There could be no Comic Relief without a Comic Relief single, but finding a way to do it successfully was more troublesome than it looked. Even though this is the third Comic Relief record in a row to get to the top, the last two had been a team-up of genuine pop heavyweights, and then the Spice Girls lending the charity a couple of songs they had going anyway. Neither approach seemed likely to become a formula: acts as bankable as the 1997 Spicers didn’t come along every year, and team-ups were an organisational headache. Plus, whatever else you might think of “Love Can Build A Bridge” and “Mama”, their relationship to comedy – the point of the brand – was non-existent.
But a formula was needed. Straight comedy records didn’t seem to work – no surprise when they were as gruesome as Right Said Fred’s career-tanking “Stick It Out”. With “The Going Gets Tough”, Comic Relief hit on a durable answer: popular act, proven wedding disco song, and save the dicking around for the video.
When the whole point of a cover is to take no risks and just sound like you’re having fun, these sort of singles slide towards unreviewable. Billy Ocean’s song is basically unchanged from the last time we bumped into it – the best thing about this, as in 1986, is the bassline lifted from “Searchin’” by Change. Boyzone, it turns out, are no more likeable when they’re not trying: Ronan especially has a bad day in the office, his readings of “rough” and “tough” sounding like an awkward babysitter handed a copy of The Gruffalo. But it’s hardly their fault – as we’ll discover, even very good pop acts flounder in the Comic Relief spotlight. More risible than funny.