Frankie Goes To Hollywood is a British band formed in the early-1980s. The group was fronted by openly gay Holly Johnson (vocals), with Paul Rutherford (vocals), Peter Gill (drums, percussion), Mark O’Toole (bass guitar), and Brian Nash (guitar).
Johnson explained that the group’s name came from a page from The New Yorker magazine, featuring the headline “Frankie Goes Hollywood” with a picture of Frank Sinatra.
The group’s 1983 debut single Relax was banned by the BBC in 1984, although it topped the UK Singles Chart for five consecutive weeks, going on to prolonged chart success throughout that year and ultimately becoming the seventh bestselling UK single of all time. It also won the 1985 Brit Award for Best British Single. Their debut album, Welcome To The Pleasuredome, was Number One in the UK in 1984.
After the success of the singles Two Tribes and The Power Of Love, Frankie Goes To Hollywood became only the second act in the history of the UK charts to reach Number One with their first three singles; the first was fellow Liverpudlians Gerry And The Pacemakers. In 1985 the band won the Brit Award for Best British Newcomer, and also received a Grammy Award and MTV Video Music Award nominations for Best New Artist. Johnson, Gill and O’Toole received the 1984 Ivor Novello Award for Two Tribes.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood dominated the British music scene in 1984. Their dance-pop sound borrowed heavily from the then-popular Hi-NRG movement. Hi-NRG (pronounced “high energy”) is a genre of uptempo disco or electronic dance music from the early 1980s, that features a slick pop sensibility and production.
What really distinguished Frankie Goes To Hollywood was not their music, but their marketing campaign. With a series of slogans, tee-shirts, and homoerotic videos, the band caused enormous controversy.
However, the Frankie sensation was finished as soon as it was started; by the release of their second album, Liverpool, in 1986, the group’s audience had moved on to other things. But they never went away for me.
In 1982, when they appeared on the British television program The Tube with a rough version of the video for Relax, they attracted attention from record producer Trevor Horn. Horn put the band under contact to his label, ZTT. Late in 1983, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s first single, the Horn-produced Relax/Ferry Cross the Mersey, was released. A driving dance number, Relax features rather filthy lyrics that freaked people out. The lyrics of the song include the lines:
Relax! Don’t do it,
When you wanna go to it,
Relax! Don’t do it,
When you wanna come,
Relax! Don’t do it,
When you wanna come
The band’s promotional director, Paul Morley, a former music journalist, put together a massive, intricate marketing campaign that soon paid. Morley designed T-shirts that read ”Relax” and ‘Frankie Says”. The group began playing up their stylish, campy queer imagery, especially in the first video for Relax, which was banned by British television. Their enormous capacity for vulgarity was part of the energy of the band.
The BBC radio and television networks banned the record, and you just can’t buy that kind of publicity. Relax shot to Number One in January of 1984 and sold over a million copies. Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s second single, the political Two Tribes, was released six months later. The single, which was also produced by Horn, entered the charts at Number One; it went gold in seven days. Two Tribes stayed at Number One for nine weeks and eventually sold over a million copies. While it was on the top of the charts, Relax got it up again and went back up the charts, climaxing at Number Two.
Frankie Mania took Britain by storm, yet it took a while to catch on in the USA. Relax peaked at Number 67 in the spring of 1984, while Two Tribes failed to even make it on the charts. Welcome To The Pleasuredome, the Horn-produced double album, entered the UK charts at Number One and their third single, the ballad The Power Of Love, also went to Number One. Welcome To The Pleasuredome reached went to Number 33 in early 1985 in the USA, but the re-release of Relax; this time around, made it into the American Top Ten. They bombarded that era with sound, visuals and hype.
Rage Hard went to Number Four in the UK during the summer of 1986. It was followed by the release of Liverpool, which reached Number Five. Frankie Goes To Hollywood began their final tour in early 1987 and by April, the band broke up. Johnson went on to a solo career in 1989, after a long legal battle with ZTT. The other openly gay member, Rutherford, also launched a solo career, enlisting the members of ABC to produce his 1989 album Oh World, which was my sex music for the next decade.
You can see Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s impact when Miley Cyrus, Kanye West, or Beyoncé demonstrate how spectacular pop music hype can be. There was a lot of commercial music that was packaged beautifully in the 1980s, yet the band were part of a change in pop in terms of sophistication that continues to this day. It’s still going on like it’s 1984, as though they’re still competing with Frankie Goes To Hollywood. That’s something I will probably be taken to task for writing.