Relax, don't do it
When you want to suck it to it
Relax, don't do it
When you want to come
-- Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Relax
Frankie Goes To Hollywood is an example of what a great voice, a few well-written and very well-produced pop songs, and a hype machine gone out of control can bring. Their legacy is as a symbol of the 1980s: flashy and overproduced and overpromoted, but still rising above it all with a few amazing songs.
This band formed in 1982 in Liverpool, England, and almost immediately drew a club following for their hard rock sound with a bit of a danceable twinge to it. They got quite popular around the Liverpool area. The group eventually built this into an appearance on the British radio show Peel Sessions in late 1982, made a few more radio appearances in early 1983, and were almost immediately signed to the record label Zang Tuum Tumb. The group consisted of Holly Johnson on lead vocals, Mark O'Toole on bass, Brian Nash on guitar, Peter Gill on drums, and Paul Rutherford on backing vocals. The record label was attracting a lot of attention to itself because of its high profile and its adoption of electronic sounds and remixing techniques, which wasn't lost at all on this band.
During the fall of 1983, the group went into the studio to record an album's worth of material. The band to this point mostly performed hard rock oriented material, but when they reached the studio, the group quickly realized that their label was headed in a different direction. This later would cause a split in the band, but at the time the group was all in favor of trying a new sound.
The band had two extremely catchy rock songs written: Relax and Two Tribes; over the next few months, these were crafted carefully into something quite unusual (for the time) and catchy: a fusion of hard rock and electronic dance music.
When the first single from the group, Relax, came out in December of 1983, it shot like a rocket up the charts because of its unusual sound, coupled with an energetic appearance in January 1984 on Top of the Pops. Ironically enough, just as the popularity was near the leveling off point near the top ten, the song was banned by BBC Radio in the UK in early 1984 for the song's sexually suggestive lyrics. After that, with the media coverage and notoriety from having their first song banned by the BBC, the song absolutely exploded, flying to number one in Britain in early 1984. The group quickly produced a very over-the-top video for the song and it was sent to the United States and received some exposure on MTV; the song began to take off there as well in early 1985, reaching the top ten.
Looking to follow up quickly, the group released the single Two Tribes (with a fantastic b-side War) in the spring of 1984, accompanied by an extremely elaborate video featuring, among other things, US President Ronald Reagan and USSR Premier Konstantin Chernenko sumo wrestling. Again, this provided another publicity shot in the arm, and along with a catchy single, it again produced magic (see Ice, Vanilla). The single shot to number one in Britain in late spring of 1984, dragging their slowing first single back up to number two by August, becoming the first band since The Beatles to hold both the number one and number two positions simultaneously on the British pop charts. In seven short months, the group had gone from being completely unknown to utterly dominating the British music scene.
The band went back to the studio during the summer of 1984 to touch up their debut album which was to come out in the fall. By the time the album was released in October 1984, the double album Welcome To The Pleasuredome had presold more than a million copies in Britain alone, the biggest preorder success since The Beatles. The group's third single came out at the same time, Power of Love, and it reached the number one slot in Britain around Christmastime.
Their touring once the album was released was incessant and well-marketed. The faddish wearing of t-shirts sporting the phrase "Frankie says" followed by one of many different phrases in bold black letters on white were quite popular as 1984 closed, and became something of a symbol of the faddish nature of the band itself. The group was insanely popular throughout 1984, incomparable to anything except for the heyday of The Beatles in the UK.
But the magic was starting to fade. Their fourth single, the title track from Welcome To The Pleasuredome peaked at number two on the UK pop charts in early 1985. Compounding the problem was the fact that almost monthly, their record label Zang Tuum Tumb was releasing a remix of the group's popular singles. It got to the point by April of 1985 that it was becoming a joke in Britain; the popular comedy show Spitting Image had a skit featuring a puppet of Holly Johnson singing a parody of Relax with the chorus "Remix, reuse it..."
The group began to implode in the studio in late 1985 and early 1986, putting together the album Liverpool. The other band members tried to throw lead singer Holly Johnson out of the band several times, but each attempt failed by a slim majority vote because there really was no replacement for his voice. The first single, Rage Hard, came out in August and peaked at number four in Britain, and the album came out in October of 1985, peaking on the albums chart at number six. The second and third singles (Warriors Of The Wasteland in November 1986 and Watching The Wildlife in February 1987) both made the top forty, but were nothing like the success of their earlier stuff.
This didn't stop their label from remixing these songs into the ground like their earlier works, and by April 1987, the band broke up. Holly Johnson went on to have a middling solo career, but most of the rest of the band faded into obscurity.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood is best remembered for a few great songs, especially Relax and Two Tribes, both of which are excellent fusions of hard rock and electronica. They should also be remembered as a symbol of the 1980s, an era which really demonstrated the power of marketing in music with the advent of MTV and the music video as a marketing force.
Frankie says relax.