Who’s really taking Frankie To Hollywood?
THE INSIDE STORY OF THE GROUP THAT THIS WEEK MADE TOP TEN HISTORY
FOR connoisseurs of show-business hype, it’s a story to savour. The pop reporter from The Sun newspaper was desperate for a new exclusive on Frankie Goes To Hollywood. ‘What’s happening to them today?’ he asked the director of their record company.
The truth was—
Their latest video hadn’t been banned that week. Nor had they been attacked that day for the blatant sexual message in the lyrics of their latest hit. Nevertheless, the myth machinery had to be fuelled…
Paul Morley, director of ZTT Records, knew that better than most. He’d been a pop reporter himself before leaving rock journalism to help guide Frankie Goes To Hollywood to the top of the rock charts. He wasn’t going to miss the chance of a big newspaper splash.
So he told them a lie. The Frankies support Arthur Scargill, he said. They’ve presented him with a baseball hat to replace the one he lost on the picket line. Two days later the ‘story’ duly appeared with the headline: ‘Frankies furore over Scargill.’
Today Paul Morley’ recounts the story with a Macmavellian glee. ‘Tactics is such it crude word.’ he says. ‘It’s more of a delight.’
Chicanery, bluff and simple backstabbing are hardly new territories to the world of the big record companies, but even they privately admit they have been taught a lesson in marketing and media manipulation by the group who in just a few weeks have zipped from being little more than a bunch of Liverpool youngsters to one of the fastest selling groups in British pop history.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood are currently at Numbers One and Three in the Top Ten. They have sold four and a half million copies of their first hit Relax. Two Tribes currently Number One, will almost certainly match that figure. Not since March 26, 1964, when the Beatles released Can’t Buy Me Love has a British record sold so many copies so quickly.
It is the legacy of every group to come oout of Liverpool to be dubbed ‘The New Beatles,’ but the Frankies—
They did it by recognising that the quickest way to become over-night hits was to get their record banned and arouse adult public opinion and the pop establishment against them. If they could do that, they reasoned, the kids would love them, so they wrote their lyrics accordingly.
Then star Top Of The Pops DJ Mike Read denounced the words to Relax for their obscene content, declaring that he wouldn’t play their record, so that everybody wanted to know—
Pretty soon the record was zooming up the charts and it was then that the group’s managers let it be known that three out or the five in the band were gay. That meant more headlines, more controversy.
A first time big hit, pop law dictates, must be followed by an even bigger smash, for the dangers of losing momentum are enormous. Two Tribes, like Relax, had the merit of being a great record to dance to, but the Frankies’ success owed much to their image, so how to continue building the legend which would in turn create monster sales?
The answer was simply: Follow the formula. The group shot a controversial video which showed Presidents Reagan and Chernenko brutally slugging with each other in a prelude to some nuclear holocaust. It was a typical piece of pop video nonsense but predictably, and perhaps correctly, the Top Of The Pops producers were nervous.
They wouldn’t show the video. Another’BBC ban the Frankies’ story was about to break.
In his office this week Morley explained his philosophy: ‘The whole music industry is a con. But most record companies do it in a banal way. They don’t appreciate their power to influence young people. Maybe we’re replacing it with another con, but it’s one that cares about people.’
What Frankie Goes To Hollywood share with the Beatles and The Rolling Stones is a name that makes you wonder who thought of it and how they got it. In fact it came from a headline they saw in a magazine article about Frank Sinatra and to be fair, there is a kind of genius in picking the right name.
It is genius, however, that is lost on the father of Holly Johnson, the group’s lead singer. Mr Eric Johnson, an eminently sensible taxi driver, said of the superstar son who used to work at the Liverpool Pizza restaurant:
‘When Holly used to come home with his spiky hair all colours I would walk the other way—I called him a lazy swine. I didn’t believe he would make it until he was actually on Top Of The Pops.’
Holly himself, whose great joy was to pull up outside his parents’ modest home in a five-door limousine, professed to be less surprised.
‘I have catholic tastes from T Rex to Beethoven’s Erocia. But we intend to make our own kind of music. We won’t be exploited.’
Perhaps he won’t. But if Frankie Goes To Hollywood hadn’t exploited others it is doubtful if Frankie would be going anywhere.