Frankie Goes to Hollywood

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Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Frankie Goes to Hollywood in 1985. From front: Paul Rutherford, Holly Johnson, Brian Nash, Peter Gill and Dave Lawton
Background information
OriginLiverpool, England
Genres
Years active
  • 1980–1987
  • 2004–2007
  • 2023–present
Labels
Members
Past members
Websitefrankiesay.com

Frankie Goes to Hollywood are an English pop band that formed in Liverpool in 1980. They comprise Holly Johnson (vocals), Paul Rutherford (backing vocals), Mark O'Toole (bass), Brian Nash (guitar) and Peter Gill (drums).

Frankie Goes to Hollywood signed to ZTT Records in 1983. Their debut album, Welcome to the Pleasuredome (1984), produced by Trevor Horn, achieved advance sales of more than a million, and their first three singles, "Relax", "Two Tribes" and "The Power of Love", reached number one on the UK Singles Chart. Their provocative sexual themes led them to be briefly banned by the BBC, drawing further publicity. In 2014, the music journalist Paul Lester wrote that "no band has dominated a 12-month period like Frankie ruled 1984".[6]

Johnson, Gill and O'Toole received the 1984 Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically for "Two Tribes". In 1985, Frankie Goes to Hollywood won the Brit Award for British Breakthrough Act and were nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards and MTV Video Music Awards.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood's second album, Liverpool (1986), sold fewer copies, and they disbanded acrimoniously in 1987. Johnson successfully sued ZTT to leave his contract and began a solo career. He declined invitations to reunite and tried to block the band from using the name. In 2004, Frankie Goes to Hollywood reunited without Johnson and Nash to perform at a Prince's Trust charity concert, with Ryan Molloy on vocals, and held a tour in 2005. The band reunited with Johnson and Nash for the first time since 1987 to perform for the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest.

History[edit]

1980–1982: formation[edit]

Frankie Goes to Hollywood formed in Liverpool in 1980.[7] The lead singer, Holly Johnson, had previously played in Big in Japan and had released some unsuccessful solo singles. He formed the first version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood with local musicians Phil Hurst (drums), Ambrose (bass), Steve Lovell (guitar), but the group soon split.[8] The band's name comes from an advertisement announcing the first film by Frank Sinatra.[9]

In 1982, Johnson restarted the group with Peter Gill (drums) and the brothers Mark (bass) and Jed O'Toole (guitar). Jed left before 1983, replaced by his cousin, Brian Nash.[8] Within the band, O'Toole, Nash and Gill constituted a group known as the Lads.[6] Frankie Goes to Hollywood played their first gig at a Liverpool pub, Pickwick's, where they recruited the dancer and backing singer Paul Rutherford.[8][10]

Nash said the band admired the Liverpool groups Echo & the Bunnymen, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and the Teardrop Explodes: "That was music from Liverpool but from our generation. You would see these people walking around town, you'd see Ian McCulloch getting on the bus. I never saw any of the Beatles on the bus."[11]

1983–1984: "Relax", "Two Tribes" and success[edit]

Trevor Horn, pictured in 1984 wearing a Frankie Goes to Hollywood shirt, signed the band to ZTT and produced their first album.

In February 1983, Frankie Goes to Hollywood performed on the Channel 4 show The Tube, dressed in fetish wear. That May, they became the first act signed by ZTT Records, a new record label co-founded by the producer Trevor Horn.[6][8] Horn admired the "dangerous" sexuality of their music.[6] "Relax" was selected as their first single. After recording several versions, Horn created a dramatically different arrangement without the band, using electronic instruments such as a drum machine and the Fairlight, an early sampling synthesiser.[12]

"Relax" was released in October 1983, backed by a music video set in an S&M club.[13] Sound on Sound described it as a "hi-NRG brand of dance-synth-pop" that "broke new sonic ground, while epitomising '80s excess in all its garish, overblown glory".[14] Initial sales were slow, but rose after the band appeared on the BBC series Top of the Pops the following January.[6] Soon after, the BBC banned "Relax" from its radio and television broadcasts, deeming it obscene. The ban created publicity, associating Frankie Goes to Hollywood with youth rebellion. Within two weeks, "Relax" reached number one on the UK Singles Chart and stayed there for four weeks, and the BBC was forced to reverse its ban.[15] "Relax" won the 1985 Brit Award for Best British Single.[16]

One of the ZTT co-founders, Paul Morley, devised a promotional campaign involving "advertising-based slogans, playful propaganda and pseudo-philosophy".[17] This included a line of T-shirts inspired by shirts created by Katharine Hamnett, bearing slogans such as "Frankie say relax" and "Frankie say arm the unemployed".[9][18] Morley said he wanted to challenge the idea of music merchandise, asking: "Why did it have to have a face on it, couldn't it be a walking billboard?"[19] The shirts quickly became popular, and Music Week reported in July 1984 that they were outselling the singles in some stores.[9][20] By the end of the year, more than 250,000 T-shirts had been sold.[21]

Frankie Goes to Hollywood appeared in the 1984 thriller Body Double by Brian De Palma.[17] In June, Frankie Goes to Hollywood released their second single, "Two Tribes", featuring an "annihilating" bassline and lyrics about the Cold War.[6] Its music video, depicting a fight between Ronald Reagan and Konstantin Chernenko, was played extensively on MTV.[17] The single spent nine weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart.[22] That August, "Relax" climbed the chart to number two, marking the first time the top two positions had been held by a single act since the Beatles in January 1968.[6]

1984–1985: Welcome to the Pleasuredome[edit]

Frankie Goes to Hollywood released their debut album, Welcome to the Pleasuredome, featuring "Relax" and "Two Tribes", in October 1984.[23] It had advance sales of a million copies.[6] A third single, the ballad "The Power of Love", was released in November and reached number one in December.[citation needed] The group became the second in the history of the UK charts to reach number one with their first three singles, after another Liverpool band, Gerry and the Pacemakers, in the 1960s. This record remained unbeaten until the Spice Girls achieved a six-single streak in 1996–1997.[citation needed] Writing in the Guardian in 2014, Paul Lester wrote that "no band has dominated a 12-month period like Frankie ruled 1984".[6] As of 2014, "Relax" and "Two Tribes" were the sixth and 22nd-bestselling singles in UK history.[6]

By the end of the 1984, during sell-out shows in Los Angeles and promotional touring in the United States, Johnson had distanced himself from the band, spending time with his new boyfriend, Wolfgang Kuhle.[10] In 1985, Frankie Goes to Hollywood won the Brit Award for British Breakthrough Act. In the US, where they were associated with the Second British Invasion, they received nominations for Best New Artist at the 27th Annual Grammy Awards and the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards.[24][25] Their fourth single, "Welcome to the Pleasuredome", was released in March 1985, and reached number two.[6]

Ocean Software published a Frankie Goes to Hollywood game for the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum in 1985. The player completes a series of minigames to solve a murder mystery, featuring references to the band's lyrics, videos and artwork.[26]

1985–1986: Liverpool and decline[edit]

In 1985, Frankie Goes to Hollywood left the UK for a year for tax purposes and wrote songs for their second album in Ireland.[27] The media reported that disputes had formed within the band.[27] They began recording their second album, Liverpool, in Wisseloord Studios, near Amsterdam, in November 1985. Between March and June 1986, they worked in ZTT's studio Sarm West in London. The album was produced by the ZTT engineer Stephen Lipson; Horn took over mixing in its final stages.[27]

Johnson was distant from the band during the sessions and was unhappy about the album's focus on rock over dance.[27] Jill Sinclair, Horn's wife and one of the ZTT founders, later alleged that Johnson had been uncooperative and absent for most of the sessions.[27] According to Nash, the Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon declined an invitation to replace Johnson. Pete Wylie was also approached, but Johnson remained with the band and completed Liverpool.[28]

In August 1986, the first single from Liverpool, "Rage Hard", was released, reaching number 4 in the UK.[citation needed] Liverpool was released in October 1986 and reached UK No. 5. It received poor reviews and chart returns declined rapidly with the follow-up singles "Warriors of the Wasteland" (No. 19) and "Watching the Wildlife" (No. 28).[citation needed] Horn spent three months creating remixes of "Watching the Wildlife" and "Warriors of the Wasteland" for the single releases, spending an estimated £50,000.[27] By March 1988, Liverpool had sold around 800,000 copies.[27]

1987–1988: disbandment and lawsuit[edit]

During the Liverpool tour, the relationship between Johnson and the rest of the band deteriorated.[29] Before a concert at Wembley Arena on 12-13 January, a fight broke out backstage between Johnson and O'Toole.[30][31] Johnson said that ZTT had encouraged the rift as a means of divide and rule,[27] and said that Horn had once suggested Johnson and Rutherford fire the other members and work as a duo.[27] Sinclair instead blamed Johnson's manager and boyfriend, Kuhle, whom she said was a negative influence and had triggered resentment in the band when Johnson brought him on tour.[27][32] Nash recalled: "During the last tour, everybody knew it would end, as the relationship between Holly and the rest of us was so strained. He didn't want to be in a band situation anymore. Everybody was fed up with the whole thing."[29] Their last live concert was on 1 March at Rotterdam Ahoy.[8]

On July 23, 1987, Johnson told ZTT that he planned to leave and sign to MCA Records. ZTT filed an injunction to prevent this, as their record contract specified that any member who left the band would remain contracted to ZTT.[32] In court, ZTT argued that the success of Frankie Goes to Hollywood was a result of ZTT's production and marketing and that Johnson had been disruptive and uncooperative. Johnson's team argued that ZTT had been financially irresponsible when recording Liverpool, and that their contract constituted an unreasonable restraint of trade.[32] In 1988, the High Court found in Johnson's favour and the band members were released from their contract.[27] Horn later wrote that his decision to pursue the lawsuit had been "stupid".[30]

Soon after the breakup, Nash, O'Toole and Gill attempted to re-form Frankie Goes to Hollywood with the singer Grant Boult.[29] According to Nash, they recorded songs in a deal with London Records.[10] Johnson blocked the project, saying it would devalue their achievements.[29]

1989–present: solo projects[edit]

Holly Johnson performing solo in 2014

Johnson began a solo career with MCA, and released a number-one album, Blast, in 1989.[33] His second solo album, Dreams That Money Can't Buy, released in 1991, was unsuccessful. That year, Johnson was diagnosed with HIV and retreated from public life to focus on his health.[33] In 1994, he published an autobiography, A Bone in My Flute.[34] He has since released further albums and studied at the Royal College of Art.[33]

Nash returned to work as an electrician, and signed to Swanyard Records to record music with Boult as Low.[29] He later became an officiator of weddings and funerals and a tour guide of Liverpool's musical heritage.[35] He published a memoir, Nasher Says Relax, in 2012.[28] O'Toole moved to Los Angeles, where he wrote and demoed new music,[29] and later moved to Florida.[36] Gill toured as part of an Australian soap actor's band, and formed a music production company, Love Station, which released singles featuring vocalists including Lisa Hunt.[29]

Rutherford released a single, a cover of the Chic track "I Want Your Love", and an album, Oh World, in 1989, which were unsuccessful. He released another single, "That Moon", as Paul Rutherford with Pressure Zone in 1991, and worked as a stylist for bands. He appeared in the music videos for "Walking on Broken Glass" (1992) by Annie Lennox and "Give In to Me" (1993) by Michael Jackson.[29] He later moved to New Zealand.[36]

1998–2000: American impostor band[edit]

In 1998, a band using the name Frankie Goes to Hollywood began to tour the United States.[37] The band was led by an American using the stage name Davey Johnson, who claimed he was Holly Johnson's brother and had performed as an uncredited session musician on Welcome to the Pleasuredome.[37] The members of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Horn refuted both claims. O'Toole, who had been living in Florida, became aware of the band and warned concert promoters not to hire them.[37]

The Flock of Seagulls frontman Mike Score, who had been a Liverpool acquaintance of the members of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, removed the fraudulent band from his tour.[37] After Johnson contacted the trade magazine Pollstar to confirm that the act was unauthorised, they were dropped by a booking agent, but were booked by small clubs throughout the southern United States.[37] They continued to perform until at least September 2000, when a feature on the episode was published in Spin.[37] In 2000, ZTT released a Frankie Goes to Hollywood greatest-hits compilation, Maximum Joy, featuring remixes by acts including Apollo 440.[38]

2003–2007: reunion, performances with Ryan Molloy and trademark dispute[edit]

The band members reunited in Holloway, London, for a 2003 episode of the VH1 show Bands Reunited, but did not perform.[39] In an interview the following year for Uncut, Johnson said he had not wanted to perform with the band again and felt the episode was a "debacle".[40] In his 2012 memoir, Nash, who had also been uninterested in a reunion, described the VH1 episode as a "circus" that had tried to depict Johnson negatively.[10]

On 11 November 2004, Frankie Goes to Hollywood reunited without Johnson and Nash to perform at a Prince's Trust charity concert at Wembley Arena celebrating Horn's 25 years as a record producer.[41][42] Johnson and Nash declined to take part.[43] In his memoir, Nash wrote that he gave the band his blessing and attended the event.[10] Following open auditions held on 31 October in Leicester Square, London,[43] Ryan Molloy was selected as the new vocalist.[44] O'Toole's brother Jed, who had played in the band in the 1980s, replaced Nash.[45]

PopMatters wrote that the Wembley performance had "unstoppable 1984 pop glory" and "even strong detractors of the group would likely be won over by energy the band members radiate".[46] The Independent wrote that it "fell somewhat flat".[47] Writing in The Guardian, Alexis Petridis wrote that the show "ultimately underwhelms" and that the songs "were designed as studio-bound production extravaganzas, not live showstoppers".[48] Nash praised the performance and wrote that "Molloy did a great job filling Holly's shoes".[10] In his memoir, Horn wrote that Molloy "was a hell of a good frontman".[30]

The Wembley performance was followed by a series of concerts across Europe in 2005,[49][50][51] including at Northampton Balloon Festival,[52] and Big Gay Out in Finsbury Park, London.[53][54][55] In 2006, Molloy said he had written new songs for Frankie Goes to Hollywood.[51] However, the material went unreleased and a European tour was canceled.[52] The group remained active until 2007 using the name Forbidden Hollywood, as Johnson would not allow them to use the original name.[56]

In April 2004, Johnson attempted to register the name Frankie Goes to Hollywood as a trademark for his exclusive use, arguing that it was his intellectual property as he had used it for a previous band.[50][57] The other original four band members opposed the registration, and in 2007 it was blocked by a Intellectual Property Office trademark judge, who ruled that Johnson had acted in bad faith in an attempt to prevent the band performing without him.[50][57]

2011–2023: reissues, reunion with Johnson and biopic[edit]

In 2011, ZTT reissued Liverpool in an expanded edition, plus The Art of the 12", a compilation of tracks from ZTT artists including Frankie Goes to Hollywood.[58] Universal Music acquired the Frankie Goes to Hollywood back catalogue when it purchased ZTT in 2017.[59]

On 7 May 2023, the original members, including Johnson and Nash, reunited for a concert featuring multiple acts celebrating Liverpool music for the Eurovision Song Contest.[60] They performed one song, "Welcome to the Pleasuredome".[60] It was their first performance together since 1987.[35] The performance drew praise but disappointed those hoping for more songs.[60][61][62] The Telegraph gave it three out of five, writing that Johnson remained "a commanding presence" but that the short set was disappointing.[62] The BBC wrote: "Maybe one song is as much time as the five band members can bear to share a stage for—but at least they proved that they and their music can still sound compelling and fresh."[60]

On 10 May, Working Title Films announced it was developing a Frankie Goes to Hollywood biographical film, Relax, based on Johnson's memoir. It will be written and directed by Bernard Rose, the director of the first "Relax" music video, with Callum Scott Howells as Johnson.[63]

Style and legacy[edit]

Johnson and Rutherford are openly gay, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood made gay rights and sexuality a theme of their music and performances.[6] They were connected to a rise in gay culture in the 1980s British mainstream, alongside bands such as Bronski Beat.[17] In 2014, Morley reflected that Frankie Goes to Hollywood had combined the "exploratory gay energy" of Johnson and Rutherford with the "heterosexual scouse energy" of the other band members.[6]

As Frankie Goes to Hollywood rose in popularity, some outlets reported that they were a "manufactured" group controlled by ZTT. A 1984 article in the Washington Post described them as "a modern-day Monkees, a post-punk Village People sprung forth fully armed from the brow of junk culture".[17][29] As only Johnson performed on the studio version of "Relax", and the band did not tour during 1984 at the height of their popularity, rumours spread that they could not play their instruments.[14][64] Johnson said the media had undermined them and underestimated their contributions to their records.[29] Horn said later that the British music media often misunderstood the processes involved in studio recording. He said the band were "better than people gave them credit for", and cited "The Power of Love", "Born to Run" and "Krisco Kisses" as examples of their playing on Welcome to the Pleasuredome.[14][64]

In 2014, the music journalist Paul Lester wrote that although Frankie Goes to Hollywood were "arguably the last great British pop sensation", they were rarely cited as an influence on other artists. He wrote that this was because "it would be impossible to recreate what they did".[6] Morley observed that despite having released two of most successful records of the 1980s, they had become "slightly lost ... The fact that something was so successful yet is part of a shadowy history is ultimate proof that it was special. They were like some contorted, profound novelty band."[6] However, he argued that they had changed how commercial pop music was marketed, with more artistic and "beautiful" packaging and music videos.[6]

Personnel[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Awards Work Category Result
1984 Ivor Novello Awards "Two Tribes" Best Song Musically And Lyrically Won
NME Awards Promo Video Won
Welcome to the Pleasuredome Best Dressed Sleeve Won
"Relax" Best Single Won
1985 Ivor Novello Awards Best Contemporary Song Nominated
Brit Awards Best British Single Won
Themselves Best British Newcomer Won
Best British Group Nominated
Welcome to the Pleasuredome Best British Album Nominated
"Two Tribes" Best British Single Nominated
MTV Video Music Awards Best New Artist Nominated
Best Concept Video Nominated
Pollstar Concert Industry Awards Themselves Which Artist is Most Likely to Successfully Headline Arenas for the First time in 1985? Nominated
1986 Tour Small Hall/Club Tour of the Year Nominated
2010 Q Awards "Relax" Classic Song Won

Discography[edit]

Concert tours[edit]

  • English Tour (1983)
  • North American-English "Welcome To The Pleasuredome" Tour (1984)
  • British-European-North American-Japanese Tour (1985)
  • British-European "Liverpool" Tour (1987)
  • European-British "Reunion" Tour (2005)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Robbins, Ira. "Frankie Goes to Hollywood". Trouser Press. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  2. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2007). Liverpool – Wondrous Place: From the Cavern to the Capital of Culture. Virgin Books. p. 198. ISBN 978-0-75351-269-2.
  3. ^ Harvel, Jess. "Now That's What I Call New Pop!". Pitchfork Media. 12 September 2005.
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  5. ^ Gaslin, Glenn; Porter, Rick (1998). The Complete, Cross-referenced Guide to the Baby Buster Generation's Collective Unconscious. Boulevard Books. p. 72. ISBN 978-1-57297-335-0.
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  11. ^ Upchuck, Matt (19 June 2017). "Brian Nash Interview". Brighton Source. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  12. ^ Gilbert, Ben (2 August 2021). "How we made: Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  13. ^ "How '80s LGBTQ band Bronski Beat's haunting 'Smalltown Boy' made a difference: 'It was very bold'". www.yahoo.com. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
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  30. ^ a b c Horn, Trevor (13 October 2022). Adventures in Modern Recording: From ABC to ZTT (first ed.). Nine Eight Books. ISBN 9781788706032. It was a stupid decision - stupid because it was enormously costly and took two years to resolve, and stupid because history shows that, in nine out of ten cases, the artist wins, something that MCA, Holly's new label, must have appreciated because they funded his court case to the tune of £150,000.
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  34. ^ McLean, Craig (21 September 2014). "Holly Johnson: 'I was never very good at sucking up – it's just not my style'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
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  49. ^ Ross, Michael (24 July 2005). "Music Choice". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 30 October 2023.
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  51. ^ a b "Ryan the hot Rod". The Northern Echo. 27 May 2006. Retrieved 24 October 2023.
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  53. ^ Paphides, Peter (23 July 2005). "Top five gigs nationwide". The Times. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  54. ^ "Have a Big Gay Out in Finsbury Park". Resident Advisor. 11 July 2005. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  55. ^ Cohen, Benjamin (10 October 2005). "Terrorist Threat Does Not Hamper Big Gay Out". PinkNews. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
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  61. ^ Vinter, Robyn (8 May 2023). "Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Eurovision reunion leaves fans elated – and confused". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  62. ^ a b Hall, James (8 May 2023). "Liverpool's Big Eurovision Welcome: a colourful spectacle let down by Frankie Goes to Hollywood". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  63. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (10 May 2023). "Frankie Goes To Hollywood Biopic 'Relax' In The Works With 'It's A Sin' Star Callum Scott Howells, Working Title & Independent Entertainment — Cannes Market". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  64. ^ a b Petridis, Alexis (24 October 2022). "'Grace Jones was in a state': legendary producer Trevor Horn relives his mega-hits". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 October 2023.

External links[edit]