Title: Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Source: Disco 45
Holly Johnson has more skeletons in his closet than you or I have different versions if Two Tribes. [T]rifling through the music papers of the early eighties, you could find quite a few pictures of young Holly doing his best to outrage and often succeeding. The fringe media loved it but that of course was all back in the Big In Japan days: Holly’s now a respectable star with a clean image and a neat haircut.
If Frankie’s success had been a work of fiction it would lack credibility. As it is, ZTT have stumbled across the success story of the decade, perhaps unwittingly. But chance has always played a large part in this story: It was lucky that Relax got banned (after more than 70 plays) on Radio 1. The ZTT/Frankie union was also fortunate. And the fact that this was the Summer that Katherine Hammett’s T-shirts took off, as the whole world seemed to decide that everything you wanted to say had to be put in writing (large writing), was a publicist’s dream.
And the success has been the most outrageous thing of all. Since, a month before release, the advance orders for ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’ stood at over a million, it makes the 300,000 copies needed for a platinum album seem rather paltry. If you want records broken then Frankie are capable of doing it for you. They have sold well over 9,000,000 copies of just the two singles. Every special edition, version, remix, picture disc and cassette was snapped up in a flash Frankie are sitting very pretty indeed.
Even in an exceptional Summer for singles selling (George Michael, Stevie Wonder and Wham! all doing very well, thank you), Frankie have excelled. Partly, it was the right time for something very different to hit the streets, partly they have everything a new band could need — catchy songs, charming faces, youth, and humour. But the engineering going on behind the smiling faces has been very careful. The directors of ZTT have used their skills to the full in getting Frankie so far off the ground it’s a wonder they’re still here. Paul Morley has been a brilliant public face to the company, and his years with NME seem long left behind. Trevor Horn has mastered the controls, and come up with a truly unbeatable sound. His wife, Jill Sinclair, has run the business side of ZTT with impunity.
And what a business. Between Island (ZTT distributors), ZTT and the band, there’s already been at least £13,000,000 to share out, on the two singles alone. Holly’s got some new clothes, and no longer goes to Oxfam to do his shopping. Now he’s more likely to spend £200 on a pair of trousers than £2, and he can afford to. Doubtless they could all buy what they wanted, but even so, it’s hard to conceive how that much money could be spent. The stuff that dreams are made of.
According to the oldest rock traditions bands should tour, and the fact that Frankie haven’t done so, has, in its own small way, contributed to their success. The reason probably lies in the difficulty of reproducing their kind of (Trevor Horn) sound live, but I’m sure that even with tapes the Holly Johnson/ Paul Rutherford fronting combination would be a winner. More charisma than Virgin, the life and soul of the show.
For now we’ll have to make do with the snippets of a thousand pop TV shows, radio interviews and magazine articles. Perhaps it’s ironical that the two people who did their best to dispose of the unfortunate Frankie, early on (Peter Powell and Mike Read), are both now fans in the truest sense With Mike Read having Holly on his TV shows, and Peter Powell slipping the full ‘Annihilation’ mix into a mid afternoon program they are both guilty of the worst hypocrisy, but what else could they do, with so much egg on their faces?
Until this year it seemed that the music business had forgotten that we thrive on controversy. Frankie have changed all that, and I hope they will continue to do so. How long before the sell-out of the sell-out?