Controversy, Frankie Says and The Music of 1984

Last week I wrote about Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers, and how they were the first ever band to reach No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart with their first three releases. Roll forward 21 years and the next band to achieve the same feat also came from Liverpool – Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

Back in 1963, Gerry and the Pacemakers had the good fortune of being managed by Brian Epstein who in turn took the band south to work with record producer George Martin at EMI. It is easy to forget now that Gerry and his band were the ones that started off more successfully than The Beatles, and the first single they released had originally been planned as a Beatles record. The year 1963 belonged to them with How Do You Do It? then I Like It and finally You’ll Never Walk Alone all reaching the top spot.

gerry

It is hard now to believe how quickly things had moved on by 1984. Frankie Goes To Hollywood didn’t make simple, twee pop songs – Their output was overtly sexual and controversial. That was 32 years ago and I don’t think a UK band has caused such a furore in the mainstream media since. A year full of outrageous pop music, but one that ironically ended with the biggest charity single ever – Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?

frankie2

I mentioned George Martin earlier as I have come to realise late in life, that most of the records I have enjoyed over the years would never have come about if not for a team of very clever people working behind the scenes. Frankie Goes To Hollywood had producer Trevor Horn as Team Leader as well as NME jouralist Paul Morley (co-founder of their record label). The videos were directed by the masters of that new medium, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, and of course the most important person in the mix of all – Mike Read, the Radio 1 DJ who was so shocked by the lyrics to their first release Relax, that it was banned. Nothing sells records like a bit of controversy so needless to say it went straight to the No. 1 spot and stayed there for five weeks! Despite it being banned I remember hearing it all the time in early 1984. I probably wouldn’t even have taken much heed of the lyrics if it hadn’t been banned because the record’s appeal was mainly down to its thumping bassline, dramatic vocals and big production values. Yes, Frankie were the band of the moment. There were even T-shirts to prove it.

The team carried on unabashed, releasing two more records, first in the summer and then just before Christmas. This time the topics to cause controversy were not sex, but politics and religion. The threat of nuclear war was a very real one in 1984 and we had been bombarded by films and mini-series on the horror of it all. Two Tribes was a massive and opulent recording, drawing on all of Trevor Horn’s skills as a producer. It had the voice of Patrick Allen from his Protect and Survive public information films, the air-attack warning siren, American funk, Russian classical, Holly Johnson’s powerful vocals and again that thumping bassline. A wall of sound that stayed at No. 1 for nine weeks.

Their third release in 1984 was The Power of Love, not actually a Christmas song at all but released at that time of year so was married up with a nativity-style video, courtesy of Messers Godley and Creme. Again it reached the No. 1 spot which cemented their position as the most successful band of the year. After that they kind of dropped out of the limelight due to the usual infighting between band members and the departure of Holly Johnson. For one year however, they were the front men for an amazing team of people who had pulled all their skills together, and seemed to know exactly how to make hit records. This has happened before and will happen again – The sad thing is that when the band or artist at “front of house” start to believe their own press, they part company with those that “made” them and then the magic ends.

The Power of Love by Frankie Goes To Hollywood:

As for my memories of 1984, I was in my early twenties and doing a lot of partying with my friends and flatmates. I was enjoying the music of the day whilst out socialising, but not thinking about any of it too deeply. Also, when you are young you are not really shocked by much and you kind of enjoy when the generation in authority get uptight and indignent about stuff – We were not parents yet so didn’t have to care about the moral welfare of our offspring and our adult lives had just begun so we couldn’t (or didn’t want to) compare with “how things used to be”.

So, another Liverpool band that dominated one single year in the charts then pretty much bowed out. I was recently pleasantly surprised however, to hear a new song by Holly Johnson called Ascension, from the movie Eddie the Eagle. We are only a week away from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest and it struck me that this would have been an amazing entry. He still has those great vocals, and a cheeky Liverpudlian smile!

Two Tribes Lyrics
(Song by Holly Johnson/Peter Gill/Mark O’Toole)

The air attack warning sounds like.
This is the sound.
When you hear the air attack warning, You and your family must take cover

Love’s gone, oh

When two tribes go to war
One is all that you can score
(Score no more, score no more)
When two tribes go to war
One is all that you can score
(Workin’ for the black mask)

Comrad number one
A born again poor man’s son
(Poor man’s son)
On the air America
I modeled shirts for Van Heusen
(Workin’ for the black mask)

Switch up your shield
Switch up and feel
I’m walkin’ out, lover hey
I’m givin’ you back a good time
I’m shippin’ out, out
I’m workin’ for the black mask

Tell the world that you’re winning
Nothin’ life, nothin’ life

Listen to the voice sayin’ follow me (x2)

When two tribes go to war
One is all that you can score
When two tribes go to war
One is all that you can score

You’ve got two tribes
(We got to part, we got to part)
Somethin’ this good died

(Spoken: Are we living in a land where sex and
Horror are the new gods?)

When two tribes go to war
One point is all that you can score

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was recorded for the film of the same name and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might finally work out the answer to his question, "What's it all about?"

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