565. ‘When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going’, by Billy Ocean

The 3rd number one single of 1986, and the third one with what I’d term a ‘distinctive’ intro. From the subtle build of ‘West End Girls’ to this: the song’s title chopped, sliced and diced into an uber-‘80s ‘look what my mixing desk can do!’ mess.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going, by Billy Ocean (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 2nd February – 2nd March 1986

Tough-t-t-t-tuh-tuh-tuh-tough ooh! The barking voice reminds me of ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’. Nothing that reminds me of ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ can be anything other than reprehensible. Luckily, once the intro is out of the way, things settle down and a decent pop song begins to shine through. I like the bass, and the calypso rhythm. It’s a summer smash, several months too early. I’ve got something to tell you, I’ve got something to say… Billy Ocean sings it smoothly; thankfully nothing like the Baha Men.

I wonder if this is based on a traditional tune, as reggae songs are (even though this is reggae in the loosest sense…) The chorus especially has a nursery-rhyme feel to it. But no, ‘When the Going Gets Tough…’ was written in 1985, for the soundtrack to the Michael Douglas film ‘The Jewel of the Nile’ (it seems the song is much better remembered than the movie…) So it may not be an old song, but it definitely has retro touches. The Darlin’… I’ll climb any mountain… is very sixties Motown, as are the Ooh-ohh-ohh-hoos… lifted straight from ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’.

There’s also a very mid-eighties sax solo. But it’s palatable –I have a very low tolerance for eighties saxophone solos – and works well with the song’s overall jauntiness. I like this: it’s catchy, fun, exuberant… once the intro’s over. I mentioned in my last post that A-ha’s ‘The Sun Only Shines on TV’ might have been a ‘shadow’ number one, and I did wonder if this also might have been one. Had ‘Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)’ and ‘Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car’ – Billy Ocean was one for a good, long song title – immediately preceded it? No. This record was a chart-topper, fair and square.

If I had to choose a song to be Ocean’s sole #1 hit, though, I’d definitely go for the even more Motown-leaning ‘Love Really Hurts Without You’, which had been his breakthrough hit, making #2 a full decade before this. Sadly, and reluctantly, I’ve come to accept that I will never be able to personally control the charts… (though the world would be a much better, Ed Sheeran-less place if I did…)

Billy Ocean’s chart career didn’t last far beyond the late-eighties, though he continues to record and perform, his latest album making the charts in 2020. ‘When the Going Gets Tough…’, meanwhile, will be back at the top of the charts before the century is out.

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545. ‘I Know Him So Well’, by Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson

More balladry, as we continue into 1985. This winter has been very heavy on the slow dances. The closest we’ve come to a toe-tapper was ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, which isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a floor-filler…

I Know Him So Well, by Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 3rd February – 3rd March 1985

Except this next #1, while very much a ballad, has at least got a sense of theatre to it. The intro uses an intriguing combination of plinky-plonky synths and a distant guitar, with a hint of ABBA at their most bombastic (more on that shortly…) Then in comes Elaine Paige. And the second she opens her mouth, you can tell that this song comes from a stage musical.

Nothing is so good it lasts eternally… It’s the diction, you know. Enunciating for the back rows. Proper singing. It’s from ‘Chess’, a musical about, um, chess. Or more accurately, an American and a Russian Grandmaster who compete over the chessboard, as well as for the love of a woman. Elaine Paige is Florence, the Russian Grandmaster’s lover, while Barbara Dickson is Svetlana, his unfortunate wife (in the video Dickson is wearing a luxuriously fluffy ushanka hat, to confirm her Russian-ness).

Why do I enjoy this more than the previous chart-topper: another blockbuster ballad, ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’? In that post, I complained about power-ballads which take themselves too seriously. Power-ballads are inherently ridiculous, and if an artist pretends they aren’t then they end up looking pretentious. And it’s not that Paige and Dickson are taking the piss here; they sing it beautifully. It’s more that any song that’s been wrenched from a musical and slapped on a 7” will sound a bit silly. In Act III of the show all the vocal gymnastics and power chords make perfect sense; as a single it’s very OTT.

The way the chorus comes striding in… Wasn’t it good…! is a brilliant moment, as is the change in octave for the More securi-teee…! line. While the way the two women intertwine their lines towards the end is how all power-duets should end. I can’t imagine that this was at all a cool #1 in the playgrounds of 1985, but who cares for cool? It also helps when your ballad is written by two of the finest pop songwriters of all time, Benny and Bjorn from ABBA, alongside Tim Rice. You can hear it in the little synth and guitar flourishes, and the chord progressions (it’s based on ‘I Am an A’, a song that the band played on tour in 1977 but never released).

Not only does ‘I Know Him So Well’ give us our umpteenth ballad in a row, it gives us our third Cold War chart-topper in the space of a year. The real world encroaching on the pop charts yet again… And before writing this post I had no idea I’d be able to link it with ‘Two Tribes’, but there you go!

Before we go, I have to reveal my most tenuous of connections to this disc. Barbara Dickson is Scotland’s most successful female chart act and, as far as I know, the only chart-topping artist to have attended my high school. While that was a good thirty years before I stepped through the hallowed doors, I can still feel the most tepid of reflected glows as I write this post. Anyway. Up next… Raise your glowsticks to the sky! It’s not a ballad!!

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507. ‘Eye of the Tiger’, by Survivor

We’re meeting some of the decade’s big hitters now (pun fully intended). ‘Fame’, to ‘Eileen’, to this. And it’s another iconic intro. Synths growing, and growing, while a guitar goes chuckachuckachucka… It’s almost disco… Then Bam! Bam bam bam! The chords smash as hard as Rocky Balboa’s punches.

Eye of the Tiger, by Survivor (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, 29th August – 26th September 1982

I love it when the beat drops, and we settle into a groove. The bass riff is great (it’s heavily-influenced by ‘Another One Bites the Dust’). Right here, twenty-seven seconds in, this could be one of the best chart-toppers ever. Except, from this point on it’s all a bit of an anti-climax. It’s a record that shows its hand too early; and the remaining three and a half minutes are a bit of a plod.

Having not listened to this song properly in years, I was fully expecting to be won over by its poodle-rocking silliness. Big hair, power chords, even the title is ridiculous. But the vocals are too earnest. The lyrics are cheesy, and not good cheese. Cheap triangles of Dairylea cheese. It’s missing something, or maybe it’s just been ruined by its prominence in pop culture. It’s been used too many times with tongues in cheek. Hell, it’s been used too many times without tongues in cheek. (Plus, the band didn’t even that big hair…)

It’s polished. It’s glossy. But that’s not really the problem. Most pop music released in the 1980s was glossy and polished. It’s also got a great hook: away from the intro, the best bit is clearly the He’s watching us all with the eye….. Of the tiger line. But. But but but. ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is, I’m sorry, rock music for people who don’t like rock music. All the ingredients are there, but it never builds to anything. It plays it too safe. It’s just verse, chorus, verse, chorus… fade. There’s no solo! Where’s the solo? You’ve got that iconic riff, and no solo? So wrong.

It’s too earnest. That’s the problem. Earnestness in rock music never appeals to me. File it alongside other motivational classics, such as ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ and ‘You’re the Voice’, that I’d happily never hear again. Maybe it’s an American thing… We’ve just had ‘Fame’ (I’m gonna live forever…) and now this (Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past, You must fight just to keep them alive…) While in between a bloke in ill-fitting dungarees from Wolverhampton sang an Irish jig about getting into a girl’s pants.

For me, this song exists solely on a ‘Best Rock Album in the World’ CD that got heavy rotation in our family car way back when. I’ve never seen a Rocky film, and it definitely doesn’t feature in any of my regular playlists these days. It’s a childhood memory, and not even that fond a memory… I didn’t particularly like it even as a kid. (I do have a huge soft-spot for 80s hair-metal, though.) Sadly, ‘Eye of the Tiger’s success won’t herald many other hard-rock chart-toppers, and Survivor themselves wouldn’t have another hit until ‘Burning Heart’, from ‘Rocky IV’. Sadly for them, they weren’t invited back for ‘Rocky V’, and that was that as far as their UK chart career went.

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