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Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Ahh, Frankie… they didn’t so much capture the zeitgeist, as kidnap it, tie it up, hold it down, and have their way with it.

Certainly, back in the mid-eighties, they were omnipresent in the press, on the street, (due to Paul Morley’s brilliant hijacking of designer Katherine Hamnett’s ‘Choose Life’ t-shirt range) and even on TV and radio, at least when those august institutions weren’t blanket banning them!

It all started back in the late seventies Liverpool punk scene. Singer Holly Johnson fronted the now-legendary Big In Japan, whose only single, also titled Big In Japan, appeared on the Eric’s label, itself named after Liverpool’s pre-eminent live club venue. The band consisted of future luminaries Ian Broudie (later of Original Mirrors and Lightning Seeds), art-terrorist and author Bill Drummond (KLF), Budgie (Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Creatures) and Jayne Casey (Pink Military Stand Alone). Despite an appearance on seminal British TV show, ‘So It Goes’, a UK tour, and interest from several big labels, Big In Japan splintered in the summer of 1978.

Concurrently, fellow Liverpudlian Paul Rutherford, a long time friend of Holly’s, was singing with The Spitfire Boys, a punk band with a penchant for Ramones cover versions. Despite releasing one single, ‘British Refugee’, by summer 1978 the band had run out of steam.

During Holly and Paul's punk adventures, Peter ‘Ped’ Gill and Brian ‘Nasher’ Nash had been in a number of bands, including The Dancing Girls and Sons Of Egypt. Holly even sang with the latter, for the briefest of periods, appearing on regional TV with them. At this time, Mark O’Toole was playing in a number of unnamed groups, often with his three brothers, Jed, Colin and Vincent.

In 1982, yet another band were formed, the nucleus of which were Holly on vocals, Mark on bass and Ped on drums. Mark’s Brother Jed joined as a guitarist, and with the additional vocal talents of Sonya Mazunda added to the mix, Frankie Goes To Hollywood was born. (N.B. The name had already been used by a previous group of Holly’s, back in 1980, but they had never got past the rehearsal stage). The new Frankie began rehearsing and writing material and Summer of 1982 saw the groups live debut, supporting Hambi And The Dance, at Pickwicks, a public house in Liverpool city centre. Paul Rutherford, now back on the scene, was there to fill in on vocals for Hambi, and was so enthused by Frankie's performance that he joined them onstage. After the show, Mazunda was ousted and Paul recruited as vocalist / dancer. Frankie began sporting a new image – Paul and Holly letting their gay flags fly by wearing S&M gear, the three ‘straight’ band members looking every inch the Scallies they were, and friends Julie and Marie Muscatelli adding further visual spice by wielding whips in their leather outfits.

Frankie were beginning to attract attention now and Arista Records paid for demos of Relax and Two Tribes to be recorded. After hearing the results, Arista passed but Frankie were allowed to keep the master, creating a press pack by adding some superb photos, taken by friend John Stoddart, and a cheaply shot video of both songs, filmed at London’s Hope & Anchor. Packages were mailed to TV, radio, press and record companies, and although Phonogram Records paid for more recording sessions, they too decided against signing the band. However, the tide was about to turn…

Jed O’Toole was tiring of record company apathy, and wanted a regular wage, so it was no surprise when he quit, making way for ‘Nasher’ to renew his acquaintances with Holly and Ped. ‘The Tube’, the key music show on fledgling UK TV network Channel 4, had seen the rough and ready video of Frankie, and were sufficiently impressed to commission a rather more impressive re-shoot, at Liverpool’s State ballroom. John Peel’s influential radio one show also offered the boys a recording session, which was broadcast in November 1982. The new video was aired on The Tube in early 1983, prompting Peel to re-broadcast the session, which in turn persuaded fellow radio one DJ David ‘Kid’ Jensen to offer Frankie a session on his show. The February ’83 session that went out on Jensen’s evening show was heard by many people, but most importantly by someone who was about to take the Frankie story to a whole new level.

Record producer and former Buggles pop star Trevor Horn had recently set up his own label, Zang Tumb Tuum Records, along with manger Jill Sinclair and ex-NME journalist Paul Morley. Horn heard the Frankie broadcast on the David Jensen show, and promptly signed them, along with Art Of Noise and Propaganda. Horn worked on the band’s sound and Morley went to work on their image, refining and remodelling Frankie Goes To Hollywood as a media phenomenon. A period of inactivity followed, as Horn fulfilled his production commitments with Yes, but finally in September 1983, Frankie entered the recording studio. Horn, with his experience, pop sensibility and studio wizardry, fashioned a monstrous sound that gave the songs the cinematic grandeur they had always needed.

The first Frankie Goes To Hollywood single, Relax was finally issued in the UK on 24th October 1983. Morley cranked up the hype from day one, spending a fortune on a huge advertising campaign – very eighties, darling! Despite the huge push, the single stalled just outside the UK top fifty, before sliding down the chart. Help was at hand: The Tube invited Frankie onto their Christmas TV special, and they performed stunning versions of Relax and Ferry Across The Mersey with the band resplendent in tuxedos, with the exception of Paul, who appeared in sharp contrast to the others, dressed in trademark leather.

The first UK chart of 1984 saw Relax climb back up to number 35, and the Frankie camp breathed a huge sigh of relief. A performance on national institution Top Of The Pops lifted the record to number six, when fate stepped in once more. Radio one DJ Mike Read, playing the record on his chart show, happened to look at the sleeve of Relax, and was shocked by the sexual content. Immediately declaring the song ‘overtly obscene’ he tossed the record across the studio in disgust. On 10th January 1984, Relax was given a full BBC ban, which instantly drove the track to the number one position, creating a mountain of press and a veritable storm of outrage across the land. Relax was at number one for several weeks, creating a massive buzz and huge demand for more product. Expectation was high, but Frankie did not disappoint, with the release of Two Tribes on 28th May 1984 sending the nation into Frankie-frenzy. The magnificent video, directed by ex-10cc members turned video visionaries, Lol Crème and Kevin Godley, was also banned by the BBC, but the track was given massive airplay, and stormed to poll position in the chart, holding pride of place for a total of nine weeks.

The summer of ’84 can be remembered mostly by the total dominance of Frankie, with a plethora of t-shirt designs boasting the proclamation ‘Frankie Say…’, and Relax and Two Tribes briefly holding the top two positions in the singles chart, a feat not equalled since fellow Liverpudlians The Beatles had achieved this in January 1968. Britain and Europe fell in love with Frankie, taking their full 12” of pleasure on a multitude of inspired Horn remixes, and at the end of the year, the stupendous Power Of Love took Frankie to number one again. Achieving a number one record with each of their first three singles, Frankie had equalled yet another Liverpool group, Gerry and The Pacemakers, who had been first to that particular summit in 1963.

‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’, Frankie’s eagerly anticipated first album was unleashed in October 1984, and pretty much washed all other pop away. 1984 had been their year; they had grasped their moment and ravished it. 1985 saw the USA finally take Frankie to their collective breast, with a repackaged Relax making the top ten, but in reality the dream was replaced by the hangover that necessitated a follow up album. Although ‘Liverpool’, released in October 1986, did not set the chart and the nation’s imagination alight in the same way that its predecessor had, it was nevertheless an excellent album. The first single, ‘Rage Hard’ was a UK number four, and displayed the usual Frankie bragadaccio, but the next two 45s, Warriors Of The Wasteland and Watching The Wildlife peaked at numbers nineteen and twenty eight, respectively.

‘Liverpool’ itself was a strikingly good album, in fact many consider it to be at least the equal of its predecessor. The production is immaculate, the material is strong and in fact there is a case for making the statement that it’s a leaner, meaner album than ‘…Pleasuredome’, and contains no filler whatsoever. Certainly, time has revealed its many charms, and at the very least it’s worth revisiting, despite being known more as the groups swan song than its defining statement.



Frankie Goes To Hollywood : releases

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Frankie Said

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Sex Mix

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Liverpool (Element Edition 2CD)

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Welcome To The Pleasuredome (Element Series Edition)

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Twelve Inches

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Maximum Joy

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Reload! Frankie: The Whole 12"

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Bang!... The Greatest Hits