Remember those great 80s T-shirts that read, “Frankie Say RELAX”? Honestly, I never owned one, though I must admit I spent the summer of 1984 scouring the stores of Muncie and Indianapolis searching for such a T-shirt. That T-shirt and the ones that read “Frankie Say War Hide Yourself” were brilliant pieces of the hype machine behind an up-and-coming band from Liverpool called Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Those Frankie T-shirts were parodied in Wham!’s video for their U.S. breakthrough hit “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” when the people in the background were wearing those “Choose Life” T-shirts. Then the flood gates burst open with all kinds of T-shirts based on those initial Frankie tees.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood came to my attention in the winter of 1983 through their brilliant debut single “Relax”. At the time, I was doing my record store excavations for the newest dance songs for my party mixes, when a guy at the used record store in the “Village” near the Ball State campus introduced me to Frankie. He put this single on his turntable and turned the knob to “11” (Spinal Tap was still a few months from being big on campus). To be honest, the energy of the use of 80s musical trappings of synthesizers, computers and drum machines blew me away. As the employee and I discussed the single, he informed me that the band was the studio concoction of former Buggles/Yes lead singer-turned Art of Noise/Yes’s 90210 producer Trevor Horn. I was told this band was HUGE in the UK, based solely on the hype machine behind this single and the aforementioned T-shirts. In my mind, “Relax” was the sound of something new and exciting, so I bought the single.
I then debuted the song while DJ-ing a party that very weekend to an extremely enthusiastic crowd. It may have been the song of the night according to the crowd’s reaction, even beating out reactions to Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Gap Band, “Atomic Dog” & the rap trilogy of “Planet Rock”, “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Message”. I actually had a hot, new single that was relatively unknown on campus.
A few months later, my record store connection hooked me up with the 12-inch single of Frankie’s second single “Two Tribes”. That song took the energy of “Relax” and replaced it’s sexually based lyrics with those about the cold war tensions being felt at the time between the US and the old USSR. Of course, that song ripped up the dance floor as well. Now, I owned two singles from this mysterious new band from England that had yet to release an album.
As 1984 was ending, finally, Frankie Goes To Hollywood released their debut album, Welcome to the Pleasuredome. Now, this album had expanded to a double album, which is very rare for a debut album. By the time the album was released, people were tired of all of those damned T-shirts and critics and music journalists began a backlash to the band. It seemed as though this album was doomed from the start. But, I am here to tell you that this is a perfect album to place in a time capsule to represent all of the “hot” musical ideas being hatched and thrust upon our listening ears as 1984 turned into 1985. Now, nearly 33 years later, I am ready to say that this might be a forgotten classic of the 80s.
First off, the album’s sides are not labeled 1, 2, 3 and 4 but F, G, T, and H, to further jump into the hype. Next, the sound of that dance/rock fusion you heard on the first two singles were emphasized throughout the album. Plus, the band took major chances. First, they successfully updated the great Motown hit “War” in their own unique manner, utilizing sampled speeches from Ronald Reagan to drive home that we could very well be on the brink of war. The other remake they attempted was Bruce Springsteen’s classic “Born to Run”. Sorry, fellas, but that song belongs to the Boss and no one else. But, even the attempt of hijacking that song makes the album that much more daring. To Frankie, there were NO rock & roll sacred cows that were not ready to be smashed and co-opted into a new sound.
This album is like prog rock had been taken to a disco and given Ecstasy, which released the inner dance versions of rock. The whole concept would have never been conceivable if punk had not happened. The whole thing reeks of a punk attitude being applied to this whole dance thing.
Perhaps the biggest statement made by this album was that gay men could rock as hard through a disco vision as any heterosexual hair metal man out there dressing like a girl. The other thing is that this type of album could have only been produced in the UK, since the Brits have always kept pop music in its proper place while maintaining a healthy reverence for the music.
Now, is Welcome to the Pleasuredome a perfect album? No. But, with hindsight being 20/20, it is a wonderful album of many chances taken with most of them hitting the target dead center.
As the 80s progressed, Frankie Goes To Hollywood continued to release albums that appealed only to people who enjoyed alternative music. But, for a magic moment in the time from 1983 through 1985, Frankie Goes To Hollywood gave us some of the most exciting music this side of Prince. Although the band is not RRHOF-worthy, this album is worthy of being mentioned as one of the greatest albums of the 80s that contained two of the greatest singles of the decade in “Relax” and “Two Tribes”. Maybe, we need a T-shirt that reads, “Remember Frankie”.