“No band has dominated a 12-month period like Frankie ruled 1984, with three singles all at No 1. Yet today they rarely get cited by other musicians.”
That was the opening gambit to a piece on Frankie Goes To Hollywood that appeared in The Guardian almost exactly six years ago. It was followed with these words:-
It is August 1984 and Frankie Goes To Hollywood are in their pomp. They have just spent their ninth week at No 1 with Two Tribes, that ultimate cold war-era document with the annihilating bassline that sounds, in the words of Capital Radio DJ Roger Scott, “like the end of the world”. To celebrate their final performance of it on Top of the Pops they are wearing matching white wedding jackets with black trousers and bow ties. After all the controversy surrounding Frankie – their previous No 1, Relax, was banned for its “obscene” content, and the video for Two Tribes was banned for being indecent – even this choice of outfit seems like a provocative gesture.
To further playfully mark the occasion, drummer Peter “Ped” Gill and bassist Mark O’Toole have swapped instruments, while singer Holly Johnson, to the bemusement of the BBC cameramen, prefaces his performance – with a mixture of relish and disgust – by tearing up a copy of the Sun, the newspaper that has been doorstepping his parents in Liverpool for quotes about their gay son.
Meanwhile, Relax has just climbed back up the charts to No 2, making this the first time anyone has occupied the top two slots since Hello Goodbye and the Magical Mystery Tour EP in January 1968. It’s official: Frankie are the most scandalous affront to decency since the Sex Pistols and the biggest band, Liverpudlian or otherwise, since the Beatles. “It was more than we imagined it could be,” marvels Paul Rutherford, Frankie’s co-frontman and dancing clone, of their 1984 heyday. “We just couldn’t see it coming at all. But God, we rode it. There’s been nothing like it since.”
FGTH burned very brightly and intensely for a short period. A third number one, at Christmas 1984, would be followed by the multi-million selling debut album, Welcome To The Pleasuredome. Very little was heard of them, musically, in 1985 and much of 1986 until new single Rage Hard was released. It marked a new sound, one that leaned more towards a rock sound than pop/electronica, and the critics panned it and the subsequent album, Liverpool. The band split within six months.
One of the reasons that FGTH don’t get quoted much is that the debut album and hit singles are really seen as the work of uber-producer Trevor Horn rather than the musicians, while there is also a great deal of cynicism around the way that Paul Morley, a journalist and writer who was as much reviled as he was admired, had proven to been part of the band’s rise to fame with the way he had hyped things up and devised a range of shock tactics, including the radio and video bans. Horn had nothing to do with the second album and Morley had eased himself away from everyday activities at ZTT Records. Indeed, nobody was denying that the FGTH musicians hadn’t played much on the debut but were rectifying matters on the follow-up, enabling everyone to draw a clear line in the sand if they so wanted.
It may have largely been hype, but there surely can’t be any arguement that the two initial #1 singles were trailblazing in so many ways and still have the capacity to sound great when blasted loudly through a decent set of speakers.
mp3: Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Relax (Sex Mix)
mp3: Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes (annihilation)
Both taken from the 12″ singles. The former is 7:25 in length and the latter extends to more than nine minutes, complete with dialogue that mimicked the advice given in the UK government’s propaganda film about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack (as well as comedian Chris Barrie doing a tremendous impression of President Ronald Reagan). As such it requires an interested listener to make some considerable time to take it all in. But trust me, it’ll be worth it.