Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Each band has their own story to tell and legacy to celebrate. Many bands have influenced their listeners through music and lifestyles that are comfortably within the mainstream culture. Some acts gain attention through controversial lyrics, philosophies, and behavior, and enough respect to expand the boundaries of popular culture. Frankie Goes to Hollywood bucked accepted pop traditions with controversy and propelled their persona with clever and relentless marketing. That combination powered the rush of commercial success for the 1980s New Wave band and initiated the group’s influence upon popular culture.
Controversy was the wave that Frankie Goes to Hollywood rode to worldwide commercial success. Two band members’ sexual preferences began the ripples. Lyrics highlighting some of the pleasures of human existence, disseminated through numerous remixes that were conceived by a perfectionist producer, increased the intensity of the excitement. During that high, the group’s administration bombarded listeners with smart advertising. A recreation of Frankie Goes to Hollywood in the late 1990s continued the jostling nature of the band’s journey.
Members include Ped Gill (born Peter Gill on March 8, 1964, in Liverpool, England), drums; Holly Johnson (born William Johnson on February 19, 1960, in Khartoum, Sudan), vocals; Nasher Nash (born Brian Nash on May 20, 1963), guitar; Mark O’Toole (born on January 6, 1964 in Liverpool, England), bass; Paul Rutherford (born on December 8, 1959, Liverpool, England), vocals.
Formed in Liverpool, England, 1980; released single “Relax,” 1983; “Relax” banned from BBC Radio 1 but goes to number one on the U.K. charts, scored two more number-one singles, 1984; debut album Welcome to the Pleasuredome released, 1984; released Liverpool, 1986; disbanded, 1987; recreation of the group toured the U.S., 1990s.
Awards: BRIT awards, Best British Newcomer, Best British Single for “Relax,” Best Producer, Trevor Horn, 1985; Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song, “Two Tribes,” 1985.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood emerged from the musically historical town of Liverpool, England. Vocalist Holly Johnson had the most experience when the group formed in 1980. He had gained knowledge and skills performing in a previous Liverpool band, Big in Japan. Vocalist/dancer Paul Rutherford played with The Spitfire Boys and the Opium Eaters before joining Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Additional members included Mark O’Toole on bass, Peter “Ped” Gill on drums, and Brian “Nasher” Nash on guitar. Two similar reports describe the origin of the band’s name. One states that the group named themselves after a Variety magazine article describing Frank Sinatra’s desire to appear in films, while the other mentions actor/singer Frankie Vaughn.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s radio debut was in 1982 during a live session on British radio with DJ David “Kid” Jensen. Trevor Horn noticed the group when a video for “Relax” was broadcast on the popular television program The Tube. Its melody was catchy and appealing, but its sexually liberal lyrics and accompanying sadomasochistic video were outrageous. Despite the controversy, Horn signed the band.
Consisting of a homosexual lead singer and supporting vocalist with three other members, Frankie Goes to Hollywood were signed to Horn’s label Zang Tumb Tumm (ZTT) as the startup group. Horn had produced groups like ABC and Yes, which helped him develop an obsessive style that included a knack for instilling addictive grooves into the artist’s songs. According to Robin Morley in Rock, The Rough Guide, “Horn’s arrangement and production was unprecedentedly sophisticated—a mad, crushing cacophony of orchestral stabs, rock guitars, and high-energy rhythms, and vocal samples, all fed through the then-ubiquitous Fairlight sampler.” Horn’s style was controlling also. Rumors circulated that studio musicians played most all the music on their first album, with Johnson as the only band member who contributed.
Horn’s efforts were aided by Paul Morley, former journalist for New Musical Express. Morley took Frankie Goes to Hollywood to the music-listening audience through a barrage of advertising methods, ensuring knowledge of the new group. David J. Prince in Spin magazine described the group as “the ultimate flash in the pan.” Frankie Goes to Hollywood were a massive sensation, thanks to a propaganda campaign that included grandiose proclamations comparing the band to Picasso and Andy Warhol, and the racy S&M-themed video for their debut single, “Relax.” The group’s trademark white T-shirts featuring political and sexual slogans started a fad of “Frankie Says…” T-shirts on fans. Another appearance adding to their controversial reputation was their role in Brian de Palma’s film Body Double in 1985.
Horn and company knew that timing was everything. “Relax,” considered obscene by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio 1 disc jockey Mike Read, was banned from radio and eventually spread to BBC-TV as well. At issue was the chorus line “Don’t do it/When you want to come.” However, the ban accompanied by key advertising propelled the 1983 single to number one on the United Kingdom hit list for five weeks. It was so popular that it was eventually featured on the soundtrack of the American movie Police Academy. “Two Tribes,” the second single, hit number one six months later. The anti-Cold War anthem was accompanied by a popular video depicting former United States President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet Communist Party leader Konstantin Chernenko fighting in a wrestling ring. The first two singles went platinum, selling more than one million copies each, making Frankie Goes to Hollywood the only group to have their first two single releases reach this level of sales.
In 1984 their third single, “The Power of Love,” made it to the top of the list, equaling the record of a band’s first three releases hitting number one, a record set by Gerry and the Peacemakers 20 years prior. The release was later used as the backing track for the United Kingdom’s first condom advertisement on television. The fourth single, “Welcome to the Pleasuredome,” went all the way to number two, stopping one place short of what would have been a record-setting first four releases hitting number one.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood released their debut album in 1984, Welcome to the Pleasuredome. That album set a record of one million British pounds in advance orders. Reaching the number-one album position, it contained several remixes, and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” Frankie Goes to Hollywood won several British awards for their initial success. In 1985, they were given three BRIT Awards: Best British Newcomer; Best British Single for “Relax,” and Best Producer, Trevor Horn. They also received an Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song for “Two Tribes.”
Compared to the stellar success of the first three singles and debut album, later releases were considered disappointing. A legal battle over royalties distribution tore the band apart during the middle of their popularity. The second album was recorded without Horn. Liverpool, released in 1986, was produced by Horn’s deputy, Steve Lipson. The production was drawn out and cost was twice that of the double album Welcome to the Pleasuredome. Despite the usual controversial promotion (condoms were distributed for the track “Watching the Wildlife”), it did not sell well because it lacked creativity and cohesiveness. The party was ending and stellar commercial success was followed by a down-swing of fortune.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood split up in 1987, as three of the members (not including Johnson or Rutherford) tried to recreate the group. Just before signing with Circa Records, Johnson prevented the use of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood name, and the deal was not completed. Johnson signed with RCA, who supported a fight against an injunction by ZTT. The remaining members of Frankie Goes to Hollywood formed the Lads.
Johnson won the legal decision in 1989 regarding ZTT’s contract. That decision allowed him to release a solo album on MCA that same year entitled Blast. It contained several tracks that saw success on the United Kingdom charts. “Love Train,” “Americanos,” and “Atomic City” all charted. Rutherford also had moderate success with solo releases. He ventured into solo work in the wake of Johnson’s legal decision. Rutherford’s debut single, released via 4th & Broadway, “Get Real” landed on the lower portion of the charts.
The group attempted to capitalize on every last note with Bang! The Greatest Hits of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, which was released by Atlantic in 1994. Also in 1994, Johnson released a well-acclaimed autobiography, A Bone in My Flute, as well as the single “Legendary Children.” Nearly ten years after their initial release, “Relax”, Welcome to the Pleasuredome, “The Power of Love,” and “Two Tribes” were reworked and rereleased, experiencing moderate commercial success hitting the United Kingdom charts once again.
In 1993, Johnson announced that he had been diagnosed as HIV positive. Always open about his homosexuality throughout his career, he utilized his popularity to help raise AIDS awareness by speaking publicly and even penning an article for Details magazine.
Controversy continued for Frankie Goes to Hollywood in 1998 when the band’s name appeared on marquees around the southern United States. Frankie Goes to Hollywood began playing rural clubs, country fairs, and even steak houses. Members wore fishnet shirts, spandex pants, and hair resembling the 1980s glam-rock era. They sang with southern accents and cranked out distortion laden, power-chord constructed versions of hit singles. Frankie Goes to Hollywood was rocking again, even releasing new material. The issue with the revival of Frankie Goes to Hollywood was that none of the band members ever played with original members or on any of the Liverpool group’s albums. Despite a total lack of authenticity, manager Chuck Harris stated to Spin journalist David Prince, “What [the lead member] is doing, in my opinion, is no different from what is being done with the Village People and the Suprêmes. I think that’s part of what show business is all about.”
Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s mark on the 1980s music scene lasted through decades. Phish wrote a song about the 1980s named “Frankie Says.” A 1997 Friends episode was based on a character’s fanaticism about his “Frankie Says Relax” T-shirt. “Relax” was even used as the source for samples used on the Bloodhound Gang’s Hooray for Boobies album. Michael Musto of the Village Voice surmised Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s effect on the people of the day: “Frankie were one of those pop phenomenons akin to a Malcolm McLaren-type thing, where it impacted the fashion, the music, the club culture—everything all at once. Then they kind of disappeared, which is the very essence of pop success.”
Welcome to the Pleasuredome, ZTT/lsland, 1984.
Liverpool, ZTT/lsland, 1986.
Bang! The Greatest Hits of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Atlantic, 1994.
Buckley, Johnathan, Orla Duane and Mark Ellingham, editors, Rock, The Rough Guide, second edition edition, Rough Guides, Ltd., 1999.
Clarke, Donald, editor, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, second edition, Penguin Books, 1998.
Rees, Dafydd and Luke Crampton, editors, VH1 Music First Rock Stars Encyclopedia, DK Publishing, Inc., 1999.
Romanowski, Patricia, Holly George-Warren and Jon Páreles, editors, The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.
Strong, Martin C., The Great Rock Discography, Times Books/Random House, 1998.
Spin, September 2000, p. 125-130.
"Frankie Goes to Hollywood." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/frankie-goes-hollywood
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