I’m not saying that I embarrass my kids often, but I can’t lie; I rather enjoy the fact that I have a child who has already found it possible to be ashamed of things I do. One of those things that absolutely go Full-On Embarrassing Dad is singing Rick James and Smokey Robinson’s “Ebony Eyes” at the top of my lungs WHENEVER it comes on. And because Apple knows my heart, I can pull it up whenever, wherever, whatever the spirit hits me, and buddy, it hits me, baby, not one more time, but all the times.
“Ebony Eyes” was released in 1983 and was a single off of Rick James’ Cold Blooded album, featuring the title track, one of Rick’s signature hit songs. James’ career is interesting in that he’s considered a legend in two games, like Pee Wee Kirkland (his drug use was legendary back then), but the most significant part of his career happened between 1978 and 1985. As opposed to other larger-than-life artists whose hits spanned several decades, James made a really big splash over a relatively short amount of time.
With Motown and music legend Robinson in tow, James wrote an ode to black women that was slower tempo and more traditional R&B than most of his hits.
While James was known for the punk-funk stylings of his larger hits, “Ebony Eyes” saw him smooth it out and keep it mellow, mellow. Robinson and James traded stanzas, and most of the hook duties went to James, creating one of the absolutely most perfect karaoke songs of all time, since James’ singing is more performance than it is good. And that’s really what karaoke is all about. I love Rick James; that was not a shot.
When James and Robinson really ramp up the energy toward the end of the song, this is when my soul fully embraces all that the song has to offer. From roughly 3:30 until the end of the song, every single time James sings “Ebony eyyyyyyyyyyyyyyes of miii-iiiiiiiiiine .... ,” I feel the spirit of Mary Jane.
While it is nowhere near Rick James’ most famous or most successful song, I’d stack it against “You and I,” “Super Freak,” “Give It to Me Baby” or “Cold Blooded” as his second-best song of all time, since “Mary Jane” is hands down his best song.
But with “Ebony Eyes,” we have an ode to black women being sung by the smooth crooner and the super freak, who shot a nonsensical eight-minute mini movie (the year after Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” no less) about their plane, Ebony Eyes, crashing on a beach because of bad weather, and the two of them singing about their ebony-eyed angels back home.
They build spears, have tiki torches; there’s a parrot; they shave; James throws an SOS note into the ocean; and then a trunk full of white suits—literally, white suits—shows up, they shoot flares, and their women show up on a yacht and rescue them.
It’s bad, real bad, Joe Jackson. But it’s also perfect because it’s Rick James doing Rick James things.
“Ebony Eyes” is a perfect music moment in black history, and I bet you didn’t know that, ebony eyes.