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Frankie Satisfies Stateside Curiosity

LOS ANGELES—When “Power Of Love” shot to No 1 on the British pop chart, Frankie Goes To Hollywood became the first U.K. band since Gerry & the Pacemakers to go to the top with their first three singles. And, in Frankies case, two of those three songs hit No. 1 without benefit of an album.

Liverpools controversial Frankie made more news than music for the 18 months they were sequestered at Sarm West studios to record the double debut album “Welcome To The Pleasure Dome.” Between the furor over the banning of one single and two videos, the uproar over the band members sexuality (two of the five are gay) and the reaction to their outspoken—at times insulting—press conferences, the group seemed more heard about than heard.

In England, it all led to the largest advance order on an album in history. In America, it led to a lot of curiosity during the bands first tour. What is all the fuss about?

“This was a totally untried market for us,” says tour manager Ian Jeffery, former tour manager for AC/DC. “No one knew what was going to happen. So we had lengthy conversations with ICM, and took their advice.”

What happened was a string of sold-out dates from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, including a house at Chicagos Bismarck Theatre so packed that the floor collapsed from the weight. “Of course, the next day, the headlines said ‘Frankie Sinks The Bismarck,” laughs Jeffery.

“We want to happen in America,” says Frankie vocalist Paul Rutherford, “desperately. But I think it will be hard. We have a very English attitude.”

To help them break the U.S., the band decided to tour here even before touring their homeland. Their tour budget guaranteed that the trip would lose money, because they insisted on bringing AC/DCs light and sound rigs into clubs with 1,000-person capacities. And they agreed to do literally hundreds of interviews, in-store and television appearances. They have, they say, many misconceptions to overcome.

“I know a lot of people think Frankie Goes To Hollywood is Holly (Johnson) and Paul (Rutherford), and the rest of us are a session band,” says, drummer Peter Gill. “Were not a session band. Were all musicians, and we all contribute.”

“Were not a creation of (producer) Trever Horn,” adds guitarist Brian Nash. “You cant con people into buying your records. There was only one con that ever worked, and that was the (Sex) Pistols.”

According to Gill; the groups music is written by himself, bassist Mark OToole and Nash.

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Vocalists Johnson and Rutherford come along later, adding lyrics and ideas. Only then is the material turned over to the marketing and merchandising machine of ZTT Records—brainchild of producer Trevor Horn and publicist Paul Morley—and its distributor, Island Records. But, they also admit the T-shirts, liner notes, videos and newspaper stories have all played an important part in selling that music.

“Every move weve made has been vital,” says Rutherford. “There couldnt be one thing in our career that could be changed, or we wouldnt be a success.”

“The whole idea of ZTT,” explains Nash, “is to bring back the beauty of the pop single. Thats what made Motown: every record on Motown was just that bit special, had that much more thought behind it.

“Pop musics a precious thing; it shouldnt be treated as second rate. When youre 14, it means the world.”

The bands first single, “Relax,” is being released to America now that “Two Tribes” has caught on; it stiffed here first time around. “‘Relax” took three months in the studio to record,” says Nash, “at 1,000 pounds a day. We put a lot of work into it.”

But, he says, the effort paid off—even if it did engender a backlash of sorts. “We sold 10 million pieces of vinyl off two singles. We sailed up the charts past people who had been working for years. If I was in another band, Id be pissed off, too.”

Upcoming plans for the Frankies include three Christmas dates in their hometown of Liverpool, and then their first major tour of England and Europe. They expect to release a new U.S. single this spring (“Power Of Love” will only be available as an import), either a remixed cut off “Pleasure Dome” or a new tune, and then go back into the studio for a projected summer followup album. A full-blown North American tour is planned to support that release.