Rest in peace, Phil Phillips: “Sea of Love” (1959)



R&B singer John Philip Baptiste passed away Saturday at the age of 94. You know him as Phil Phillips, who – from a pop standpoint – had one hit: 1959’s “Sea of Love,” recorded with The Twilights as the backing group. Originally released on the Khoury record label, it was later picked up by Mercury Records and given national distribution. (A copy of the original release still eludes my collection.) The record went to #2 and stayed there for two weeks, unable to get to the top position. (It was a #1 hit on the R&B chart.) In total he released about a dozen sides for various small labels in the late 50s and early 60s. In part Phillips’ lack of chart success wasn’t because people didn’t like the music. He had been touring as a part of Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, but a dispute over rights between Mercury and Khoury left several records unreleased. In addition to still trying to manage a hit, Phillips worked in radio for a stint, most notably at KJEF in Jennings, Louisiana.

Phil hadn’t been performing much due to his advanced age. One of his last live appearances came in the spring of 2005 at New Orleans’ Jazz Fest. A native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, Phillips was a musical fixture across the state and was named to the state’s Hall of Fame in 2007.

A younger generation more likely knows “Sea of Love” from the cover that The Honeydrippers released in 1984. That version peaked at #3 in early 1985, but it was actually the third version to chart. I admit to being partial to Del Shannon’s cover from 1982, which made it to #33 on the charts. The song’s also made its way into films and countless Oldies collections, not to mention the fact that the list of singers who have covered it but not released it as a single is extensive. (You may remember 1989’s Sea of Love, starring Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin. The song is in there, both in original form and as done by Tom Waits. Oh, and Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” is included for good measure.)

You can hear the original “Sea of Love” by clicking here.


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