“Always imagine hearing music from a distance,” says pop/R&B superstar Billy Ocean. “What do you hear first? You hear the rhythm. That’s what attracts you: ‘Wow, there’s something happening.’ As you get closer, you hear the melody. As you get closer, you’re tuning in to the voice, the quality of the singing. As you get closer, you’re listening to the lyrics. To me, that’s always how I assess the credentials of music.”
Ocean certainly has the credentials for giving expert songwriting advice: his multi-platinum international hits include “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run” (1984) “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” (1985) and “There’ll Be Sad Songs” (1986), and “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” (1988), among many others. He has won a Grammy award (and been nominated for two more). On September 4, he released his latest studio album, One World.
When lyrical content, Ocean says, “I use my imagination. I always imagine life as being a big circle, connecting with other people’s thoughts and experiences, connecting with things around you. At the end of the day, in a song, you’re trying to tell a story in a way that’s something that people could relate to.”
To do that, Ocean says, “You don’t want to be that clever that it’s so obscure that it shoots over people’s heads.” Along with the uncomplicated lyrics, he also recommends including “a beautiful melody with a nice rhythm. And have fun doing it, for God’s sake!” he adds with a laugh.
While there are many ways to write a song, Ocean says there is one surefire to know when it’s good enough or not: “First of all, you have to be pleased with it, because if you’re not pleased with it, no one else will be pleased with it,” he says. “You can’t fool anybody.”
Ultimately, Ocean says, songwriting provides an opportunity to share insights and joy with others, because creative people notice “things that other people might miss, because we’ve got our antennas up looking for ideas, especially being with lyrics,” he says. “As a songwriter, phrases and things that might mean nothing to other people mean something to me, and you develop it. You try and turn it into something positive and uplifting.”
Billy Ocean’s One World is available for streaming/downloading across all major digital platforms.