Between 1984 and 1989, Billy Ocean could do no wrong, topping the charts in both the UK and US with punchy electric rock songs: “Caribbean Queen,” “Loverboy,” “When The going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going,” and the outlier ballad “Suddenly”. Audiences in the UK saw the beginnings of this force through “Love Really Hurts Without You” and “Red Light Spells Danger,” but Ocean’s voice has a rich tone that he can project effectively, like asking Lionel Richie to go hard or go home.
What made Ocean’s 1980s songs particularly memorable were the videos, in particular how “When the Going Gets Tough...” features Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito on “backing vocals,” the song having been used by their film “Romancing the Stone.” The video made for “Loverboy,” a fantasy filmed at Durdle Door in Dorset that evokes Jim Henson productions like “The Dark Crystal” or “Labyrinth,” make you want to see the whole film, until you realise that this was one Ocean song that was not used for a soundtrack.
The reason the video for Ocean’s 1988 song, “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” – also used in a film soundtrack, for the Corey Haim and Corey Feldman vehicle “License to Drive” - sticks in my mind even more than that of “Loverboy” is that it is so entirely of its time, from the synthesisers used in the song, to the choice of colours used in the video, and the animation – the video had to have been made in 1987, and at no other time. It is possible to make fun of the choices made in its production now, and call it the most Eighties thing to have ever Eighties-ed, but it was made in the Eighties.
Sometimes it is easiest to say what you see. The video is set at night, and all the artificial light is switched to pastel shades as Ocean drives his Porsche through a car wash, which cycles through becoming a Jeep, a Volvo 740 and a Renault 5. After passing through, the car fills with animated water, and a fish swims by, singing the backing vocals. Rolling down the window to let the water out, an animated duck speeds past, wearing green and pink clothes, and carrying a boom box. The car wash workers dance around the car – there is a 1950s style to the set, and to the costumes, evoking nostalgia for the childhoods of the people making the video. With his date, Ocean stops at a petrol station, where the old-style petrol pumps sprout eyes and lips, again to sing backing vocals. People are literally dancing in the street, and Ocean appears to be chasing the duck from earlier. They arrive at a drive-in cinema, and Ocean watches himself appear on the stage as the song key’s changes, dancing alongside the duck, that had been playing along to Vernon Jeffrey Smith’s saxophone solo.
Music videos only need to grab your eye as it gives you the song, so making sense is a secondary concern. The animation is a surprise: with a release date of January 1988, “Get Outta My Dreams...” came five months before “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, although stacking animation alongside live-action is used here for pure visual effect, and for no reason of narrative. The pastel colours and 1950s American setting are playing off the sunny, bouncy energy generated by the song, and presage the choices made now when evoking the 1980s itself.
The video was directed by Terence Bulley, who was cinematographer for David Mallet’s video of David Bowie & Mick Jagger’s “Dancing in the Street” – yes, that video – alongside other projects for Queen, Culture Club, Cliff Richard, The Cure, the Style Council, and many others, seemingly responsible for developing a more filmic look for music videos that helped them be taken more seriously. Bulley is also director of aerial photography for “Eddie the Eagle” and “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi,” but he still made Billy Ocean dance with an animated duck.