Monday, 6 July 2009

1986 Billy Ocean: When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going

I was a young lad when Billy Ocean was enjoying his first crack of chart success back in the mid seventies. One of my mates at the time had a very annoying habit whereby, if you told him a phrase or a group of words, he'd immediately form them into a rough melody and start 'singing' them at the top of his voice. It used to irritate the life out of me (I didn't suffer fools wisely even when I was seven) and I can remember him having a particularly good squawk when his older sister told us she'd bought Ocean's 'Love Really Hurts Without You' single in 1976. His 'version' sounded nothing like what Ocean was singing, but he was happy enough. Kids eh?

Anyway, I mention this because I'm sure if I'd given him the phrase 'When The Going Gets Tough The Tough Get Going' then he'd have improvised the chorus to this ten years early. Maybe he'd have come up with something better. Whatever, I doubt he'd have come up with anything more uncomfortably clumsy.
After opening with a thunderous burst of Frankie Goes To Hollywood style programmed drum patterns and 'huh huh' chants, 'When The Going Gets Tough' sounds like it means business. Getting tough even. Unfortunately, it soon stops spoiling for a fight and settles down with pipe and slippers into a predictable holding pattern of a synthesiser led plod of funk lite guitar lines and a harsh, brassy backing that's held together by a spongy bassline.

And we've heard it all before. It's the standard eighties template that Phil Collins would have patented and charged rent for if he'd been able and it's only broken up by that awkward chorus which itself only serves to derail momentum every time the song threatens to get going; I kinda get the impression the writers were contractually obliged to use that title and were forced to crowbar a song around it anyway they could.
Ocean gives it his best shot and tries to make it sound like he means every word, but he never had the quality of voice to spin straw into gold in the first place and he never once manages to break free of the plastic soul backing that smothers his every word. In that sense at least it's quite fitting that a poor man's version of 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' should be soundtracking a poor man's Indiana Jones movie.

Ok, there was a certain contemporary glamour and humour value in watching Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas mugging along to this in the video that helped it sell it back in 1986, but in truth, 'When The Going Gets Tough The Tough' has aged terribly. It's still listenable, but with all context now lost in the mists of time it's just plain Blandsville USA and there's not much fun to be had anymore with what's left behind.


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