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The Story of... 'When the Going Gets Tough', as told by Billy Ocean

22 November 2020, 16:38

By Tom Eames

Billy Ocean scored arguably his biggest worldwide hit with his infectious pop classic 'When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going' in 1985.

With Billy Ocean back with his brand new album One World, we caught up with the great man himself to take a look back at his classic tune.

Watch the video above to hear from Billy about the making of the song, how it came to be used in the film Jewel of the Nile and what it was like filming the video with Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito.

Read on for more facts about the catchy tune:

  1. Who wrote 'When the Going Gets Tough'?

    Billy Ocean in 1986
    Billy Ocean in 1986. Picture: Getty

    Billy Ocean wrote the song alongside Wayne Brathwaite, Barry Eastmond and legendary producer Mutt Lange, the man behind countless hits by the likes of Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, The Corrs, Michael Bolton and former wife Shania Twain.

    Billy Ocean interview: Watch legendary singer discuss new album with Smooth's Angie Greaves

  2. What inspired the song?

    The song was written for its use in the soundtrack for The Jewel of the Nile, the sequel to the previous year's Romancing the Stone.

    The film starred Michael Douglas, Danny DeVito and Kathleen Turner.

    The song was the film's main theme tune, and was featured during the film and over the end credits.

    Billy explained to Smooth that his record label Jive's boss Clive Cadler offered him the gig, and that the song was written and recorded in "four days".

    Ocean was inspired to use the title by one particular scene in the film, when Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas' characters (Joan and Jack) are discussing their future. Joan tell Jack: "When the going gets tough, the tough well, I don't know what the tough do."

    "It has a meaning of inspiration for people," Billy told Smooth. "Don't give up, just be inspired and keep going.

    "I think really and truly, it's something that will be relevant to every generation. That will never change, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, that's life."

  3. The video starred huge Hollywood stars

    Billy said it was his all-time "favourite" video in his career to shoot, as it featured the film's main stars: Michael Douglas, Danny DeVito and Kathleen Turner.

    The video sees the trio singing the song as backing vocalists, all wearing white suits.

    Danny DeVito then mimes the song's famous saxophone solo, which was actually performed by Vernon Jeffrey Smith.

    Funnily enough, the video was banned on Top of the Pops at the time, because DeVito and the cast were not part of the musician's union and so technically broke the rules.

  4. How did it perform in the charts?

    The song reached number one in the UK and various other countries, and was a number two hit in the States.

    It sold over 500,000 copies in the UK alone in 1986.

  5. Who else has covered it?

    In 1999, Boyzone took the song to number one in the UK for a second time, after they covered it as that year's Comic Relief single.