Frankie Say Silver Anniversary
November 16, 2009 1:37 AM   Subscribe

October 29, 2009 marked the 25th anniversary of the release of Welcome To The Pleasuredome, by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, kicking off the short rule of Frankie over reality. oh so much

Emerging from a fairly scandalous beginning, they were "disovered" by producer Trevor Horn who worked to mold their sound. After teasing the public with the lead off singles Relax (NSFW) [safe version] [even safer version], and Two Tribes [short version], the double album was released at the top of the charts and became an instant legend of pop music success, blending art, fashion, and music into a dominant (and controversial) force.

They quickly followed the album's release with a dominant holiday single, The Power Of Love which was knocked off the Christmas #1 position by Band Aid's "Do The Know It's Chrismas?"

Rumored to be unable to play live, FGTH released a fourth single (Welcome To The Pleasuredome) and toured the world in earnest in 1985, and even were featured on the program Europe A Go Go. Trying to return to England after their tour abroad, they found themselves exiled due to failure to pay taxes, and Frankie vanished, landing in Holland, leaving fans puzzled.

They finally resurfaced in 1986 with lead-off single Rage Hard, and announced their new album Liverpool. The sales performance of the album was a disappointment, and Frankie tried to boost its appeal by releasing two more singles, Warriors Of The Wasteland and Watching The Wildlife, and embarking on an ambitious tour in 1987. [nearly complete filming from Kiel, Germany: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11]

The pressures of fame and touring soon overwhelmed the band, and they broke up after the Liverpool tour, with the band members going their own ways. Holly Johnson became involved in a legal battle with Frankie's record label, and his victory won freedom for all the band members.

Peter Gill (Ped), the drummer, went on to form Ltd. Noise (click the band name for RealAudio music links). Mark O'Toole, the bassist, joined a US punk band, Trapped By Mormons. Brian Nash (Nashers), the guitarist, released several albums under his own nickname [MySpace page, surprisingly non-retina-scarring, with audio], and continued performing. Paul Rutherford, backup vocalist who "just came to dance", released Oh World, an electronica / dance / pop album which featured the singles Get Real, I Want Your Love, and Oh World, before he retired to New Zealand for many years.

Holly Johnson has remained the most active of any of the Frankies, using his hard-won artistic freedom to release several albums. His first, Blast, was a chart-topper in Britain and yielded four singles, Love Train, Americanos, Atomic City, and Heaven's Here. Later albums yielded less successful tracks, including Where Has The Love Gone?, Across The Universe, and Disco Heaven.

Meanwhile, the Frankie legend has hardly faded. ZTT's practice of releasing endless numbers of remixes of the FGTH catalog [extensive discography link] has continued unabated over the decades, culminating with a near reboot of Frankiemania in 2009 sparked by a new mix of Relax. Johnson did some press related to the silver anniversary of the birth of the phenomenon, and Virgin Atlantic's choice to use FGTH's lead-off hit in an advertising campaign soon sparked rumors of a full-on reunion. Johnson himself only this month squashed those rumors, leaving many Frankie fans, new and old, to feel their disappointment, even as Peter Gill and Paul Rutherford announce plans to team up on a new project, Mark O'Toole and Holly Johnson have recently become active in at least one online fan forum, and the band's official website has begun to feature new, previously unrevealed content from the past.

Bonus footage: "Frankie Say Reform" VH1's 2004 documentary chronicling the attempt to replace Johnson as lead singer after his refusal to reunite for a Prince Of Wales charity concert. Parts 1 2 3.

FRANKIE SAY NO MORE! But only for now. At least, we hope!
posted by hippybear (45 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been looking for the video of Americanos for years! YEARS!
posted by PenDevil at 1:52 AM on November 16, 2009


Holy crap. Somebody is a really, really big Frankie Goes to Hollywood fan.
(I won't say who)
posted by Auden at 2:02 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


How could you forget Frankie's "Born to Run"?
posted by chavenet at 2:09 AM on November 16, 2009


Oh, drat. I forgot to include the walkthrough of the FGTH Commodore 64 videogame, which may win the all-time award for being the most abstract and peculiar games ever created. Walkthrough Part 1, 2.

Warning (or bonus depending on taste): 8-bit interpretations of Frankie songs.
posted by hippybear at 2:11 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Two Tribes is the best song - but the whole Welcome To the Pleasuredome album was great really. They were one of the first bands I'd ever heard who really started to use all the developments in MIDI and synths to create some really cool sounds.
The keyboard bass line in Two Tribes blew my mind the first time I heard it - so insistent and robotic, but bouncing along at the same time.

I always wondered about how they could play those sings live, so the Europe A Go Go clips were really interesting to see.

But there's definitely one thing that I don't miss from the 80's - repeated orchestral stabs on a Fairlight. Seemed like every second track released in the UK in the early 80's had a big orchestral stab in it.
posted by awfurby at 2:11 AM on November 16, 2009


What's all this brouhaha about Frederick's of Hollywood?
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:14 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


They were one of the first bands I'd ever heard who really started to use all the developments in MIDI and synths to create some really cool sounds.

I thought that was very much thanks to the involvement of Art of Noise's Dudley & Jeczalik, but maybe I'm misremembering things. Anyone has the full story?
posted by effbot at 3:09 AM on November 16, 2009


You forgot to mention that Relax is famous for being 'banned' by BBC Radio - in actuality it was only Mike Read who refused to play it on air, and was never officially banned (Radio 1 doesn't 'ban' records, just doesn't playlist them) but it was enough to get them a whole lot of publicity.
posted by mippy at 3:49 AM on November 16, 2009


Is 'A Bone in my Flute' worth reading? I loved Tainted Life and went through a wee phase of reading gay 1980s pop autobiographies, but Holly Johnson's was hard to get hold of.

awfurby - I sometimes wonder what Steve McQueen/Two Wheels Good would sound like if recorded now, or at least by Trevor Horn rather than Thomas Dolby. ABC's Lexicon of Love could have been released yesterday, but Dolby's production was really of its time.
posted by mippy at 3:51 AM on November 16, 2009


I have an old Fisher-Price record player that's been accustomed to Book & Record stories, Puff the Magic Dragon, etc. A couple of years ago it was down in our living room and I put a 45 of "Relax" on it. It sounded great but I feel like I corrupted a piece of my childhood.
posted by crapmatic at 4:09 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't believe it when someone told me what that song was about, aged 11. Same with What's Goin On by 4 Non Blondes being about THE DRUGS.
posted by mippy at 4:21 AM on November 16, 2009


oh. so *that's* who frankie goes to hollywoood was.
posted by msconduct at 4:44 AM on November 16, 2009


I totally used to work with this guy who had a threesome with Frankie.

I, of course, have no way of verifying this, but there you have it.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:05 AM on November 16, 2009


Wow. I think I can safely say this is the best Frankie Goes to Hollywood post this site has seen or ever will see.
posted by mkultra at 5:22 AM on November 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


The keyboard bass line in Two Tribes blew my mind the first time I heard it - so insistent and robotic, but bouncing along at the same time.

Made me hornier in the 80s than Relax ever did.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:42 AM on November 16, 2009


Theres also the parody of Frankie Goes to the Bank When Two Songs sound the same I cant ind any decent audio though sadly.
posted by wheelieman at 5:49 AM on November 16, 2009


Frankie Goes to Hollywood was the first concert I experienced. My dad took me and a friend down to the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. He waited outside in the family station wagon for us. What a show. I must have been about 15. We were probably the youngest people there. I'm surprised they let us in. What an eye opener. And even with all that exposure to the fabulous 80's gayness, we didn't catch it. But it was a great view into to some of the most fun I've ever seen people having. There was an intimation in one of the links that they were not very good live. That's not true in my experience.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 5:50 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh wow. I remember the ZX Spectrum video game. What a major brainfuck that game was for me back in the 80s. I can only remember a few of the minigames though.
posted by schwa at 6:22 AM on November 16, 2009


Trevor Horn produced most everything I loved in the 80s/early 90s.
posted by papercake at 6:27 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the thing that boggles my mind is how with every remix of Relax, they increase the BPM so that it's frenetic but no longer sexy.
posted by papercake at 6:28 AM on November 16, 2009


Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Where ridiculousness is a value-adding feature.

Can’t you just hear the distant, nasal whining of spindly, tubercular rock snobs as we commemorate Frankie’s anniversary?
posted by joeclark at 6:32 AM on November 16, 2009


"Relax" in Body Double and Zoolander.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:35 AM on November 16, 2009


There were published reports in the U.S. press that Holly Johnson was among the fatalities in the Pan Am Flight 103 crash, the Lockerbie bombing. Then later there were published quotes from Johnson that he had been booked on the flight but had not boarded due to a cold.
posted by 3.2.3 at 6:54 AM on November 16, 2009


A HERRING HAS NO USE HERE
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:55 AM on November 16, 2009


I wish more videos showed POTUS getting slammed in the nuts.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:58 AM on November 16, 2009


FgtH on Discogs.com, and Trevor Horn's profile, where I learned that Trevor co-produced and remixed the Band Aid single which ousted Frankie's competing single, which he also produced. The guy was playing the game from every side.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:59 AM on November 16, 2009


"Welcome to the Pleasuredome" is the first album my mother ever threw away.
posted by Evangeline at 7:10 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Back in the late 90s I remember going into an indie video store (back when there were such things) and being confused as to why the Frankie videos were marked with a Pride flag.

Ah, the sweet innocence of suburban youth.
posted by khaibit at 7:24 AM on November 16, 2009


How could you forget Frankie's "Born to Run"?

*pumps shotgun*
posted by jonmc at 7:25 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh sweet Jesus I'm not the only closet FGTH fan thank you thank you thank you!
And seriously, Two Tribes is awesome, as is the song Welcome to the Pleasuredome. Thank you for this great post.
posted by 8dot3 at 8:15 AM on November 16, 2009


Oh yeah, Two Tribes was awesome! Relax got me to buy the album, but that was the crown jewel.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 9:06 AM on November 16, 2009


They were one of the first bands I'd ever heard who really started to use all the developments in MIDI and synths to create some really cool sounds.

I thought that was very much thanks to the involvement of Art of Noise's Dudley & Jeczalik, but maybe I'm misremembering things. Anyone has the full story?


Actually, Dudley, Jeczalik, and Horn WERE Art Of Noise, and Horn certainly was using his colleagues a lot on WTTPD. It is probably true that the songs which FGTH wrote are at the core, but that it is Horn's production (and AON's personnel's involvement) which really drove the Frankie Sound into the stratosphere.
posted by hippybear at 9:08 AM on November 16, 2009


Also: Holly Johnson's solo album almost never happened, thanks to ZTT and Trevor Horn.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:17 AM on November 16, 2009


RELAX!
posted by The Whelk at 9:36 AM on November 16, 2009


Wow. I think I can safely say this is the best Frankie Goes to Hollywood post this site the world has seen or ever will see.

FTFY.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:33 AM on November 16, 2009


Ah, the sweet innocence of suburban youth.

I remember scrounging the used record store with a friend. I found Welcome to the Pleasuredome and got all enthusiastic. My friend looked at me and said, "You know they're all gay, right?"

"Uh... so?"

He gave me the look that signified that I was CLEARLY MISSING THE POINT HERE. He clearly didn't get the point that it was a fantastic album. His loss.
posted by lekvar at 11:59 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, sales for Liverpool were probably disappointing because the album itself was disappointing. Not bad, especially, but not good either.
posted by lekvar at 12:16 PM on November 16, 2009


I was 14 when FGTH hit the airwaves and their early work still blows my mind just as much as it did then. 'Relax' is still my favorite of their tunes - I remember staying up late to watch the uncensored video broadcast after midnight on Channel 4 - but 'Two Tribes' has earned a place in history as one of the most cynical song/music videos (directed by Godley & Creme) ever.

For younger MeFites, the white-haired figure fighting with 'Reagan' is meant to represent Konstantin Chernenko, the last leader of the USSR before Gorbachev, whose ill-health and seeming disregard for diplomacy led many to fear that the cold war was fated to end in a nuclear exchange between two demented geriatrics. Nuclear paranoia was very much in the air at the time with TV films like The Day After and Threads suggesting that 'victory' in a nuclear war amounted to little more than a postponement of horror. Unsurprisingly, the BBC refused to show the video, whil MTV showed a heavily censored version. Despite this, the song remained at #1 in the UK music charts - back when that meant something - for 9 weeks.

Additionally, there was a passionate and frequently violent conflict taking place in the UK between the conservative government and trade unionists, the Coal Miner's Strike. Whil printed lyrics often transcribe the chorus refrain as 'working for the bad guys', it was in fact 'working for the black gas', which everyone took to be a reference to oil. Being from Liverpool, FGTH were well aware of the southward shift of political power and the importance of energy as a political bargaining chip.

When they wrote the song, back in 1982, Thatcher had only been in power for 3 years and the UK was still limping out of the 1970s energy crisis, which had helped to bring down Labour at the previous general election. 1982 also saw the Falklands War between England and Argentina; though ostensibly about the freedom of a small sheep-herding colony to remain British, many noted that the Falklands' position in the western Atlantic correlated with the size of Britain's claim over Antarctica, with implications for possible future exploitation of that continent's mineral resources.

In case anyone wasn't aware of the remarkable transition from a song about sexual hedonism to one about the zero-sum nature of geopolitics, the band cemented their radical stance with their 'Frankie Say...' t-shirts, offering advice ranging from 'Relax, don't do it' and 'War! hide yourself', which could be viewed as simple self-promotion, to 'Arm the Unemployed', which suggested a distinctly more hard-edged worldview.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:23 PM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also, sales for Liverpool were probably disappointing because the album itself was disappointing.

Yeah, I can understand that lacking all the Horn production values really put a different spin on their sound, but I really really like Liverpool. Its basic message of "seek joy, fight injustice, pull together with those of like minds, and you'll be safe from the zoo all around you" makes it one of my favorites, and it has some great, fun songs on it. I think it does pale next to Pleasuredome, but having that kind of lightening captured in a bottle twice in a row is beyond nearly all bands.

I do wish they'd been together long enough to make a third. That album would likely have either sealed their fate as a Peak-And-Fade band or would have put Liverpool into some better perspective.
posted by hippybear at 1:11 PM on November 16, 2009


I sometimes think fischerspooner is the new FGTH.
posted by four panels at 1:12 PM on November 16, 2009


four panels: esp. the lackluster second and third albums.
posted by kittensofthenight at 3:42 PM on November 16, 2009


I thought that was very much thanks to the involvement of Art of Noise's Dudley & Jeczalik, but maybe I'm misremembering things. Anyone has the full story?

Dittoing hippybear here. There's little in the other work Jeczalik/Dudley did in that era -- including Art of Noise, and the other Horn-produced albums where they appeared -- that approaches the full-on pop hurricane of Pleasuredome. Without them it would certainly be a different album, but without Horn that album simply wouldn't exist.

Partially in the spirit of the "anniversary" and partially because it's just the kind of thing I spend way too much time on anyway, here are a few ZTT/FGTH wallpapers based on trade ads from the original releases. self-link, obviously
posted by Lazlo at 4:15 PM on November 16, 2009


Yeah, no disagreement here -- I didn't mean to say that these two created the sound on their own, it's more a case where the result is greater than the sum of its parts, yet the result wouldn't be there at all if any part were missing (*).

Still a bigger fan of D&J than of Horn, though; there are some weirdly interesting stuff on the later AoN albums, and Dudley's great "Songs from a Victorious City" can often be heard at the effbot residence...

*) which, I guess, makes it a case where the result is greater than the product of its factors.
posted by effbot at 1:56 PM on November 17, 2009


effbot: have you heard Dudley's Ancient & Modern, or A Different Light albums?

Stunning. The orchestral arrangement and compositions on the first album are amongst my favorites of all music anywhere, and the re-setting of earlier AON songs into an orchestral setting on the second are startling and relevatory.

They're basically classical music done with an AON attitude. What could be groovier?
posted by hippybear at 4:49 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I loved Welcome to the Pleasuredome when I was about fifteen years old. Listened to it under the covers just about every night. Man, this post brings back memories.
posted by jayder at 7:26 PM on November 17, 2009


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