Billy Ocean

The Collection

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As Billy Ocean began to hit it big in the mid-'80s with global pop hits like "Suddenly," "Caribbean Queen," and "When the Going Gets Tough," a number of compilations of his earlier works -- which had primarily been released in Europe -- started appearing. Most of these were budget packages which housed cheesy, remixed versions that barely gave the feel of the originals. Among these altered recordings one would typically find one or two of his "hits" from this period (the international hit "Love Really Hurts Without You" was a given), along with an odd assortment of demos and album tracks. It wasn't until 1989 that Castle Communications finally saved the day with a legitimate and comprehensive collection featuring the original recordings of Ocean's pre-Jive work. And Collection makes a strong case for those who argue that the Trinidad native's '70s and early-'80s work was more soulful than that of his peak commercial period. Starting with his three of his best-known U.K. hits -- "Love Really Hurts Without You," "Red Light," and "Are You Ready" -- the set demonstrates Ocean's prowess in pop-tinged R&B, grabbing Northern soul, and funky dancefloor grooves. Of particular note to American audiences is "Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)" and the calypso-tinged "Stay the Night," both of which became club staples and R&B radio hits in 1981. Also of particular note are the Delfonics-inspired ballad "Hungry for Love," the quiet storm groove "Inner Feelings," the intriguing disco narrative "American Hearts," and the reggae swayer "Mind Games." Ocean's elastic pipes can be soft and assuring, gutsy and passionate, or carefree and agile; thus, he's convincing in a number of musical settings. Additionally, he co-wrote 16 of the 20 tunes here, demonstrating that he's capable of more than the typical, fly-by-night radio ditty. His later material was surely more universal in lyrical appeal and phrasing, but the earlier repertoire stands stronger in conviction and in the more organic arrangements. This one's an essential for any true Billy Ocean fan.

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