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November 24, 2021 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Two Tribes was an apparently upbeat celebration of global nuclear war by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Appearing on the album Welcome to the Pleasuredome, it reached #1 in 7 countries, staying there for 9 weeks in the UK. The Godley and Creme directed video [alternative] featured caricatures of Ronald Reagan and Konstantin Chernenko having a fight. There were a billionty mixes, remixes and 12 inch versions; weekly performances on Top of the Pops were often unpredictable. In the same year, the movie Threads [clip][full length on vimeo] was released. In 2012, Trevor Horn, Stephen Lipson, Lol Créme, and Ash Soan played a gentle version. Previously: [2007][2009][2012]
posted by Wordshore (62 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
'Apparently upbeat celebration?' It's clearly an anti-war track, and always has been.
posted by jordantwodelta at 1:32 PM on November 24 [9 favorites]


Ha, I was just thinking about that song a few minutes ago. Plate. Shrimp. Plate of Shrimp.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 1:32 PM on November 24 [4 favorites]


I’m not sure if this has been on the blue before but if this post is your bag, then the Atomic Hobo podcast is probably your bag too.
posted by stanf at 1:40 PM on November 24 [3 favorites]


Apparently upbeat celebration?' It's clearly an anti-war track, and always has been.

I took "apparently upbeat" in the same way that almost everything about that (beginning of our current) dystopic era was spun as somehow cheery (with the exception of the aforementioned Threads and The Day After)
posted by treepour at 1:42 PM on November 24 [5 favorites]


Not as upbeat as a Party at Ground Zero, but upbeat nonetheless.
posted by credulous at 1:48 PM on November 24 [15 favorites]


For the benefit of the drive-by tweetesque comment, the wikipedia entry begins:

"Two Tribes is an anti-war song... Presenting a nihilistic, gleeful lyric expressing enthusiasm for nuclear war..."
posted by Wordshore at 1:52 PM on November 24 [3 favorites]


It's clearly an anti-war track, and always has been.
-said sternly, perhaps?

A whole thread about FGtH's Two Tribes and a pinch of Fishbone.. don't let this waking dream end

I still miss my FRANKIE SAY WAR HIDE YOURSELF t-shirt.. and long after I was older and knew better I still grabbed the over-priced copy of ZTT remixes despite the scorn of the record store clerks (among which tribe I was a repugnant member)
posted by elkevelvet at 2:14 PM on November 24 [10 favorites]


Fair warning: if you haven’t seen Threads, if you click the movie link, be aware that it is absolutely terrifying.
posted by azpenguin at 2:24 PM on November 24 [11 favorites]


a gentle acoustic version.

Objection: Electric bass, electric guitar, and synthesizer.
posted by The Tensor at 2:36 PM on November 24


Back in 1984, my local (rural Worcestershire) newspaper described it in the TV section as:

"A gritty family drama, set in a northern city".

For a while afterwards, we'd use the word 'gritty' to summarise absolutely terrible events.

(I was allowed up to watch Threads. I did not sleep that night. The next school day, it was easy to spot those who had watched it.)
posted by Wordshore at 2:49 PM on November 24 [14 favorites]


On Threads:
'Harrowing' is the word usually trotted out for movies like Threads; if you want to feel like you've been punched repeatedly in the stomach for two hours then you won't want to miss it. At the end of it, I let out a huge sigh of relief -- it was over, it wasn't real, I could thankfully escape back to reality again...
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:49 PM on November 24 [3 favorites]


Couple points; First, in the TOTP's live performance, the backup singer is performing absolutely peak fucking 80's dance moves, so props to him. Second, Raybans are always cool. Third, everything was way better in the 80's, everything. Music, fashion, annihilation. We had real destruction world-ending possibilities, not this weak sauce fucking pandemic like the kids have now.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:58 PM on November 24 [19 favorites]


"At the end of it, I let out a huge sigh of relief -- it was over, it wasn't real, I could thankfully escape back to reality again..."

...unless you saw it during the mid-1980s, in which case Threads described a reality 10 minutes away.
posted by doctornemo at 3:07 PM on November 24 [14 favorites]


Man, I remember hearing "Two Tribes" when it came out and I was a teenager. It managed to wrap up so many emotions neatly: existential dread, exhilaration, the sense of huge forces hurtling through the world all around, and longing.
posted by doctornemo at 3:09 PM on November 24 [5 favorites]


The production on that track is just incredible. So much going on but it’s crystal clear.
posted by schoolgirl report at 3:11 PM on November 24 [6 favorites]


Man, I remember hearing "Two Tribes" when it came out and I was a teenager. It managed to wrap up so many emotions neatly: existential dread, exhilaration, the sense of huge forces hurtling through the world all around, and longing.

'80s Euro music was basically "holy fuck I'm scared of nuclear war breaking out."
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 4:46 PM on November 24 [8 favorites]


Ha, I was just thinking about that song a few minutes ago. Plate. Shrimp. Plate of Shrimp.

Holy shit, me too. What the hell is going on?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:35 PM on November 24 [2 favorites]


"holy fuck I'm scared of nuclear war breaking out."
Yep, right up there with 99 Luftballons.
posted by Coaticass at 5:37 PM on November 24 [7 favorites]


I took "apparently upbeat" in the same way that almost everything about that (beginning of our current) dystopic era was spun as somehow cheery

This is the entire business model of The Housemartins.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:00 PM on November 24 [19 favorites]


Brings up old memories of my Christian school playground. In my pre-teen years, we'd sit around and discuss whether or not certain musical artists were evil. Frankie Goes to Hollywood made us feel weird, but we decided they weren't evil. Despite being as blatantly gay as a popular band could be in the early 80's, none of our religious leaders singled them out. I mean, my pastor & school went hard after Journey at one point. Fucking harmless MOR Journey. But completely overlooked Frankie.

Those were weird times. Getting Rapture & End Times fears from my church & school. To the point of being traumatizing. And then getting nuclear war fears from Ronnie & the gang. No wonder my portion of Gen X is nihilistic as hell. We were going to end up in the sky. One way or another.

And MTV didn't help. Many of the music videos were quite grim. To the point that "Two Tribes" didn't really stand out to me, beyond liking the song. Though I guess some of the grimness came from all the British pop / rock videos that made their way over here. The gloomy UK weather & the early Thatcher landscapes fit right in with my general feelings of despair.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 6:21 PM on November 24 [6 favorites]


"holy fuck I'm scared of nuclear war breaking out."
See also Genesis' Land of Confusion (though those Spitting Image puppets were pretty traumatic on their own)
posted by mogget at 6:30 PM on November 24 [6 favorites]


Welcome To The Pleasuredome is structured in four sides, each with a theme. The "bomb" Gside, also known as Say Frankie Say, was all about conflict: Relax (Come Fighting), War (...and Hide), Two Tribes (For The Victims Of Ravishment), and a hidden Tag track.

And yes, War is a cover of Edwin Star.

It's a really amazing album. It's one that has taken on increased depth for me across the decades. I'm also quite fond of Liverpool, which its yearning for utopia in the midst of strife and gloom.
posted by hippybear at 6:38 PM on November 24 [4 favorites]


Mod note: Objection: Electric bass, electric guitar, and synthesizer.

Objection noted and "acoustic" removed from post text at poster's request.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:57 PM on November 24 [5 favorites]


...unless you saw it during the mid-1980s, in which case Threads described a reality 10 minutes away.

See also The Day After. I was thirteen and living in Kansas and my dad was stationed at the ICBM base a few miles away.

There's also When the Wind Blows [free with ads on Tubi] an animated movie about an elderly couple navigating a nuclear strike without really knowing what to do.

But I love a good apocalypse now, so I'm watching Threads tonight.
posted by bendy at 7:25 PM on November 24 [6 favorites]


Was "Relax" meant to be an antidote?
posted by bendy at 7:30 PM on November 24 [1 favorite]


Was "Relax" meant to be an antidote?

Actually "Relax" came first (no pun intended).
posted by gtrwolf at 7:46 PM on November 24 [14 favorites]


Well, given that it's the first track on side G (2), it follows Welcome To The Pleasuredome. The entire second side is about fighting what you want, as is the third, but the fourth side brings things together with a flow that ends with The Power Of Love. Which ultimately is the answer to all the conflict in the prior songs.
posted by hippybear at 8:07 PM on November 24 [3 favorites]


See also The Day After. I was thirteen and living in Kansas and my dad was stationed at the ICBM base a few miles away.

The Day After - “We want to make it clear to you that the prospect of nuclear war is terrifying, and we need to prevent it at all costs.”

Threads - “Now that you’re initiated from watching The Day After we thought we should show you just how damned horrifically awful it would be.”
posted by azpenguin at 8:15 PM on November 24 [6 favorites]


@hippybear, don't you think Frankie Goes to Hollywood is one of those pop music events that flashes out.. Just a pure burst of the right people at the right time, the right production values, and a ton of luck, but as the blast subsides you are left with remnants that are much colder and barely hold a spark from that initial burst?

Welcome to the Pleasuredome was as coming-of-age as it gets in my early teen life, and a relocation across the country sort of coincided with trying to reconnect via Liverpool and.. Really, "you can never go home" has never been truer. Maybe I should go back and check it out.

Edit to add: gosh, now I remember trading with my brother.. His FGtH for my Mr. Mister cassette, can you believe that?? And remember the cover of "Born to Run".. there's something about a homosexual man singing that in the 80s that really brings it, you know?
posted by elkevelvet at 8:19 PM on November 24 [4 favorites]


It's a Mistake also has some cold-war checkerboard. Note for youths: there's nothing like growing up in the 1980s, when Reagan was making jokes about starting a thermonuclear war.
posted by ovvl at 8:22 PM on November 24 [4 favorites]


@hippybear, don't you think Frankie Goes to Hollywood is one of those pop music events that flashes out..

Um... no. I've been listening to these albums, these six sides of music (and a lot of remixes and b-sides and anything I can find) for much more than half of my life. They're deeper artistic statements than they appear on first or 10th listen. Pleasuredome is very carefully structured, and all the artwork and material that accompany the material help to cement the concepts of the sides and the overall message (which is that life should be given over to love and pleasure but not at the sacrifice of those around you or yourself). And Liverpool is very different, out from under Horn and being more of a band, but larking far out into fantasy to try to get across their vision of what the world could be like.

Yes, they left us early for basically the same reasons that The Oneders broke up, but I did see them on their Liverpool tour while in Germany and they were AMAZING!

If they'd gotten over their interpersonal problems (not likely given The Lads and Johnson's regular clashes), they could have delivered a solid album or two that might have been really illuminating.
posted by hippybear at 8:41 PM on November 24 [4 favorites]


This is the entire business model of The Housemartins.
I regret that I can only give this one favorite. The Housemartins aren't brought up nearly as often as they deserve.
posted by Strutter Cane - United Planets Stilt Patrol at 10:26 PM on November 24 [10 favorites]


I was young enough and unhip enough in 1984 (and pretty much the rest of my life) that I probably never heard this song played on the radio, or anywhere else, until years later. Until today, I never realized it was its own song. I have a vague memory of hearing it in some context (a movie? a tv show?) where I recognized the guy’s voice, but thought it was some bizarre remix of “Relax” in which the “Relax” part never started.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:33 PM on November 24 [3 favorites]


"All the artwork and material that accompany the material help to cement the concepts of the sides and the overall message (which is that life should be given over to love and pleasure but not at the sacrifice of those around you or yourself).

The credit for that - especially the album's sleeve notes "interview" goes to the music writer Paul Morley, who was just as much a part of Frankie's label ZTT as Trevor Horn himself. Morley's an old NME hand who's recently produced books on Tony Wilson and Bob Dylan. He's an interesting bloke.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:30 AM on November 25 [5 favorites]


Protip: Threads is not a documentary.

Images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Just Wikipedia, no horrible pics still reality) are scarier than this. Even The Girl Who Owned a City seems more realistic. The logistics strategies in TGWOAC are off the hook.

I have not been punched in the stomach. Kids was the last fictional event that did that.
posted by bendy at 12:43 AM on November 25 [2 favorites]


"holy fuck I'm scared of nuclear war breaking out."

The music's hedonism - well represented by Frankie - was all tied up with that feeling too. Dancing on the abyss, if you like.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:52 AM on November 25 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm naive. How did nukes work out for y'all?
posted by bendy at 12:52 AM on November 25


How did nukes work out for y'all?

Too early to say.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:58 AM on November 25 [4 favorites]


Mine is the last voice that you will ever hear .
Don't .be. alarmed.

Thank you WLIR !
posted by markbrendanawitzmissesus at 5:06 AM on November 25 [4 favorites]


The nuclear powers had two potentially world-ending close calls in 1983 -- even before It's a Mistake was released!

We were even Dancing With Tears In Our Eyes, though the video sidesteps the war motif and depicts a nuclear power accident that makes people vanish.
posted by credulous at 6:19 AM on November 25 [3 favorites]


"For the benefit of the drive-by tweetesque comment, the wikipedia entry begins:

"Two Tribes is an anti-war song... Presenting a nihilistic, gleeful lyric expressing enthusiasm for nuclear war..."

Nothing drive-by tweetesque about my comment at all, and my opinion isn't based on Wikipedia's appraisal of a song I've been listening to for decades. I dug out my old man vinyl copy again just to make sure I wasn't hallucinating my actual experience, and nope, still an anti-war song, still chilling.
posted by jordantwodelta at 6:22 AM on November 25 [1 favorite]


ABBA's song The Visitors (Crackin' Up) is a bit startling, really. Chris de Burgh had his trilogy The Leader/The Vision/What About Me.

There was also a whole raft of "hey, world, if we pull together we can make it through this" songs, sort of the 80s equivalent of a lot of late 60s "smile on your brother" kind of stuff. Another de Burgh song (off the same album) is The Spirit Of Man. This was also the era of Band Aid and Live Aid, so that was a whole other sort of flip side vibe, a bit of forced optimism smiling into the burning void. Even Roger Waters recorded an optimistic song (I know!): The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid).
posted by hippybear at 6:36 AM on November 25 [1 favorite]


I want to push back against this idea that the threat of nuclear war is in the past. Certainly, the number of weapons has declined from a 1986 peak of over 70,000, but there are still estimated to be nearly 14,000 remaining. What's more, they are spread across more countries and more conflicts (e.g. India/Pakistan) and ageing stockpiles are poorly maintained and guarded. Sure, people are more concerned about other things now, quite rightly, but the threat from nukes never went away, and quite possibly has increased. And we don't even get any decent protest songs about it.

We might not love the bomb, but we have mostly stopped worrying.
posted by Acey at 6:52 AM on November 25 [6 favorites]


Acey: "We might not love the bomb, but we have mostly stopped worrying."

Us 80s kids, We Do What We're Told
posted by chavenet at 7:13 AM on November 25


Nuclear war fear pop music, Canadian edition:
Strike Zone - Loverboy
Standing in the Dark - Platinum Blonde
posted by stevil at 7:30 AM on November 25 [2 favorites]


I sure hope all the casual readers have moved on to newer topics..

for those of us obsessed with Frankie Goes to Hollywood (and mostly hippybear, man.. you saw a live show, that's something).. Going back to my impression of a 'burst' phenomenon, I'm just thinking "one hit wonder" is clearly not remotely the case. There is a way things came together to make FGtH a phenomenon in pop music.

and not to be argumentative, but for discussion purposes between people who have been deeply invested in FGtH for over 3 decades now (not so much me, if I'm honest).. I think what happened after Welcome to the Pleasuredome is more of a footnote to the initial creative burst than anything. Not many groups get to be and do what FGtH was and did.. with not much reflection at all I'd say Nena enters a similar orbit, but of the listed artists in this thread what is comparable? I guess I have personal attachment to the music and the band, and aside from that I find the reception to Welcome to the Pleasuredome to be fascinating, not to mention the enduring ripples cast by a pop culture event. Really glad this was posted to MeFi, thanks Wordshore.
posted by elkevelvet at 8:16 AM on November 25 [1 favorite]


The credit for that - especially the album's sleeve notes "interview" goes to the music writer Paul Morley, who was just as much a part of Frankie's label ZTT as Trevor Horn himself.

that time Paul Morley interviewed Brian Eno

considered by some to be The Worst Interview Ever
posted by philip-random at 10:00 AM on November 25 [2 favorites]


we started with Frankie and arrived at Eno.. the detour into Fishbone.. this is the most compelling proof of the brain-in-a-vat hypothesis I've come across this week
posted by elkevelvet at 10:25 AM on November 25 [3 favorites]


Simon Reynolds discussed ZTT's philosophy in his post-punk book 'Rip It Up...'.
posted by ovvl at 11:25 AM on November 25


Threads is not a documentary.

Yet.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:23 PM on November 25 [5 favorites]


Not many groups get to be and do what FGtH was and did..

I'm going to put up Falco as an artist who had a sudden burst onto the global stage for seemingly no reason at all. I guess also maybe Psy. There have been a lot of others, so they aren't infrequent, but they are rare. Maybe Lil Nas X as most recent? Avicci shortly before him. It's always a fascinating phenomenon.

The entanglement with Trevor Horn and the rise of the sampler is difficult to really sort out, because the Fairlight CMI was central to so much of Horn's work. Art Of Noise, Seal, The Buggles, Yes... That's just to name a very small bit of what Horn touched in the 80s. Is Frankie's aftermath a footnote if what was learned there when on to be included in some of the biggest songs ever?
posted by hippybear at 9:31 PM on November 25 [1 favorite]


I mean, there's also the story of Jimmy Somerville and his band Bronski Beat dragging a Synclavier up stairs to a music studio, so there were sort of two competing music sampling camps in the 80s.
posted by hippybear at 9:35 PM on November 25 [1 favorite]


No mention of the deeply weird video game?

9 year old me missed much of what was going on
posted by Faff at 10:16 PM on November 25 [1 favorite]


I was naively comforted by Russians.
posted by bendy at 10:25 PM on November 25 [2 favorites]


it's kind of too bad Sting became a walking tantric sex joke at one point.. maybe he brought some of that on himself.. I remember playing the heck out of the Dream of the Blue Turtles cassette tape, it was all a bit "jazzy" for a young me but it left an impression.. last time I listened to any Sting was around "Fields of Gold" and Mercury Falling, what has he been up to? and to your comment, another great example of the type of music/video for the times! have we got to Elton John's Nikita yet?
posted by elkevelvet at 7:58 AM on November 26


Oh boy! 1980s pop music and global thermonuclear annihilation! My favorite!

Posting from memory while ducked and covered under my desk, all safe and secure! People covered a lot other tracks but there may be some repeats. There is so, so much 80s era music about nuclear holocaust.

Sigue Sigue Sputnik - Love Missile F1-11

Pop Will Eat Itself - Def Con One

Depeche Mode - Two Minute Warning

Kate Bush - Breathing

XTC - Living Through Another Cuba

OMD - Enola Gay

Modern English - I Melt With You

The Smiths - Ask

Murray Head - One Night in Bangkok

Oingo Boingo - Nothing to Fear (But Fear Itself)

Peter Gabriel - Games Without Frontiers

Love and Rockets - Ball of Confusion (Ok, this is a stretch because it's a cover, but it fits the 1980s pantheon and it's sorted there in my head.

Also I just found this: https://www.stereogum.com/1978060/38-essential-80s-songs-about-nuclear-anxiety/lists/ultimate-playlist/


Ok, I'm going to try to go Relax before I have an anxiety attack, wee!
posted by loquacious at 11:09 AM on November 26 [7 favorites]


This cassette came along right at the moment in 7th grade that knowledge of it made me friends with the older cool kids at summer camp, who recognized me as queer 10 years before I realized it myself.
posted by umbú at 2:56 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]


Oh, another of those 80s "spirit of man" songs... John Farnham - You're The Voice
posted by hippybear at 7:08 PM on November 26


We still have the album on vinyl. "Relax" on vinyl and cd. We saw them at The Roxy (?) in NYC. Their live performance that night did not match their studio recordings. Maybe it was me or maybe not.
posted by DJZouke at 5:18 AM on November 27


Are Gen Z artists writing about climate apocalypse?
posted by latkes at 6:54 AM on November 27


The one and only time in my life that I've been ahead of the curve (my inner child wears a t-shirt reading "NEVER BEEN HIP") was when I was in 8th grade when my mom spent some time in England doing Ph.D. research and came back with souvenirs including an oversized "FRANKIE SAY RELAX" shirt. I wore it to junior high and people looked at me weird, until the video finally came up on MTV and suddenly I was briefly cool.
posted by Lexica at 1:39 PM on November 27 [1 favorite]


It’s a bloody great song to have on a running playlist, I’ll say that. One minute you’re struggling through a slow, sweaty jog, the next Two Tribes comes on and suddenly you’re having an Epic Run.

50ft Queenie by PJ Harvey has a similar effect.
posted by penguin pie at 2:14 PM on November 27


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