Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Ten years on from “Relax” the unique Frankie sound returns, as Ian Peel explains.
Nostalgia for the early 80s is threatening to break the iron grip of the 60s and, more recently, the early 70s, as evidenced by the recent success of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax” exactly a decade after its first phenomenal chart-run.
Most revived records, despite the “timeless” appendage beloved by most critics, do actually sound old; that’s partly the reason why people enjoy them second time around, to reinforce a few old myths about a mis-spent youth and so on. The reappearance of “Relax” may have revived a few of those too but, apart from its tell-tale keyboard sound, this classic track has blended in with 90s pop with consummate ease.
The Frankie Goes To Hollywood phenomena which raged hard back in 1984 is not easily forgotten. Following an outrageous performance of flesh, leather and beat on Channel 4’s ‘The Tube’, no record company would touch the group. So pop journalist Paul Morley signed them to the newly-formed ZTT label, and after several months of studio time with Trevor Horn, “Relax” appeared.
Banned by Mike Read live on Radio 1 for being “overtly obscene”, the single topped the U.K. chart for five weeks, selling more copies than any Beatles single ever did, having hit the Top 10 in no fewer than 20 countries.
Five months later, “Relax” was followed by “Two Tribes”, which reached No. 1 in its first week of release, sold 500,000 copies and went gold. By July 1984, “Two Tribes” and “Relax” occupied the top two chart positions.
These singles were accompanied by equally outrageous promo videos. Several directors, including Bernard Rose and Brian de Palma, took on “Relax”, which, along with Godley and Creme’s infamous ‘Super Powers’ wrestling match for “Two Tribes”, was screened on terrestrial TV only after being censored. 12" singles and remixes were pioneered by Horn, whose endless stream of “Relax” mixes ranged in length from over 16 minutes to just a few seconds. His ‘New York Mix’ sped the track to the top of the U.S. dance chart; and not far behind was “Two Tribes”, at one time the biggest-selling 12" single ever.
‘Frankie Say’ was the phrase on everyone’s lips or, at least, chests, back in 1984.
More FGTH innovations between 1983 and 1987 included half-hour cassette singles for “Relax” and “Two Tribes”, some of the first and finest releases in this format, and ones which became the joint best-selling cassingles ever… sell-out tours of the U.S., Japan and the U.K., aptly titled ‘Around The World In Mighty Ways’… platinum advance sales for the first LP, “Welcome To The Pleasuredome”… an interview with David Frost… a mysterious disappearance… a semi-spectacular comeback… very spectacular tabloid revelations, such as “Frankie Relaxed While The Session-Men Made The Hits!”… which led to an equally spectacular break-up and court case, about which singer Holly Johnson concluded: “It’s a great day for musicians everywhere.” Frankie said… No More.
As one would expect, FGTH’s welcome chart reappearance comes with ZTT’s customary slew of discographer-unfriendly formats! The main mix of the single is still the standard 7" version, but on the 12" and the CD, some serious steps have been taken to bring the group’s sound firmly into line with contemporary technology.
The main new mix is by 19-year-old Roll Over producer Ollie J., who’s positioned the track well and truly on the dance-floor with the addition of some soft techno atmospheres. Jam & Spoon also provide ‘Hi N-R-G’ and ‘Trip-O-Matic Fairy Tale’ mixes. The former starts off rather unexpectedly as an ambient house piece, before bursting into a hi-energy groove; while the latter mix is a full eight-minute chunk of 90s rave, which also embraces themes from Frankie’s second No.1, “Two Tribes”.
The Jam & Spoon mixes are destined to do great things in Frankie’s most appreciative country, Germany, which had also embraced J&S mixes of Snap, Dr. Alban, Age Of Love and Moby’s “Go”.
As part of the mass remixing of “Relax”, the master tapes were handed over to the staff of London’s infamous SARM studios. But the only SARM mix to appear has been ‘Relax MCMXCIII’, by producer and engineer Greg Jackman. Rather than being a radical reinvention á la Jam & Spoon, his version merely speeds up the original to more of a disco pace. One mix from these sessions that will sadly not see the light of day is Robin Hancock’s ‘Driving In My Capri Mix’, which strips away Holly Johnson’s vocal and twists the backing track into a convincing trance dance vein. Appearing for the first time ever on CD is Trevor Horn’s ‘New York Mix’, inspired by his visit to Big Apple clubland in 1983.
At the time of writing, a hits set, “Bang!”, is set to become one of this year’s major Xmas releases. Available on all three formats, “Bang!” carries all seven FGTH singles, including the 16-minute album version of “Welcome To The Pleasure dome”, with the ‘World Is My Oyster’ intro, plus Frankie’s other minor classics: “War”, “Ferry Cross The Mersey”, “Born To Run”, “Bang!” and from the “Liverpool” album, “For Heaven’s Sake”. A 45-minute compilation video, ‘Shoot!’, which includes two versions of “Relax”, has also just been issued (see reviews section).
Frankie discographers and completists should not confuse the latest “Relax” 7" with the 12" promo of “Welcome To The Pleasure dome” from 1985, which shares an identical catalogue number. And while we’re on the subject of shared identities, the latest “Bang!” collection has nothing to do with an identically-titled collection of hits and mixes (R/X/P33D-2001), which Polystar released in Japan several years ago.
Following up ‘Relax MCMXCIII’ is a second remix single, issued in the first week of November. Continue »
Most importantly for the collector, the first two of these latest Frankie releases are being accompanied by double 12" promo editions, which are already selling for from anything between £20 and £150, although £50 seems to be a more realistic estimate of their current value. Each edition is apparently limited to just 30 or 40 copies.
The Frankie singles also include an address for FGTHQ, the first ever Frankie Goes To Hollywood fan club/information service. As well as offering an official and in-depth magazine documenting the activities of the band members then and now, the magazine offers merchandise and plenty of Frankie trading contacts.
After five years out of the media spotlight, the FGTH members have been tracked down by the press for their comments on the new releases and, more importantly, to reminisce on how five Liverpool lads went from signing on the dole to a No. 1 single in a matter of weeks. TV interviews have already been aired on Channel4’s ‘Naked City’, and on ‘Granada Tonight’, in the north of England only.
For ‘Naked City’, self-proclaimed Frankie conceptualist Paul Morley was interviewed and offered some contentious views on a variety of subjects, including the failure of Holly Johnson’s solo career (“It just wasn’t very good!”) and the real force behind the Frankie phenomena (“It was 90% Trevor Horn, 7% me and 3% the band”).
However, Morley’s latter comment was shot down when the programme aired some never-before-seen footage of the group performing at the Hope & Anchor pub, London, in 1982. Well before the band had crossed paths with either Morley or Trevor Horn, it showed that the songs and style were already well in place. In fact, it’s a pity that the impressive bass-playing of Mark O’Toole later became overpowered by the Horn wall-of-sound production.
Paul Rutherford also mused on the whole Frankie phenomena, even if he was, by his own admission, still rather bewildered by the whole chain of events. Ten years on, he decided that their path from obscurity to international stardom and then back to obscurity is best described by a quote from Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ movie: “What is it they said?—
FGTHQ can be contacted at P.O. Box 808, Hook, Basingstoke, Hants. RG25 1UF. One year’s subscription is £8 U.K., £10 elsewhere.