Title: Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Author: Peter Doggett
Source: Record Colllector
Publish date: December 1984
The biggest name in British pop during 1984, whose exotic image, and multiple releases have boosted their success.
Two singles into a band’s career, no matter how successful that pair of releases may have been, is usually rather early to start considering their collectability. And even though Frankie Goes To Hollywood have set new sales records this summer, that alone isn’t enough to set collectors’ hearts beating any faster.
Frankie have done more than sell records, however. It doesn’t matter whether you like their music, Trevor Horn’s production techniques and the general air of hype that has surrounded the whole Frankie operation: there can be little arguing that they have ushered in a new era of rock marketing, in a way that could have a major influence on the development of the collecting scene in this country.
Purely from the historical point of view, it is important to try and catalogue the multiple releases of the band’s “Relax” and “Two Tribes” singles, before they all disappear and the whole subject becomes even more confused. But the Frankie Goes To Hollywood saga also raises questions about the way in which so many of today’s releases are being deliberately angled towards collectors, in a way which we know arouses mixed feelings in many people.
One thing is certain: the way in which Frankie Goes To Hollywood have been marketed over the past year has been nothing short of brilliant. The band have apparently sold more than ten million records worldwide so far, and the release of the “Welcome To The Pleasure Dome” album seems set to break new chart and sales records. The massive expansion of the world’s record markets over the last few years has, of course, enabled today’s best-selling artists to reach sales totals in a couple of years which artists like Fats Domino and Chuck Berry had to work 20 years for. But even in the age of “Thriller” and Meatloaf, ten million records in your first year as a recording act — especially when very few of them were notched up in America, the world’s biggest market — is a phenomenal achievement.
There was nothing in the background of any of the group members to suggest that such success loomed on the horizon. Only one of the band, vocalist Holly Johnson, appears to have recorded before the release of “Relax”. Johnson, christened William but renamed after an Andy Warhol character, spent a year in 1976/77 with Jayne Casey’s Liverpool group Big In Japan, one of the critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful early independent bands of the period. (Holly claims that Big In Japan were a major influence on the next wave of Liverpudlian groups, such as Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes.) The group had a constantly fluctuating line-up, which at various times included such punk luminaries as Budgie (later with Siouxsie and the Banshees), Dave Balfe (one of the mainstays of the Teardrop Explodes) and Ian Broudie and Bill Drummond, respectively producer and manager of Echo and the Bunnymen.
Big In Japan managed two releases: the first, a single named after the group, was issued on Erics 001 in 1977, backed by “Do The Chud” by the Chuddy Nuddies — a pseudonym for the Yachts. BIJ’s side was a frantic, tongue-in-cheek piece of punk, which consisted of little more than the constant repetition of the band’s name.
This was followed by an EP, “From Y To Z And Never Again” (Zoo CAGE 1), which contained the following tracks: “Nothing Special”, “Cindy And The Barbie Dolls”, “Suicide A Go Go” and “Taxi”. Both this and the Erics single are now deleted.
The group are also represented on at least two compilations. They perform “Match Of The Day” on “Street To Street — A Liverpool Album” (Open Eye OELP 501), and “Society For Cutting Up Men” on the Zoo collection “To The Shores Of Lake Placid”.
In 1978, Big In Japan became Pink Military, and Holly Johnson embarked on a solo career. This produced two singles, both credited to ‘Holly’: “Yankee Rose”/”Treasure Island”/”Desperate Dan” (Erics 003) and “Hobo Joe”/”Stars Of The Bars” (Erics 007). Copies of the first of these have been changing hands in recent weeks for more than £10; while the second cannot be confirmed as having definitely been released, and either way is even rarer.
The remainder of the band had less professional experience in the music business. Paul Rutherford, a longtime friend of Johnson, had sung with the Spitfire Boys during the punk era. Mark O’Toole played in local bands, while his cousin Brian ‘Nasher’ Nash and Peter ‘Ped’ Gill were together in Dancing Girl, and then Sons of Egypt. The five of them came together in 1982, and played their first gig under the name Frankie Goes To Hollywood — taken from an old newspaper story about Frank Sinatra — that summer as support to Hambi And The Dance. In the autumn they appeared on Channel 4’s “The Tube”, where their mixture of rock funk and overt sexuality attracted the attention of various record company exectives.
The combination of that TV appearance and a Radio One session for Kid Jensen persuaded former journalist-turned-record company A&R man Paul Morley that Frankie were material worth working on. Morley had been brought into the fledgling Zang Tumb Tuum organisation by producer Trevor Horn and manager Jill Sinclair. They had first met when Horn had brought the demo tape for the first Buggies single “Video Killed The Radio Star” into Sinclair’s SARM Studios. She bought the rights to the song, paid for the recording sessions, and the single was a major British hit. (Horn and Sinclair married soon afterwards.)
The success of Buggles, and their later amalgamation with the remnants of the pomp-rock group Yes, brought Trevor Horn some recognition, a little infamy, and a growing reputation among his peers. This increased as he took over the production of Dollar, and later ABC, and established himself as one of the most glittering and commercial of modern British producers.
Zang Tumb Tuum was envisaged as a radical break away from the run-of-the-mill British record companies, with Horn and Sinclair — and then Paul Morley — keeping complete artistic and marketing control over every aspect of the business, from choosing the acts to producing their videos. Morley’s enlistment guaranteed the company plenty of press coverage: a former Manchester fanzine editor who was signed up by the NME in the late Seventies, he won plaudits for his committed, emotional and stimulating prose, and did much to boost the careers of his favourite bands (including the Buzzcocks, Joy Division and New Order). Gradually, his writing began to take on a more adventurous, but somehow less satisfying, tone; and as his enthusiasm for the rock industry waned, so his contributions to the weekly press grew more infrequent.
Morley obviously wanted a fresh challenge, a wider canvas for his burgeoning vision of what pop music should consist of. His recent pop writing, most notably his contributions to Mark Johnson’s Joy Division book, has been pretentious and often indecipherable, as if he was working without a purpose or direction. Zang Tumb Tuum offered nothing less than a chance to change the balance of the entire music business; and in Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Morley saw something he could mould.
Several months elapsed between the group being signed to ZTT, and the release of their first single. “Relax” eventually appeared in November 1983, and lurched up and down the lower half of the Top Hundred for several weeks before TV appearances — and the now celebrated Radio One airplay ban instigated by DJ Mike Read — launched the single on its path to the top of the chart.
The ban — and the resultant media publicity — established Frankie overnight as rock’s latest rebels. In an interview with “Jamming” magazine, Paul Rutherford sounded unsure about how much the furore had been expected: “It was never that well planned. Morley had his strategy all worked out, he wanted it to be like the Sex Pistols — all the outrage, controversy — but his time with all the sex.” In his comments, the group and the record seemed divorced from ZTT’s marketing policies: “I’d like to think ‘Relax’ was subversive in its own way — but not in a blatant way… That’s why we became defensive about the whole thing. It seemed more blatant than it really was, because of the way it was marketed.”
This isn’t the place to judge that marketing, which accentuated the group’s sexual preferences, or its success. The result was that “Relax” sold a million copies by March, and has now reached 1¾% million sales.
One reason why the success of the record may have seemed a little disconcerting for the band is that the single had taken six months to record; and that the band had completed their input to the single several months before it was finished. Horn recorded the group, fed the sound through his computers, added sessionmen, computerised the results, remixed everything that came out, played with it some more, overdubbed, remixed and kept on working until he was finally satisfied.
Satisfaction was apparently hard to find, however. The original single (ZTAS 1) featured “Relax (Move)”/”One September Morning (Talk)” on 7”, and “Relax Sex Mix (Fuck)”/”Ferry Cross The Mersey (Cry)”/“Relax Bonus (Again)” on 12” (12ZTAS 1). The original 12” mix was no less than sixteen minutes long; and this was rapidly replaced by an eight-minute U.S. remix, and then a still shorter remix, without either the label design or the catalogue number begin altered.
Eventually, 7” and 12” picture discs were also released (PZTAS 1 and 12PZTAS 1); and a cassette version called “Relax’s Greatest Bits” (CTIS 102), comprising edited segments of the various mixes, was also released. A threatened orchestral version, planned for issue on the group’s debut LP, has thankfully so far not surfaced.
The second Frankie single was launched in a fresh blaze of publicity in June. The controversy this time came partly from the song’s message, but more from the video which rammed that message home. Actor Patrick Allen reading extracts from government Civil Defence leaflets was acceptable on radio and TV, but the ‘violent’ scenes in the video, which included a man-to-man fight between actors playing the roles of the American and Soviet leaders, were not. “Two Tribes” hardly suffered from the publicity, however, entering the charts at No. 1 and staying there for nine weeks.
This chart reign wasn’t entirely due to the strength of the record and its publicity campaign. Orthodox 7” (ZTAS 3) and 12” (12 ZTAS 3) versions appeared in June, quickly followed by a 7” picture disc (PZTAS 3). In July, ZTT released a ‘Carnage’ mix of the “Two Tribes” track to replace the original ‘Annihilation’ mix (XZTAS 3) on the 12” single. This ‘Carnage’ mix was then placed on the flipside of a 12” picture disc (WARTZ 3), behind a ‘heavy’ remix of the old Edwin Starr song “War”, which had originally been on the B-side of the ‘Annihilation’ 12”. A cassette version followed as a matter of course (CS 784), with another 12” version, headed by “Two Tribes (Hibakusha)” quickly in its wake. The video, of course, featured another mix entirely, as did the American release; while DJ Alan Coulthard created an entirely new version for release to the 1300 DJs who subscribe to the Tony Prince Disco Mix Club. This mix, titled “Frankie Goes To High Bronski”, segued “Two Tribes” into two other hits of the time, Evelyn Thomas’ “High Energy” and Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy”. Finally, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s recent album contains versions of both “War” and “Two Tribes”, which we’ll leave Frankie diehards to identify.
“Two Tribes” sold its millionth copy early in July; and has now topped 1½ million sales. The 12” picture disc version (WARTZ 3), which was limited to 30,000 copies, is still apparently the biggest-selling picture disc of all time; while the cassette edition shares the honour of biggest-selling cassingle with the “Relax” release, both having sold out their 40,000 limited edition. In addition, the various versions of “Two Tribes” now make that single the biggest-selling 12” of all time, eclipsing the previous champion, New Order’s “Blue Monday”. “Relax” is apparently hard on their heels — and has also topped a million sales in 7” form.
The advantages of these multiple releases are obvious. As a publicity gimmick, it is hard to beat, given that people are interested in the record in the first place. And in terms of charts success, it only takes a small proportion of fans to buy all the versions to ensure massive total sales, and consequent chart heroics. It is an approach which is now being copied by most major new releases — Paul McCartney’s latest single, for example, is going to be available in at least five different versions, besides the extra tracks which he has issued on the cassette and compact disc versions of his “Broad Street” album — and it obviously introduces a new dimension to the collecting world. As we’ve said before, the great rarities of the past were rare for the very good reason that they were difficult to find. No-one sat down in 1954 and planned to make Elvis Presley’s “That’s Alright Mama” difficult to find ten years later; and no-one thought to remix it to enable Elvis’s fans to buy the record twice. Nowadays, however, the record companies manufacture many of their releases as pre-planned collector’s items; and it is impossible to blame ZTT or Frankie for taking this approach to its ultimate conclusions.
Will these special releases last? It is certainly difficult to imagine that they won’t. Limited edition special offers are now an accepted — and expected — part of the record business. Without them, many records wouldn’t have been hits. But it remains to be seen whether collector’s items released as such will have the future lustre of those items which became collectable accidentally, either because they sold poorly or because they offered an early glimpse of a star in the making. Will the bargain bins of tomorrow. be full of alternate mixes of “Two Tribes”? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, Frankie Goes To Hollywood are on top of the world — with the exception of America, on which a major assault is planned next year. “To conclude this piece of history, we need an American success”, says ZTT’s Paul Morley. Their new album has sold by the bucketload in Britain, amid the first faint rumblings of a critical backlash against the group. After the controversy and mass releases of earlier months, “Welcome To The Pleasure Dome” seems an almost conventional move, with its soundalike cover versions and inclusion of material already available on singles. What it does prove once and for all, however, is that Frankie are very much the creation of Trevor Horn, whose production techniques deserve most of the praise directed at the album. He and ZTT have other acts lined up in the starting blocks, to follow the critical and partial commercial success of Propaganda (with the multiple releases of the “Doctor Mabuse” single) and The Art Of Noise (with their brace of singles and new LP). No matter how soon Frankie Goes To Hollywood become just another British rock band, we haven’t heard the last from Trevor Horn.