Oct 14

BOYZONE – “When The Going Gets Tough”

Popular30 comments • 4,037 views

#818, 13th March 1999

boyzggt 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.



  1. 1
    AMZ1981 on 1 Oct 2014 #

    This song did, at least, manage a second week at the top which was a relief to those of us who like a bit of stability at the top of the charts. This is stretching a point slightly but if one treats the Spice Girls single from two years previous as a special case WTGGT became the first Comic Relief chart topper to hold the top spot past telethon week.

    The record that missed out as a result was Better Best Forgotten by Steps, the follow up to Heartbeat/ Tragedy and generally regarded as one of their better songs (and Steps were at their commercial peak at the time).

    Boyzone have now accumulated nine points from five chart toppers which is a pretty dismal haul. I’m itching to see whether a bunnied act who at the time seemed to be a not so good Boyzone can manage an advance on that.

  2. 2
    Chelovek na lune on 1 Oct 2014 #

    A bit pointless, but comparing it with the original just now surprised me rather. The instrumentation on the Billy Ocean version is very obviously superior, but I thought in places (when Ronan was singing, at least), the vocals on this version had something to be said for them; and the playfulness that Boyzone inject, while changing the tone from the original rather, kind of adds something that isn’t entirely unpleasant.

    It is all a bit bloody pointless though (introducing the song to a new generation? maybe the principal potential justification). But still a long way from being their worst no 1, or even second worst, or even third worst… Ditto as regards Comic Relief chart toppers. 4

  3. 3
    Chris Retro on 1 Oct 2014 #

    The original is, for me, one of the worst Number Ones of the 80s, something I can’t listen to – though that’s partly a ‘time & place’ thing.
    This version just takes everything that was good about the Billy Ocean original and completely loses it in translation – one of the worst Comic Relief records (and I’m including Hale & Pace in that)
    The only Boyzone singles I actually like are the early ones – the Osmonds-esque doowop-lite of Coming Home Now & the ‘we didn’t grasp the point’ reading of Father & Son that was part of one of the best festive Top Ten’s in memory (again, a time & place thing).

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 1 Oct 2014 #

    more enforced charidee jollity – Ronan Keating sounding like he’s been injected by his dentist before recording – dreadful

  5. 5
    Rory on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Nice to see Mel Smith in the video, at least.

    I gave Billy Ocean a 4; this, I’ll give 3.

  6. 6
    enitharmon on 1 Oct 2014 #

    You were on the nail about me not going to like what was coming up, Tom!

  7. 7
    daveworkman on 1 Oct 2014 #

    The video has some of the most bizarre cameos from people who should know better (Phil Jupitus, Adam and Joe) and late 90s Z-list soap stars..

  8. 8
    James BC on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Love the original, but even the bassline is wrong in this. It just bounces along exactly the same all the way through, like annoying 1908s computer puzzle game music.

  9. 9
    James on 1 Oct 2014 #

    My feelings for Boyzone aren’t ones of hatred, a stark comparison to a certain other Irish-boyband just around the corner, it’s more one of complete and utter apathy. I missed Take That on their initial outing – I was born in 1995 – but I’ve always had an appreciation for their music which I went back and discovered following their 2006 reunion, because some it is actually good – ‘Never Forget’, ‘Relight My Fire’ and ‘It Only Takes a Minute’ being highlights. Boyzone also had a late-00’s reunion, so I did the same and my god…they were really quite bad weren’t they? I’ll concede that they did an alright job with ‘Baby Can I Hold You’ and ‘Father & Son’ isn’t terrible but the rest of it…yuck and this is one of the worst. It’s lifeless, but then so is the original which I’m not a fan of either, and very clearly treading water until the breakup when Ronan could fly his wings to mediocrity and become a last minute mother’s day gift


  10. 10
    weej on 1 Oct 2014 #

    The idea to just have a “fun” song and move the comedy to the video is an abysmal one all round because (a) it means the actual song at #1 at the charts is an afterthought to a shit, unfunny video and nobody even cares if it’s any good and (b) gormless mugging around by celebs has never been and will never be funny. I know you’re down on The Stonk, but come on – at least they tried to do something, rather than filling in a series of forms to facilitate a transfer of funds. This single is a taxloss and it should be expunged from the record.

    And that’s not how you pronounce “something”, Ronan. It’s not how anyone pronounces it.

  11. 11
    Doctor Casino on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Having warmed to Ocean’s version over the years since Popular brought it to my attention, and having found myself mildly distracted by Romancing the Stone, I recently attempted to watch Jewel of the Nile and gave up twenty to twenty-five minutes in as it was apparent that everybody involved was coasting on goodwill for the original, without having bothered to sit down and figure out why there was goodwill for the original. This cover kinda feels like that, I guess – it’s got the lopey easiness of Ocean’s version but the robotic arrangement leaves no space for any kind of emotive high, sonic variety or rhythmic oomph. Not that I’m eager for the return of the “Tough!” blurts, but cover artists might do better to build the whole song around those, particularly if they’re going for comedy. As it is this sounds like karaoke from one of the less respectable production houses. 2, maybe 3 on the strength of it being so tepid and backgroundy that at least it won’t ruin your lunch.

  12. 12
    wichitalineman on 1 Oct 2014 #

    “I’ve got shomthun to sheehhh”. Comedy vocal, presumably not intentional, is a plus. They’d occasionally play this at Hendon after the final whistle, alternating with the original. If Hendon lost, we’d get The Winner Takes It All.

    Oh, I never noticed how the bassline was pinched from Searching (which I love) until recently. Pinched, and then turned into an overkeen Scrappy Doo imitation of the real thing, that is.

    “Can I touch you, and do the things that lovers do?” suggests he’s been locked away for some time. What a creepy line.

    Not much else to report. No better or worse than the original.

  13. 13
    Duro on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Best Boyzone number one ever!!!!

    A (very charitable) 4.

  14. 14
    iconoclast on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Very obviously cheap’n’cheerful; drains the original of what charm it had; sounds pointless all round, like they just wanted to get it over with; not quite as awful as I’d been led to believe. FOUR.

  15. 15
    thefatgit on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Just reminded myself of this on YouTube. The video failed to raise the corners of my mouth into what could be described as a smile (more like a grimace, really). The song? It’s bland, uninspiring, flavourless, meagre, witless, lacklustre and thankfully forgettable. Nowhere near as hateful as The Stonk. Points awarded for worthy causes. (3)

  16. 16
    mapman132 on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Weak cover, bizarre video. Wondered what the point was, but Comic Relief explains it. Low on comedy but I did get relief when it ended. Liked the Billy Ocean song, but this is only a 3/10.

  17. 17
    PurpleKylie on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Nothing much more to add to the last time I said how much I think Boyzone sucked even at the prime age when I should’ve lapped these boybands up like an excitable puppy. Lame cover, charity singles began to suck round about this point as well.

  18. 18
    swanstep on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Not much to say about this one is there, perhaps especially if you (like me) only recognize a couple of the figures in the vid.? I dislike the thickened up ‘Dah-ling’s in this version, but listening again to the original, its ‘Dah-ling’s aren’t quite as sweet as I’d remembered, so, damn it, there goes my one constructive remark. Anyhow:
    2 or 3

  19. 19
    Ronnie on 2 Oct 2014 #

    If you were to ask me to guess songs that had two different versions go to number one, “When the Going Gets Tough” would not be one of my top choices.

  20. 20
    enitharmon on 2 Oct 2014 #

    Speaking of Change by Searching, sorry, Searching by Change; I never could get it the right way round. Anyway, had it hit the top a stone cold 10 for me from my mature years. Shame we never got to deal with it.

  21. 21
    Tommy Mack on 2 Oct 2014 #

    Mrs Mack works for Comic Relief and when we married, this was our first da…only kidding, was it fuck…but her folks did burn up a CD of all the Comic Relief singles for the guests’ coach ride ‘tween church and marquee. Obv. as I was quaffing champagne in a Roller with my new bride, I was spared that particular musical delight.

  22. 22
    Alan on 2 Oct 2014 #

    and that reminds me, -5 points to the related posts algorithm :-(

  23. 23
    Tom on 2 Oct 2014 #

    The related posts algorithm may have our best interests at heart.

  24. 24
    Alan on 3 Oct 2014 #

    “I always took you where you needed to go”

  25. 25
    Mark G on 3 Oct 2014 #

    The related posts algorithm says “Ah, shaddupa ya face!”

  26. 26
    Erithian on 12 Oct 2014 #

    Hmm, this was number one when we found out we were going to have twins. The going sure got tough a few times after that…

  27. 27
    Chap_with_Wings on 25 Oct 2014 #

    This is the best song for impersonating Ronan.

  28. 28
    ciaran on 29 Oct 2014 #

    #27 – Agree with that. My impression went down very well when it came on a pub jukebox one evening around the time of a Ronan bunny.

    As for this empty headed cover not much I can add. A first listen in years tonight and already I’ve forgotten the tune. The saving grace being the cast in the video. 2 or 3.

  29. 29
    Musicality on 20 Jan 2020 #

    Good for the time and fun, though long forgotten.

  30. 30
    Gareth Parker on 31 May 2021 #

    Tom’s right to say Keating had a bad day at the office. I quite like the original, but this just feels wrong to me. Agree with Mr Ewing’s mark of 2/10.

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