When Michael Jackson released his Thriller video in December 1983 it was a year zero for presenting pop music – a 14-minute short film directed by John Landis, with higher production values than most horror blockbusters of the day – including his own cult classic An American Werewolf In London. The video is one of the most iconic pop culture artefacts of the 80s, and if you were to close your eyes and think of MJ, that red leather jacket will block out everything else.
The problem with these landmark pop moments is that within a minute of Thriller’s premiere (yes, there was a movie-style premiere), heads were knocking together in boardrooms, demanding ideas for other cinematic blockbuster pop videos.
One video that won’t get many honourable mentions in 80s top 10 lists is the promo for Billy Ocean’s Loverboy, off his 1984 album Suddenly – the No1 album that also gave the world Caribbean Queen. The video is a preposterous over-egged clip that’s been nudged aside by blockbusters like A-Ha’s Take On Me, Madonna’s Like a Prayer and Duran Duran’s Hungry Like the Wolf. But Loverboy is the Plan 9 From Outer Space of 80s pop video excess, a glorious sci-fi folly that should go straight onto your rollover session YouTube playlist.
For starters, the actual song Loverboy is amazing – a sort of space disco, soul-funk synth belter with a hint of Laura Brannigan’s Self Control and Tangerine Dream cosmic edges. You’d half expect the video to be Billy in a silver-grey suit with three-quarter length sleeves and a band playing keytars with liberal dry ice clouds swirling around them. After all, it’s a straight-up love song with no lyrical pretensions.
Instead, the director turns it into an intergalactic fish out of water tale, with ray gun shootouts, an alien damsel in distress, Billy Ocean dancing in a Superman II-style prism and some space alien reprobates they probably got from the skip outside the Doctor Who studios.
We first meet a masked knight galloping on horseback along a beach (exotically shot in Dorset). He pulls up outside a cave and we find out the ‘knight’ is some weird man-goat and he’s stumbled into an alien dive bar that makes the Mos Eisley Cantina seem like a chintzy Ibiza superclub.
It’s hard to work out his mission, but there’s a cut to a pink-haired lady who’s been ripped off the set of the Dark Crystal, being chatted up by a character who looks like Beast Man from Masters of the Universe on a 10-day bender.
GoatMan hits the bar, edging past some low-rent googly eye Jawas, cyborgs with TVs for heads and a warthog in a sailor suit. He punches in his order on a workstation and a ‘BarBot’ fixes him a drink and he hovers – while Billy’s prism provides the entertainment.
Maybe inspired by the squealing processed guitar solo or the strong BarBot liquor, GoatMan stops propping up the bar and activates his real mission – to rescue the Dark Crystal damsel. Thing is, she’s not in any discernible distress, apart from being on a date with the ugliest guy in the room, even uglier than goat face, who keeps grinding his teeth and violently licking his lips. Maybe off his box on intergalactic dust.
He walks over to the couple and without a chance of a Greedo/Han Solo who shot first? debate, Beast Man is blasted off his stool and our Goatface Killah drags Dark Crystal out by the arm. They ride off into the Dorset sunset, with the Jawa creatures bowing down in reverence to Billy’s floating prism – a nice high-brow nod to Space Odyssey at the end.
Billy never fully explored his intergalactic space opera ideas – his video for Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car features some dodgy animated fish when his car fills up with water, and in the video for When the Going Gets Tough… he does actually have the three-quarter length silver-grey suit jacket. But there’s a corner of the galaxy where Loverboy will always be his greatest moment.