With a delicate voice that shimmers between childlike innocence and smoldering sexuality, Susan Cadogan’s vocals were the perfect expression of lovers rock. Surprisingly, she never intended to sing professionally, and thus her music career has been sporadic, but such was her talent, that Cadogan was crowned the Queen of Lovers Rock. Born Alison Anne Cadogan on November 2, 1951, in Kingston, Jamaica, she came from a musical family, and her mother had in fact released a number of gospel records during her childhood.
The family emigrated to Belize in the mid-’50s, but returned to Jamaica at the end of decade, where Cadogan continued her schooling. Upon graduation, she took a job working in the library at the University of the West Indies in Mona. And there she might have remained, if not for DJ Jerry Lewis, the boyfriend of one of Cadogan’s friends. Impressed by her voice, the DJ took her into the JBC studio in 1974 to record his own composition, “Love My Life,” which he produced himself. Coincidentally enough, producer Lee “Scratch” Perry was at JBC that same day and was as impressed as the DJ with Cadogan’s talent. Perry swiftly swooped in and took the singer under his wing, he renamed her Susan, and set to work in the studio, where he had her record an album’s worth of cover songs.
Although a brilliant producer, Perry had some faults; at times his highly experimental production style could totally overwhelm his vocalists, while the sheer quantity of his output meant that on occasion his more generic reggae arrangements could play havoc with more delicate or soulful singers. But Perry did Cadogan proud, restraining his more extreme impulses, while gracing the songs with arrangements that played to her and the song’s strengths. The first fruits of these sessions was the rousing “Hurts So Good,” a cover of Millie Jackson’s soul classic. Even though the single, released on Perry’s own Perries label, included such musicians as the Zap Pow horn section and bassist Boris Gardiner, it received virtually no attention from the Jamaican public. It was a different story in Britain, where Perry had licensed the single. After dominating at 1974’s Notting Hill Carnival, an astute remix quickly flew to the top of the reggae chart. That success prompted the bigger Magnet label to license the single and by March, “Hurts” was sitting in the Top Five of the U.K. national chart.
Cadogan was soon on her way to London, where she made several national TV appearances. While there, the singer inked a deal with Magnet, prompting Perry to license his own recordings with her to a variety of small U.K. labels. Amazingly enough, none of these singles charted; however in 1976, Perry handed all his tapes of Cadogan to Trojan, who released them as the sublime Hurts So Good album. At the same time, the singer herself was in the studio recording with producer Pete Waterman of Stock, Aitken & Waterman pop fame. The first fruit of this new union, “Love Me Baby,” barely scraped into the Top 25 in the spring of 1975; its follow-up, “How Do You Feel the Morning After,” didn’t even chart. The response to Cadogan’s album Doing It Her Way, released the same year, was equally disappointing, but not perhaps surprising. Roots ruled the roost in Britain and Waterman’s crisp production and lightweight choice of songs (“Swinging on a Star” for example) offended reggae fans and didn’t connect with pop fans, either. Cadogan hopefully hung on in Britain until 1977, when after a series of failed singles, she called it a day. She returned home to Jamaica and her old job at the university library. Then, out of the blue in 1982, Cadogan was back on the Jamaican chart with a cover of Smokey Robinson’s classic “Tracks of My Tears.” In the intervening years, much of the island’s public had grown weary of roots and its constant carping on cultural themes. Social fatigue had set in and many listeners now wanted a change, as a result, a new style had sprung up: lovers rock. Richly romantic, gentle, and soothing, it was perfect for Cadogan’s own stylings.
Over the next couple of years, the singer stamped her imprint across the island’s chart. “Tears” was followed by two more hits in 1982 — “Piece of My Heart” and “Love Me.” She topped the chart the next year with an exquisite duet with Ruddy Thomas, “(You Know How to Make Me) Feel So Good,” and the pair followed that up with a second smash, “Only Heaven Can Wait.” In 1984, Cadogan on her own delivered up two further chart winners, “Cause You Love Me Baby” and “Don’t Know Why.” Then, just as swiftly as she had appeared, the singer vanished, leaving the music industry entirely. It was almost a decade before she resurfaced, this time accompanied by English producer Mad Professor (aka Neil Fraser).
In 1992, her magnificent version of “Together We Are Beautiful” was included on the producer’s 12th anniversary compilation, celebrating his own Ariwa label. Like Perry before him, Mad Professor left his own production eccentricities behind and brought out the best in Cadogan for her 1992 album, Soulful Reggae, another cover-heavy set that showcases the singer’s strong, exquisite vocals. The following year, she recorded another track for Ariwa’s This Is Lovers Reggae, Vol. Three compilation, guest -starred on Mad Professor’s Dub Maniacs on the Rampage, and even joined legendary DJ U-Roy for his new version of her old hit “Hurts So Good.” In 1995, British singer Jimmy Somerville took this song back to the U.K. charts with his own take on the song she’d made her own. Cadogan herself returned that same year with an excellent new album, Chemistry of Love. And since that time, the singer has again retreated from the limelight. ~ Jo-Ann Greene, All Music Guide.