We all think we know Frankie Goes to Hollywood, don’t we? I mean, we think we know that they were, at best, an average, gender-bending post new wave band out of Liverpool who came to the attention of Trevor Horn and Paul Morley, who then went on to strip away pretty much everything bar Holly Johnson’s snarling, soaring vocals and Paul Rutherford’s silky but infrequent backing vocal embellishments and fashioned several pop epics in the form of ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’ & ‘The Power of Love’. An image that is, be it intentional or not, conveyed with some brutality on the cover of this album. There is Holly, arms aloft, mouth open wide, his right fist seemingly giving Brian Nash, someone who has, allegedly, been quite vocal in recent years about his opposition to the slew of Frankie compilations and re-releases including the recent ‘SexMix’ hiccup, a swift, scouse uppercut. Paul, sits below Holly, quiet and contemplative whilst ‘The Lads’ (as they were affectionately known back in the day), Peter Gill, Nash & Mark O’Toole, stand behind and to the right of the vocal protagonists, in image as they were in the studio, in the shadows.
The genius of Morley’s marketing of Frankie was that he never really side-stepped the fact that Frankie had been fashioned to the ZTT requirements. He was quite blatant about who and what Frankie were. And yet, we all happily accepted it. And still do. Certainly, in this day and age of conveyer belt, manufactured pop music, where entire labels rely on the next thing that makes pre-pubescent girls throw their parents cash their way, it is nothing new nor unheard of. Producers and labels have, since the dawn of pop, sought out pretty boys or girls, or something that captures the youthful zeitgeist, so that they may push them out to us like some musical representation of our times and our struggles as teenagers.
And because we knew the deal, we accepted it and didn’t let it stand in our way of the enjoyment of what was being offered. We bought every remix, every book or magazine or computer game. And now, some 28 years on, we still lap up every offering. Well, I know I do, and judging by the way these ZTT/Salvo compilations and re-issues are being produced, so do many others.
This latest offering follows in the footsteps of the last Propaganda release, ‘Noise & Girls Come Out to Play’, which was offered, just like this disc, as a sampler by way of an introduction to the band, but also containing a few little gems that will encourage us completists to purchase. But do we need another Frankie compilation? I suppose the fact that the new John Lewis Xmas advert here in the UK features a (in my opinion, weak) version of ‘The Power of Love’ will mean renewed interest in FGTH, and the price of £5.99 makes it a cute little stocking filler. But I think it has something more going for it.
What we have here are all the singles, a few album favourites, a couple of 12″ mixes and some nice tit bits, including the rather sweet and simple opening track, the piano instrumental of the opening of Two Tribes which emphasises the Russian musical inspiration behind the main theme of the song. Whilst there isn’t anything mind-blowingly rare on here, what makes this a better compilation than 2009’s ‘Frankie Say Greatest’ compilation is that is feels like it was compiled by an aficionado and not a marketing guy or an accountant. The choice of tracks, the choice of versions and the track programming scream “I love Frankie” and not “I want to milk this fucker for all it’s worth”. On the previous compilation, there were present day remixes of certain tracks. I, for one, deplore this. I don’t want my classic pop smothered in heavy four to the floor kicks and boom tish hi-hats. I do not want stuttering or machine gun-like drum rolls or snatches of vocals repeated ad infinitum. Trevor Horn crafted near perfection with Frankie. The production values and ideals inspired a generation and changed the course of pop music production as a whole. If you want to shit all over his lovingly crafted work, keep them on a separate album. That way, I can avoid buying it.
As ever, all of the praise for the assembling of this compilation goes to ZTT archivist and passionate fan of all things SPZ, ZTT label manager Ian Peel. I am so glad that a like-minded individual such as he has been the person to put these things together. He gets it. He understands what ZTT was about, what Morley meant, what Trevor created. And that makes a huge difference in the quality of work shown here. As far as the packaging goes, it is very similar to that used for the Propaganda “Noise & Girls…” release. That is, the disc comes in a jewel case, with a minimal booklet, all of which is housed in a nice cardboard sleeve. In terms of liner notes, these are again minimal, with credits and track-listings but none of the usual lovely Morley-esque historical meanderings we are used to with the more substantial releases in ZTT’s Element series.
However, there is one thing that I felt I had to mention.
If Frankie were ever to reconvene, in their original line up (which has been attempted but never bore much fruit), would I go see them live? Probably not. Why? Well, I’ve seen them perform live on TV, especially back in the day, and they never really were that great. I mean, they held a tune and a beat (just) but were more like a very enthusiastic pub band rather than the, albeit brief, global superstars they once were. Also, I’ve seen Messers Horn, Lipson, et al, perform instrumental versions of songs like ‘Two Tribes’ and if we are completely honest, seeing those people play those songs is closer to seeing the original performers than seeing Frankie do them, albeit without the amazing voice of Holly Johnson.
And so, when I saw that this compilation featured a live track I was pleasantly, yet somehow anxiously, surprised. I hoped that Ian had managed to find a performance where they had done themselves credit. And as I listened, I thought he had, but very soon my suspicions started to rise. The song, their cover of Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’, sounded just like the album version from ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’ but with some added ambient reverb to give the effect of it being played live in a TV studio, as this version was billed as being a recording from epic Channel 4 pop show of the day, ‘The Tube‘. It opened with Holly addressing the audience, saying ‘Hello Newcastle’ and claiming that this track went down well in America. The more I listened, the more I thought how faithful this was to the original. The timing, the vocal nuances and accuracy, the metronomically perfect instrumental track. It seemed like Holly had pulled out a perfect rendition, that Mark had been practicing the bass solo for years and that Peter ‘Ped’ Gill had taken lessons from the E Street Band themselves. All of this ended in a typically resounding crescendo befitting the end of any live rock and roll performance. But it just didn’t sit right.
So, I investigated, knowing that I had seen a video on YouTube of this performance, and within seconds, I had found it. There was Holly, uttering the exact same words as heard on the CD. There was the count in and then the music started and it was at this point that I knew we’d been had. The version on the video was rough, raw and saw Holly ad-libbing and Mark almost but not quite nailing that frenetic bass part. Ped seemed to stray off the beat every now and again and, whilst it was a great, fun performance, it was not the track on the album. On further research, this track originally appeared on the ‘Zang Tuum Tumb Sampled’ release in 1985. So, this is the first time it has appeared on CD, something that Ian strives to do with all these releases, and something for which I, and all other Frankie/ZTT aficionados are eternally grateful for. But it looks like many other Frankie fans have picked up on this over the years, raising it in online forums, as is peoples wont nowadays, so this is hardly a controversial thing anymore, and I’m just happy to have the track on CD at last
Here, compare them for yourselves. First up the track as heard on the album…
And here’s the video of the performance on The Tube…
And you know what? I don’t even care! Like I said earlier, we knew what ZTT were up to. We accepted the fact that we were being offered a ‘product’, a caricature or a fantasy. And we loved it. And I still do. So, whilst it may have been cute to have some raw live Frankie, I love the way they’ve tricked us and that the laugh is on me, but also on them.
Frankie Said is out now, priced at £5.99 or thereabouts. There is also a Japan only version that offers up some extra tracks that haven’t been released over there, such as those featured on the ‘Art of the 12″‘compilations. The rest of us have had these tracks available for some time. I hope to have a review of this Japanese exclusive very soon. See the track listings below for more detail.
UK Edition (via Salvo/Union Square Music, cat. no. SALVOCD060):
1. Two Tribes (introduced via the piano of Anne Dudley)
2. The Power of Love
3. Relax (the last seven inches)
4. Two Tribes (we don’t want to die)
6. Welcome to the Pleasuredome (a remade world)
7. Ferry Cross The Mersey (and here I’ll stay)
8. Rage Hard
9. Watching the Wildlife
10. Born to Run (live on The Tube)
11. Warriors of the Wasteland (attack) seven inch
12. Kill the Pain
13. Maximum Joy
14. Two Tribes (annihilation) twelve inch
15. Relax (New York) twelve inch
16. The Power of Love (…best listened to by lovers)
Japan Edition (via ZTT Japan, cat. no. XECZ-1045-46):
Disc One, “the best of the best”
1. Two Tribes (introduced via the piano of Anne Dudley)
2. The Power Of Love (Extended, singlette version)
3. Relax (The Last Seven Inches)
4. Two Tribes (We Don’t Want To Die)
5. War (Coming out of Hiding)
6. Welcome To The Pleasuredome A Remade World
7. The Ballad of 32 (Mix 2
8. Rage Hard (Bob K Remix)
9. Watching the Wildlife
10. Born To Run (Live on The Tube)
11. Warriors of the Wasteland (7” Attack Mix)
12. Kill The Pain
13. For Heaven’s sake (Wisseloord session, March 1986)
14. Two Tribes (Hibakush-ah!)
15. Relax (Man Has a Sense for the Discovery of Beauty, Part One)
16. The Power Of Love (Best Listened To By Lovers)
Disc Two, “no rest for the best”
1. Two Tribes (Keep The Peace, intro)
2. Two Tribes (Keep The Peace)
3. Happy Hi! (All in the Body)
4. Get It On
5. Welcome To The Pleasuredome (How to Remake the World, Completely)
6. Happy Hi! (All in the Mind)
7. ‘zang tuum interlude’
8. Welcome to the Pleasuredome (Pleasure Fix)
9. The Only Star in Heaven (Star Fix)
10. ‘the diamond mine…’
11. Rage Hard (Vocal/Remix)
12. Every Kinda People
13. Do You Think I’m Sexy?
14. Watching the Wildlife (Movement 2)
15. Is Anybody Out There? (Movement 2)
16. ‘…the factory’