with a nice, little independent label called GTO, but it was bought by CBS. Then things changed—I found myself with a big corporation, and I didn’t like the vibe and atmosphere. So I left the company, and I was at a point where I was really thinking about giving up the music business. But then I met Clive Calder; he was the head of Jive Records. He was a South African who came to England in search of his fortune. Clive was aware of me, because the producer I was working with used to send him songs that I sang the demos. So he connected me to work with some talented people; Clive was very good at putting people together. He introduced me to (writer/producers) Keith Diamond, Mutt Lange, Barry Eastmond and Wayne Brathwaite.
Here’s the video of Billy Ocean’s hit, “When the Going Gets Tough,
the Tough Get Going.”
The first person I worked with was Keith Diamond. Keith came over to my house where I had a small studio, and we wrote “Lucky Man,” “Suddenly” and another song. Then Clive Calder came to the house. He heard and liked the songs, and said, “Billy, how’d you like to go to America to record?” This was the dream I always had, to come to America and work with these great musicians there.
DK: I’ve always loved your song, “Caribbean Queen.” How did you and Keith Diamond write this song?
Ocean: I was staying in New York, at the flat above the Jive Records office, and Keith would come in, and we’d do more writing. We got the idea for “Caribbean Queen” together. We were writing and we got a vibe, and that’s what came out of our session. Then we went into the studio and recorded “Caribbean Queen,” and we wrote and recorded some other songs for the album. And yeah the Suddenly album was born, and before we knew it, we had three hits out of it.
DK: Your next hit was “Loverboy,” which you wrote with Robert “Mutt” Lange. How did you connect with Mutt Lange?
Ocean: Clive Calder introduced me to Mutt Lange, who lived in England, out in the country. Clive and Mutt had both come over from South Africa. Clive put me together with Mutt, and that’s what came out of it—we did “Loverboy,” “When the Going Gets Tough,” “Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car” and all these songs. I was very fortunate that all the people Clive put me to work with, something came out of it. It’s a blessing that every time we worked with somebody, we came up with hits. It was great.
DK: In 1986, you had the hit “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going,” which is such a catchy title. How did you write this song?
Ocean: Clive said that [the movie producers] would like me to write a song for The Jewel of the Nile, which was the sequel to the Romancing the Stone (starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner & Danny DeVito). So we did it, and I remember doing that vocal at 6 o’clock in the morning. By the time we finished doing the vocals and everything on it, Clive and the label liked it, and the [movie producers & actors] liked it. Then Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito came over when we were recording it. Later on, they were dancing in the video of the song, which was great.
DK: During that period, you had your biggest ballad, “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry).” How did you write that song with Barry Eastmond & Wayne Brathwaite?
Ocean: When I was working on the Suddenly album, Barry Eastmond, who’s a piano player, did the string arrangements. And Wayne Brathwaite was the bass player. So Clive later said, “Why don’t you try writing songs with Barry and Wayne?” So the three of us went into the studio and wrote a lot of songs together, like “There’ll Be Sad Songs,” “Love Zone” and “The Colour Of Love.” I wrote more songs with Barry and Wayne than with anyone else.
Here’s the video of Billy Ocean’s hit, “Get Outta My Dreams,
Get into My Car.”
DK: I heard that you’re working on a new album, and you’re back collaborating with Barry Eastmond. Is that correct?
Ocean: Yes, I just finished off a new album with Barry Eastmond. It’s called One World. As you know, we lost Keith and we lost Wayne (who’ve passed away), so it’s really just myself and Barry. We’re back together as a songwriting team, and we’re excited about the new album.
DK: One of your other big hits was “Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car.” Can you talk about how you and Mutt Lange wrote this song?
Ocean: Clive was looking for a modern song that could crossover into R&B, pop and rock. Clive had his eye on the industry and he knew exactly what he wanted, and he found the people who could achieve those results. And I was one of them. With “Get Out Of My Dreams, Get into My Car,” it was actually Mutt’s lyrical idea. We went into the studio, and I just jumped in with the melody and lyrics, and shaped the song to my vocal style. And Presto! We had another smash hit.
DK: Thank you Billy for doing this interview. Is there anything else that you’d like to mention for this article?
Ocean: I’d like to talk about my new album that’s called One World, which comes out this summer. And I’ve been touring—I’m very much a touring act. At present, I’m in Beverly Hills (California), and I just came from finishing a tour in Europe. When I’m finished here with the U.S. shows, I’ll be going to Australia, and I have some shows in Africa too. I’m on the road quite a bit…I think I’m one of the hardest working acts there is.
DK: When you’re not on tour, do you still live in England?
Ocean: Yes. I live outside of London, in a place called Berkshire. I’ve got a wife, three kids, three grandchilden, and a dog (laughs). The time I spend at home is getting less and less, but you know that’s how it is. When I’m on tour I love to play for crowds…I love to make people happy (at the shows) and make myself happy at the same time. So everything works…it’s just finding and keeping the balance of the whole thing. That’s where I’m at now.