In February thirty years ago, Billy Ocean hit the number one spot for four consecutive weeks in the UK, with his smash hit, “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going”. The album, 1986’s Love Zone, from which it featured, sold more than two million copies worldwide. To celebrate the milestone, Ocean is releasing Here You Are: The Best Of Billy Ocean, which’s a double disc effort. One sees Ocean’s rendition of his favourite songs to cover, and the other his greatest hits.
Love Zone was definitely during a time where Ocean was at his commercial peak, coming after an album, 1984’s Suddenly, which sold over five million copies worldwide. Looking at Love Zone’s cover, you’ve got Ocean in a creamy, touch of pink room, standing in front of a bed, and leaning on a post.
Is this his love zone? He’s wearing a red suit jacket and trousers, with a blue belt and white shirt underneath said jacket. Maybe the red conveys blood, lust and love, the white shirt underneath his purity. The post, perhaps to be interpreted as his bedpost, one for notches that is, indeed a similarly white colour. There also appears to be light, white, coming into the room via Venetian looking blinds.
The album’s a mixture of super ballads, straight ahead pop and a fine fusion of reggae, funk, soul and a touch of some jazzy elements. The triumphant “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going” opens the album, kicking off with those now famous track title lyrics and that rubbery, irrepressible bassline.
The chart topper has that very subtle reggae beat going on, but with quite accessible pop sensibilities. Ocean basically, in the chorus, vows to do anything for his love, and in a more joyous and rapturous way than Meat Loaf ever did. The closing moments of the album version are far more appealing than the single radio edit, reaching heights the latter never did.
Kicked back and relaxed is how to describe album title track, “Love Zone”, which topped the Billboard R&B charts. The key feature is moody slap bass that doesn’t totally overwhelm the song. The chorus seems to evoke Far Eastern and misty, windswept Chinese provinces. Its middle section has soaring keyboards that segue seamlessly into another section within itself, before fading out with Billy adlibbing in devotion to his woman.
Earnest and straight from the heart is “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)”, which hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. It opens almost childlike in its vulnerability, baring its heart totally unguarded. The chorus soars to make it a classic, one beautifully heartfelt. The middle section here really builds the song to a crescendo, with strings lifting the piece towards an even grander chorus. The closing moment, with Ocean proclaiming, “I love you” is perhaps a tad corny, especially these days, but that’s a man who’s just poured his guts out on track and is speaking his soul.
You cannot get anymore Eighties than “Showdown”, but we don’t consider it corny akin to the closing moments of the previous track. You could construe the layers of keyboard in this track to be the work of something you’d here on a Stateside cop show. It certainly would make for compulsive opening and closing credit viewing. The only point of criticism would be the keyboard solo, which in fact would’ve probably sounded better on perhaps a guitar, but that’s merely a sign of the times.
There’s a tad of that aforementioned childlike vulnerability in “Love Is Forever”, number one on the Adult Contemporary chart, especially its opening moments. It seems to hint at love lost, perhaps a love that could’ve went the distance but was extinguished because of reasons that didn’t even matter much at the time. A middle section lifts the song, meaning the “tears” cried by Ocean haven’t been for nothing; and that triumph has come and love is mended from here until eternity, that being forever.
“Without You” is moody and atmospheric, and develops into quite a joyous chorus. “Bittersweet”, fourth of the album’s five singles, is dramatic and has a seriousness and urgency about it. Quite satisfying. Meanwhile, “It’s Never Too Late To Try” is smooth, and a touch jazzy. Pleasing and relaxing how it just simmers throughout.
“Promise Me” is good, but is amidst very good and excellent tracks. On anyone else’s album not as strong as this particular one, it wouldn’t be considered too far off a classic. It just doesn’t reach those heights, though the powerful, gospel-esque backing vocals are a treat throughout. Also, there are individual aspects, not necessarily throughout the whole song, like the rising middle section, that also appeal.
This album, you could argue, has all you could want in a pop album. First there’s opener, “The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going”, with its blatant pop assisted with a touch of reggae, a feel good anthem of triumph over adversity. The following track, “Love Zone”, showcases the album’s diversity, encapsulated in that grooving slap bass. The ballad, “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)”, really helps Love Zone cover all bases, and it’s both powerful and beautiful. “Showdown” is the dark horse in the pack, neither a single nor album filler. Closer, “Love Is Forever”, is a grand statement to finish off proceedings.
The fact there are still three very good songs on this album, “Without You”, “Bittersweet” and “It’s Never Too Late To Try”, further proves the strength of Love Zone as a whole. You forget “Promise Me”, and that’s damn near a flawless album. Of course, as said, that track would’ve been higher considered had it not appeared amidst tracks so strong, or as artist so good as Ocean.
Billy Ocean’s now arguably a Trinidadian British national treasure, these days, measured on the likes of this album. You can purchase the definitely classic Love Zone on iTunes here. You can also purchase Here You Are: The Best Of Billy Ocean on iTunes here, too.
Words by Andrew Watson