Monday, May 26, 2008

Frankie Say 'Relax', Holly Say 'Blast'!

U.K. group Frankie Goes To Hollywood took the world by storm in the mid 80s. Storming into the British charts in late ‘83 with the single ‘Relax’ (produced by Trevor Horn), the quintet hailing from Liverpool (and who had been around since 1980) set up residence at the #1 position on the U.K. charts for a total of 15 weeks throughout 1984. ‘Relax’ (5), ‘Two Tribes’ (9) and ‘The Power Of Love’ (1) all reached the summit on the singles charts, whilst the double album from which they were lifted ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ also stood atop the charts for a week. ‘Relax’ also reached #10 in the U.S. (at the second attempt), and the same three single all went top 5 in Australia. In reaching #1 in the U.K. with their first three singles, Frankie Goes To Hollywood equalled the record set by Gerry & The Pacemakers in 1964.

It was a case of ‘top that’ for singer Holly Johnson (born William Johnson), backing vocalist Paul Rutherford, guitarist Nasher Nash, bassist Mark O’Toole and drummer Peter Gill, and sadly when they released their follow up album ‘Liverpool’ in 1986, it was in relative terms a huge flop (it still reached #5 in the U.K.). The closest thing to a major hit single from the album was ‘Rage Hard’ (UK#4). But neither album nor single reached the U.S. or Australian top 40. Within 12 months Frankie Goes To Hollywood had succumbed to internal and contractual problems and went their separate ways.

Vocalist Holly Johnson then spent the next two years in legal dispute with record label ZTT. Eventually Johnson was able to break free of his previous ‘Frankie’ contractual restrictions, and in 1989 he released his debut solo album ‘Blast’. The British public welcomed the returned of Holly Johnson, sending his album to #1. The first two singles were also received well. ‘Love Train’ (featuring Brian May on guitar) was a reworking of the old O’Jays hit and reached UK#4 (US#65, OZ#33), whilst ‘Americanos’ matched the UK#4 spot but missed the mark in the U.S. and Australia (#92). ‘Americanos’ was a playful take on the cultural vagaries of American society and was accompanied by a clever promo clip.

Holly Johnson released a follow up album with 1991’s ‘Dreams That Money Can’t Buy’ but it sold poorly. Johnson soon after was diagnosed with HIV and largely retreated from the recording biz. He published an autobiography in 1994 entitled ‘A Bone In My Flute’, and continued his work as an artistic painter. After forming his own recording label ‘Pleasuredome’ in 1999, Johnson released a third LP ‘Soulstream’. I can recall seeing a VH1 ‘Bands Reunited’ special from circa 2003 that focussed on Frankie Goes To Hollywood. They did manage to get all the former bandmates in the same room together, including Holly Johnson, but it was Johnson he decided not to go ahead with a concert reunion performance. Probably a good thing given almost twenty years had past and it would have a been a long shot to have recaptured that original ‘Frankie’ energy and verve. Whatever the issues were with the band’s protracted and messy demise, Frankie Goes To Hollywood shone as bright as any pop/rock act could, albeit only briefly - they were the 80s pop supernova.

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