Thursday, July 27, 2017


It seems strangely apt to be looking at this song again, and the accompanying video, as relations between the US and Russia (nee USSR) become increasingly strained. (It's funny, as an adult in 1984, I can't quite recall things being that bad, even if reminding myself and reviewing, yes, they clearly were. Mind you, I would have guessed that the Reagan era was a decade or so ahead, so maybe it's my problem!)

Frankie Goes to Hollywood exploded onto and into the UK charts in 1984, buoyed on a wave of an outraged media and a keenly exploitative PR campaign. There is nothing my country enjoys more than the combination of scandal with prurience, always peeking through nearly closed fingers at the decried depravities and disgustingness. Indeed, the british press specialises therein, having a field day with this band. So, when an outraged disc jockey, those purveyors of public taste and decency, suddenly cottons on that "Relax" might be, um, rather more energetic than the name invites, with, shock horror, references to a then barely legal gay S&M scene, their star was guaranteed.

"Two Tribes", the follow up single, was barely a cats whisker behind, vaunting straight to the top of the charts, remaining there for longer than any other single of that whole decade, even sucking "Relax" back up the charts in its wake.. It's true that ZTT, the record company, were at the peak of their game, manipulating the charts and feeding a product hungry population: this was way before such science fiction as downloading and streaming. This was largely black plastic. With 5 varying mixes across the domains of 7 and 12 inches, all marketed as essential, with the collected sales all counting toward the same song, is it any surprise sales were massive, the last great surge of physical product. In truth the song is a slighter variation of its predecessor, both being, arguably, more the product of producer Trevor Horn and his Fairlight synthesiser than of 5 scallies from Liverpool, even if the singer, Holly Johnson exuded as much charisma as the others mostly lacked it. (And was the only one with a surviving career of sorts.) But, as a sound, as a template it is huge, a tsunami of rattly bass, clattering percussion and swathes of keyboard, vocals with echo on their echoes. The different versions varied largely as to what else was chucked into the mix, varying samples scatter gunned over the none-more-exuberant Mr Johnson. These came from sources as disparate as Public Service films around what to do when the  H bomb drops, to snippets of speeches from, amongst others, Hitler and lyrics from Don McClean, all fed into the mouth of Ronald Reagan, via  UK uber-mimic, Chris Barrie. The video came from ex-10 cc band members, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, and featured actors disguised as Reagan and the then USSR supremo, Viktor Chernenko. (No, me neither.....) Tussling in a boxing ring, compered by Holly Johnson, as fellow world leaders look on. It doesn't end well. There was also a substantively longer versions, with yet more samples of speech, but, given the original was deemed to strong, without edits, for MTV, this had little exposure. (Have I got it here? Sure I have.)

The song, in al its myriad versions, had a long life, eventually even reaching the US Billboard top 50, just, at 43. Re-releases came again in '89 and '94, with a 3rd assault in 2000. This time the remixes were by external parties, usually several available in each iteration, now on CD, with up to 5 versions on each disc. I have to say the song, in the majority, still excites, galvanising frissons of nostalgic glee in my ageing bones. The triad of songs, "Relax", "Two Tribes" and follow up, "The Power of Love" are, in my opinion, as strong a launch pad as any new band can or could offer, certainly compared to the fickleness of now where longevity seems more often down to luck than talent. Afterwards? Well, no such luck for Frankie as, sans Horn, the band were but a shadow of what once was, with little left to say, eventually dissolving in a sea of rancour and regret.

Fill your boots!!!

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