I recall the day well. It was October 1984 and at lunchtime, a girl whose name escapes me now, returned from the town centre, back into the 4th Year common room at high school. In a Woolworths bag was a copy of the new Frankie Goes To Hollywood album, “Welcome To The Pleasuredome”. We all huddled around as she withdrew it from the bag and we marvelled at it’s pristine white cover that contain weird, Picasso-esque paintings by Lo Cole of things that looked like animals entering the glans of a giant phallus! The front picture of the band, bodies askew and in various hues, was instantly recognisable.
I don’t think many of us had even experienced a double album before. Some of us, myself included, had believed that the double album was the reserve of well established artists, already on to their 6th or 7th album, not some excessively hyped bunch of Liverpudlian upstarts with a massively produced sound and a penchant for leather and fetish wear.
The girl moved to the record player that we had been allowed to have and placed Side One on the deck and applied the needle to the record. None of us really knew what to expect. We’d already heard Relax & Two Tribes in all their glory, with surfeit of mixes and versions. But this band, and the hype behind them so masterfully conducted by the legend that is Paul Morley, had us on tenter hooks. And then it started….
The opera singers voice, followed by massive chords and gongs, like some other worldly ceremonial announcement of arrival…. then Holly speaking the words, “The world is my oyster….” followed by his maniacal laugh and a chord reminiscent of Relax….. then a plucked acoustic guitar and more operatic vocals…. and a bell like melody… more Holly and the extended “Yeeeeeeaaaahhh” from Two Tribes… and then, emerging from track two, the sounds of a jungle, vocoded vocals, Holly singing the first line of Ferry Across The Mersey…… the flute….. more animal sounds and ambience (recorded by dangling a microphone out of a Sarm West Studio window, as legend would have it), more synth, more vocoded vocals….. welcoming us to the Pleasuredome…. and then, BANG…. into the funky intro of the title track.
If the term had been as popular back then as it is now, we’d have all gone, “What the fuck?????”
Some of us had appeared to have been baffled, others not bothered, and those like me, utterly transfixed at this sonic delight appearing before us. As the titular track grooved on, building in the most awesome production, feet started tapping, hips and shoulders swaying and we all ended up ensnared. The spellbinding combination of the sound, the image and the style working it’s intended magic on us teenagers. If we weren’t already sold, this pushed the rest over the edge.
And so the album went on…. Relax, War, Two Tribes…. all there, but in new versions… more remixes to complement the already burgeoning collection of 12″ variations. Tracks interspersed with clever, witty segues, Chris Barrie doing his “Prince Charles”, babbling on about orgasms. And then Side Two, with it’s covers of Bruce Springsteen and Dionne Warwick, the Neo Synth Funk of Wish The Lads Were Here, into the sexual Ballad of 32. Krisco Kisses, Black Night White Light & The Only Star In Heaven being the first time we had heard successive new compositions from the band/production team. And then the grand finale of The Power Of Love. It’s sumptuous textures and sweeping vocals were divine.
And then it was over. Such a journey. And when you went back for a repeat play, it felt like it was the first time all over again.
Then there was the artwork. Images punctuated by cryptic, arty quotes. None of us really knew what Morley was on about, but it made us feel intellectual and cool.
It may not be considered as a classic album. It’s not held in great esteem alongside some of the great albums of the 20th century, but for me it is worthy of inclusion into those ranks. It was the culmination of catchy pop songs, superb Trevor Horn production, brilliant marketing and the energy of five young lads from Liverpool. The boys loved the lads, the girls loved the lads. Holly Johnson was this quirky little guy, full of style, audacious attitude and a great, unique voice. Paul had soothing BV’s and was as handsome as fuck. Mark O’Toole was the pretty boy on bass and Nash (guitar) & Ped (drums) were the bits of scally rough 😉
This album, a triumphant success, was to be their high point. the follow up, “Liverpool”, produced this time by Steve Lipson, found them full of great pop, but the moment had passed. I don’t know where or why, but it had gone. And it was shortly after that Frankie said goodbye. Holly had a brief spell of success as a solo artist (working with my good friend Steve Howell on his first album, Blast) and then moving onto painting and becoming a renowned artist with brief forays back into music. Paul moved to New Zealand and settled, Mark moved on to Trapped By Mormons and Nash & Ped all but disappeared, briefly releasing various bits of solo work. A brief reunion minus Holly & Nash took place at the Princes Trust gig for Trevor Horn’s 25th anniversary of being “in the biz”. It was nice, but it wasn’t the real Frankie.
So, this album is up there for me. Mainly because I was one of it’s intended victims. I was of that age group that ZTT, under the guidance of Paul Morley, was after. But also because as a blossoming musician, I fully appreciated the immense production work that went into it. Not taking anything away from the band, but Trevor’s excellence shines through on every second of this opus. It’s fair to say that aside from Holly, the rest of the band didn’t have a great deal to do with the making of it. Holly has told me stories of late night sessions, trying out all sorts of things like playing instruments on roofs to get certain tones & timbres.
But this album should be held up as a great work. Excellent song writing, brilliant production and undeniable energy from the band.
1. “Well…” (Gill/Johnson/Nash/O’Toole/Andy Richards) – 0:55
2. “The World Is My Oyster” – 1:02
3. “Snatch of Fury (Stay)” (Gerry Marsden) – 0:36
4. “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” – 12:58
5. “Relax (Come Fighting)” (Gill/Johnson/O’Toole) – 3:56
6. “War (…and Hide)” (Barrett Strong/Norman Whitfield) – 6:12
7. “Two Tribes (For the Victims of Ravishment)” (Gill/Johnson/O’Toole) – 3:23
8. “(Tag)” – 0:35
9. “Fury (Go)” (Marsden) – 1:49
10. “Born to Run” (Bruce Springsteen) – 3:56
11. “San Jose (The Way)” (Bacharach/David) – 3:09
12. “Wish (The Lads Were Here)” (Gill/Johnson/O’Toole) – 2:48
14. “The Ballad of 32” – 4:47
14. “Krisco Kisses” – 2:57
15. “Black Night White Light” – 4:05
16. “The Only Star in Heaven” – 4:16
17. “The Power of Love” – 5:28
18. “Bang” – 1:08
1. “Relax (Greatest Bits)” – 16:59
2. “One September Monday” – 04:49
3. “The Power of Love (12 inch version)” – 09:30
4. “Disneyland” – 03:07
5. “Two Tribes (Between Rulers And Ruling)” – 04:10
6. “War (Between Hidden And Hiding)” – 04:00
7. “Welcome to the Pleasuredome (Cut Rough)” – 05:40
8. “One February Friday” – 05:00
9. “The Ballad of 32 (Mix 2)” – 11:03
10. “Who Then Devised the Torment?” – 00:16
11. “Relax (Greek Disco Mix)” – 06:18
12. “Watusi Love Juicy” – 04:03
13. “The Last Voice” – 01:14
If this CD isn’t already in your collection, it deserves to be.