Chris Tobin remembers a wrongly-forgotten band that defined an incendiary era.
Margaret Thatcher’s passing would create opportunity for a rather strange indulgence to reminisce, for many leading toward an attempt to distort the past. This hiatus in history filled with untruths and singular inventions as if to rewrite the past erasing all evidence as if to indoctrinate and hoodwink a complete generation.
Did I really miss it all, or did it really happen –
For me as it is for many music becomes our common denominator, a true jogger of memories. Music does not lie; it does not deceive (Well if you discount Milli Vanilli), if anything it reinforces our own memories & our belief. Yes if truth be told it convinces us of how we were emotionally retarded and how as teens we raged against this world.
For all that the eighties “The Thatcher Years” would bring in terms of music and pop culture which would be at its fancy most majestic best there would be one year above all that would both define and defile this era – 1984.
This year would see the start of the miners’ strike against a backdrop of the highest unemployment figures since the Great Depression and introduce to the masses one of the most seminal bands of the 80’s – Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Raging and kicking 1984 would be dragged along on a wave of Frankie mania and a marketing machine the like of which has barely been witnessed since.
The country’s unemployed youth would find in Frankie an affinity, added to this mix the band would hail from Liverpool a city that more than any other would suffer at the hands of Mrs Thatcher and her government. With high unemployment and low investment, her government would be intent on cutting its ties with the city.
If any band knew the hardship of a non-working northern City existing through the countries derision and a dictatorial government with its autocratic ways that band would be Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
Holly Johnson would be Frankie’s stand-out charismatic front man. He would ooze his pop star persona through every pore. For all the hugely manufactured marketing that would surround Frankie, underneath would be a substance still unaccredited to the band – one of Britain’s most successful record selling bands ever.
It’s hard to believe now, or comprehend the impact that Frankie would have, the integral part they would play in the wind of change year that 1984 would become. The start of the decline in vinyl sales would begin on the back of multi-million selling records that the Frankie’s were responsible for, there would only be one way sales could go and that would be down – post Frankie.
Frankie’s first single Relax hit the number 1 spot in the charts, albeit on the back of a ban from the BBC who refused to play the track due to its sexually explicit lyrics. Normal service however was resumed on the Christmas Day transmission of Top of The Pops, the song suddenly deemed acceptable with turkey and the trimmings.
The publicity that ensued alongside the track being reproduced in many differing versions – and of course it must be said; it’s a damn good dance track – meant the single would go on to spend six weeks at the top of the charts selling an incredible 1.9 million since its release. It remains one of the top ten selling singles of all-time in the UK.
It would enable young people to stick two fingers up at an establishment that would tell them what they could & could not listen to – Everyone loved Frankie Goes To Hollywood in 1984, or so it seemed. Soon after Relax the band would release their “Anti-war” single Two Tribes once again courting a now usual controversy with a video depicting American & Russian leaders fighting in a wrestling pit – The public would once again lap it up and for 9 weeks Two Tribes would reign supreme at the head of the music charts.
Where punk had spitefully challenged its audience with bitter and vitriolic venom, Frankie would soothe its own audience pied piper like dancing and singing its spell upon young and impressionable fashionistas.
Everywhere you looked in the summer of 1984 you would stiffly be challenged to find anyone not wearing “Frankie Say’s” T-shirt
“Frankie Says Arm The Unemployed” “Frankie Says Relax” “Frankie Says Two Tribes” and so on a plethora of Frankie merchandise would flood the UK market as ZTT Frankie’s record label and paymasters would, in a very Thatcherite manner, as only the very best opportunists could – Fleece its fans and followers. Merchandise of a varied and limitless array would see Frankie continue to command the attention of the masses and its first album would be released in time for Christmas 1984, to boot it would be a more expensive double album – “Welcome To The Pleasuredome.”
The album would of course once again sell a million copies, but by now a once susceptible audience had begun to board a different train – As Thatcherism began to take a hold a British public had succumbed to her rhetoric of self-absorbance.
The importance of FGTH in a Thatcher driven 1980’s would seem lost in the passage of time.  The year of 1984 would assume its own importance on the political landscape. Frankie would govern the mood of Britain’s youth and its cocky rage against ambitious middle-class renaissance. The YTS riddled youth would begin to spend its government assisted wage on vinyl and threads, as it drove the economy once again toward a collision course -Made In Britain.
As quickly as The Frankies had been rocketed to prominence and into the hearts and minds of a British youth exasperated with the early Thatcher years, they would fade away. With the band itself capitulating under the infighting & a public becoming reticent to what Frankie had to say – One of the eighties most important bands would like many before them disappear as quickly as they would sell a million records, however its legacy remains & its importance within the eighties cultural revolution remains solid.
For all the talk and historical reminiscences; Thatcher and her Falklands war, Arthur Scargill and his miners, marches and the masses of unemployed, added to this rioting in its streets – Britain of the 1980’s cannot truly be represented without Holly Johnson and his band of merry Frankies.
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