On the back of an enormous publicity campaign, Frankie Goes to Hollywood dominated British music in 1984. Frankie's dance-pop borrowed heavily from the then-current Hi-NRG movement, adding a slick pop sensibility and production. What really distinguished the group was not their music, but their marketing campaign. With a series of slogans, T-shirts, and homoerotic videos, the band caused enormous controversy in England and managed to create some sensations in the United States. 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 virtually disappeared.
Based in Liverpool, Frankie Goes to Hollywood formed in 1980, comprising ex-Big in Japan vocalist Holly Johnson, vocalist Paul Rutherford, guitarist Nasher Nash, bassist Mark O'Toole, and drummer Peter Gill. Originally, the group was called Hollycaust, but they changed their name to Frankie Goes to Hollywood -- taken from an old headline about Frank Sinatra's acting career -- by the end of the year. The band didn't make anything of note until 1982, when they appeared on the British television program The Tube with a rough version of the video for "Relax." The appearance attracted attention from several record labels as well as record producer Trevor Horn. Horn contacted the band and signed them to his label, ZTT. Late in 1983, Frankie's first single, the Horn-produced "Relax"/"Ferry Cross the Mersey," was released. A driving dance number, "Relax" featured sexually suggestive lyrics that would soon lead to great controversy.
Around the time of the release of "Relax," Frankie's promotional director, Paul Morley, a former music journalist, orchestrated a massive, intricate marketing campaign that soon paid off in spades. Morley designed T-shirts that read "Relax" and "Frankie Says...," which eventually appeared across the country. The group began playing up their stylish, campy homosexual imagery, especially in the first video for "Relax." The video was banned by British TV and a new version was shot. Similarly, Radio 1 banned the single and the rest of the BBC radio and television networks quickly banned the record as well. Consequently, "Relax" shot to number one in January of 1984 and soon sold over a million copies. Frankie's second single, the political "Two Tribes," was released in June of 1984. The single, which was also produced by Trevor 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" went back up the charts, peaking at number two.
Frankie mania had taken England by storm, yet it took a while to catch on in America. "Relax" peaked at number 67 in the spring of 1984, while "Two Tribes" just missed the Top 40 in the fall. Welcome to the Pleasuredome, the band's Trevor Horn-produced debut double album, entered the U.K. charts at number one and their third single, the ballad "The Power of Love," also reached number one. Welcome to the Pleasuredome reached number 33 in early 1985 in the U.S., prompting the re-release of "Relax"; this time around, it made it into the American Top Ten.
"Rage Hard," the first single from their second album, peaked at number four in the U.K. during the summer of 1986. It was followed by the release of Liverpool, which reached number five on the British charts. Frankie Goes to Hollywood began their final tour in early 1987; by April, the band had broken up. Holly Johnson went on to pursue a solo career, which began in earnest in 1989, after a long legal battle with ZTT. Rutherford also launched a solo career, enlisting the members of ABC to produce his 1989 album Oh World.
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine. /TiVo