The group's debut single "Relax" was famously banned by the BBC while at number six in the charts, and subsequently topped the UK singles chart for five consecutive weeks, going on to enjoy prolonged chart success throughout 1984 and ultimately becoming the seventh best-selling UK single of all time (as of May 2006). Following the follow-up success of "Two Tribes" and "The Power of Love", FGTH became only the second act in the history of the UK charts to reach number one with their first three singles; the first being Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1964.
The nucleus of the group emerged from the late 1970s Liverpool punk scene. Lead singer Holly Johnson had played bass with Big in Japan, and had also released two solo singles. Paul Rutherford — who did not join until later — had sung in The Spitfire Boys. Local musicians Peter Gill (drums), Jed O'Toole (bass) and Jed's cousin Brian Nash (guitar) initially joined Johnson, calling themselves Sons of Egypt. The band secured a number of small local gigs. The group disbanded shortly after only to be partially reprised when Johnson joined Mark O'Toole (bass) and Ped to form FGTH, during a particularly fluid period of personnel changes brother Jed joined on guitar. A female vocalist, Sonya Mazunda, subsequently joined the group, and this line-up performed the first Frankie gig at the Leeds nightclub "The Warehouse", supporting "Hambi & The Dance".
Rutherford, who had been temporarily filling in as backing vocalist for the headlining act, apparently got so caught up in Frankie's performance that he effectively replaced Mazunda that very night. The new all-male musical line-up subsequently toured locally with a leather-clad duo known as "The Leatherpets", and managed to fund promotional videos and demos, despite being eventually turned down by both Arista Records and Phonogram. In October 1982, the group recorded a John Peel session for BBC Radio One, comprising the originals "Krisco Kisses", "Two Tribes", "Disneyland" and "The World Is My Oyster". Around this time Jed O'Toole left the group, to be replaced by the returning Nash.
In February 1983, the group were invited to record a video for "Relax" by the Channel Four show The Tube at the Liverpool State Ballroom. After the broadcast, the Peel session was repeated on radio, and a new session recorded for the BBC, comprising "Welcome to the Pleasuredome", "The Only Star In Heaven" and "Relax". These performances, along with a repeat of the Tube video, apparently convinced Trevor Horn to sign the group for his new label, ZTT Records, in May 1983.
On January 11 1984, BBC Radio 1 disc jockey Mike Read was playing the record on his show when he noticed the front cover design (by Yvonne Gilbert), depicting a man and woman pressed against each other, back to back, with clothed upper bodies but bared buttocks, and including a somewhat salacious quote from the song's lyrics. This prompted him to listen more intently to the words, and his reaction was such that he apparently removed the disc from the turntable live on air, branding it "disgusting".
Two days later — almost three months after the single's initial release, and just eight days after the group's Top Of The Pops appearance — the BBC banned the record from all its TV and radio outlets.
"Relax" immediately shot to Number One in the UK charts and stayed there for five weeks, leading to the situation where the BBC could not feature the nation's best-selling single on any of their flagship radio and TV chart shows for over a month (hence the traditional closing 'number one spot' on Top Of The Pops was filled by different, distinctly non-number-one acts for five consecutive weeks).
Comparisons were drawn between "Relax" and the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" in terms of media controversy. The BBC had not intended to enhance record sales by banning "Relax", and yet the record had defied these intentions emphatically, meaning that — not for the first time — the BBC and the media were faced with a fast-selling record that could beat and even be seen to exploit a widely-publicised institutional ban. Moreover, the BBC and the UK media were completely unprepared for the unprecedented "Relax" phenomenon that followed. The experience of "Relax" would ultimately prove something of a cultural watershed, causing a marked change in the BBC's policy on banning provocative records, and the popular media's approach to "controversial" records in general.
Read had apparently been outraged by the "overtly sexual" nature of both the record sleeve and the printed lyrics. However, the sleeve's "Relax, don't do it, when you want to suck it to it" had been a deliberately provocative misprint. The real words were, in fact, "...when you want to sock it to it...". On the other hand, the imagery of the concluding expression "Relax, don't do it, when you want to come" seemed rather more inescapable, if no less cryptic in some quarters (when Johnson was asked by pop magazine Smash Hits "'Relax, don't do it' — Don't do what?", he had replied "don't relax, of course").
The original video directed by Bernard Rose depicted a gay S&M den (filmed in the unused East London theatre Wilton's Music Hall), and was apparently promptly banned by both the BBC and MTV, resulting in a substitute video directed by film-maker Brian De Palma to coincide with the release of his film Body Double. A slightly different version of the video appears in Body Double as a scene from a pornographic movie.
The provocative notes on the back of the "Relax" sleeve were attributed to music journalist and ZTT associate Paul Morley, who was also responsible for the PR campaign that followed the BBC ban, and which led to a massive demand for both the band and the banned song. Part of this promotion (although it actually came later in the year, with the release of "Two Tribes") included the iconic "Frankie Say Relax Don't Do It" T-shirts, which were credited to Morley but were in fact based on designs by Katharine Hamnett, who had produced similarly minimalistic black-on-white shirts depicting positive slogans such as "Choose Life" and "Go Go", as worn by Wham! in promoting "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go". "Frankie Say..." T-shirts would become ubiquitous in the UK during the summer of 1984.
Adding to the controversy surrounding "Relax", rumours began to circulate after its chart success that the single had actually been recorded by session musicians. This rumour eventually gelled into the general accusation that "Frankie cannot play", since the group were unavailable for touring duties during the whole of 1984. Some time later, producer Trevor Horn admitted that in fact he had recorded a 'demo' version of "Relax" with FGTH and The Blockheads, the renowned backing group for New Wave icon Ian Dury. He had then cut a second version with FGTH alone, but was unhappy with the result of both sessions, and had finally taken the tape away to work on. Horn allegedly spent five more weeks augmenting the track with extensive overdubs by session musicians, incorporating previously recorded bass hooks by the Blockheads' Norman Watt-Roy and a bass pulse sampled on a Fairlight CMI two years earlier at Battery Studios by session bassist Mark 'Thumbs' Cunningham. Despite apparently unilaterally spending such extensive time and money on one single, Horn would later assert that "Relax" represented a massive gamble for himself and his new record label, ZTT, and that its failure could well have bankrupted him. By the time it was completed, it had cost a reported £70,000 in studio time alone, with the video clip costing an additional £15,000. The question of studio time, costs and who should ultimately pay for them would become a key question for FGTH (and other signed ZTT groups such as Propaganda) beyond 1984.
Directed by the renowned duo of Kevin Godley and Lol Crème (half of '70s rock band 10cc), the video featured lookalikes of Cold War leaders Ronald Reagan and Konstantin Chernenko wrestling in a marquee while band members and others laid bets on the outcome. Ultimately, the audience — consisting of other world leaders — were brought into the fight, and eventually Earth was seen to explode.
Morley launched his Hamnett-inspired T-shirt campaign in earnest with the release of "Two Tribes", augmenting "Frankie Say Relax Don't Do It" with new designs such as "Frankie Say War Hide Yourself" and "Frankie Say Arm The Unemployed" (a design that itself courted controversy, prompting Johnson to explain in a radio interview that the slogan was meant to incite the government to arm the unemployed with jobs).
"Two Tribes" was a spectacular single in its own right, but its reign at the top of the charts was made even more notable by the continuing success of its predecessor. "Relax" had made a natural decline down the charts by May 1984, but on the release of "Two Tribes" its sales began to increase again, to the extent that FGTH held the top two spots in the UK charts during July 1984, the first active group to do so since the early 1960s.
The band had suggested (on Channel 4's The Tube) that the second single might be "Slave to the Rhythm", this was eventually released by Grace Jones. The voice of Ronald Reagan on the "Two Tribes" twelve inchers was provided by Chris Barrie.
The Band Aid project, for which Johnson recorded a message for the B-side, meant that FGTH managed only one week at the top this time before it was replaced by "Do They Know It's Christmas?". "The Power of Love" was taken from their debut album, Welcome to the Pleasuredome, which entered the UK chart at Number One. The album sold relatively well but was generally poorly received by critics. Along with the three ubiquitous singles and the title track, it featured a mixture of covers (including "Born to Run" from Bruce Springsteen, "San Jose", "Ferry 'Cross the Mersey") that appeared somewhat thrown-together, alongside some relatively humourless Liverpudlian asides and skits.
The BBC lifted its ban on "Relax" at the end of 1984 to allow the band to perform it on the Christmas edition of Top Of The Pops (it had been, aside from Band Aid, the biggest-selling single of the year).
The album's title track, "Welcome to the Pleasuredome", was released as a fourth single in March 1985. Early promotional posters for the single cockily proclaimed it as "their fourth number one", even prior to the single's release. Embarrassingly, the single peaked at Number 2, leading to preemptive claims that the band was now on the decline. The snipers would eventually prove correct, but not for the alleged 'failure' of a Number 2 hit. The band's demise was, in the final analysis, attributable to increasing internal tensions and general disillusionment, suspected by some during 1985, but only becoming truly apparent during the group's 1986 public and much-heralded "return". The twelve inches were noted for their long Greek mythology/Samuel Taylor Coleridge spoken introduction by Geoffrey Palmer.
One single new track, "Disneyland", was released on the ZTT Records "Zang Tuum Tumb Sampled" album in late 1985.
After two weeks, the High Court found in Johnson's favour, holding that the highly restrictive terms of the contract constituted an unreasonable restraint of trade. The result of the court case, which also effectively freed the remaining members of FGTH from their ZTT contract, became famous as an unprecedented victory for the artist over their corporate paymasters.
The 'other three', as Smash Hits labelled them, continued to work together in what turned out to be a vain attempt to resurrect "Frankie" with various singers. As "Nasher", Nash released a 2002 solo album entitled Ripe. Ped worked behind the scenes and scored a top ten hit with the group "Lovestation". Mark O'Toole moved to Florida and played with Punk outfit "Trapped By Mormons"
The band's name lived on to the extent that re-issues of "Relax" and "The Power of Love" both returned to the UK Top 10 in 1993. Remixes of "The Power of Love" (which became a dance anthem from its original ballad format) and "Two Tribes" were Top 20 hits again in 1997, while "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" also got commercially successful remix treatment, to the extent of a Top 20 placing four years earlier. ZTT continues in its endeavours to keep the FGTH back-catalogue alive into the new century, with periodic reconfigurations, remasters, and further remixes by an ever-growing pool of dance producers, in an attempt to maintain a perceived tradition that began with the multiple variations of the "Relax" 12-inch issued in 1983. ZTT has tended to date (May 2006) to keep all images of the band absent from their remix artwork, and this absence has tended on the whole to extend to the content and spirit of their reissued product.
The group's first two singles appeared sixth and 22nd respectively in the official all-time UK best-selling singles list issued in 2002. A band called "The New Frankie Goes to Hollywood" appeared, fronted by Davey Johnson, who claimed to be Holly Johnson's brother. The band plays a few Frankie tracks, but actually has nothing to do with FGTH. Likewise, "Davey Johnson" is no relative of Holly's. The band is also not to be confused with the FGTH conventions related to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Nevertheless, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Trevor Horn's involvement in the music industry, in 2004 a special concert took place at Wembley Arena in November, featuring three of the original FGTH line-up, Mark O'Toole, Peter (Ped) Gill and Paul Rutherford and another former member, Jed O'Toole. Original vocalist Johnson, who announced via the Internet that he would not be appearing, and guitarist Nash, who declined to appear for his own reasons, did not take part. Jed O'Toole took over guitar duties for the event, whilst an open audition was held for a new singer for the concert. Ryan Molloy was recruited as a result.
The same lineup (with Molloy and Jed O'Toole, but without Johnson or Nash) reunited for a tour in 2005 playing festivals in Europe. They headlined at Faceparty's Big Gay Out festival at Hyde Park in London.
After some confusion with ensuing tour dates, the band posted a warning on their website that many of the tour dates listed by ticket promoters were inaccurate. The band became increasingly focused on the release of a new album during 2007. However, in early April 2007 came the news that Gill, Rutherford, J. O'Toole and Molloy had formed Forbidden Hollywood to play their new songs alongside old FGTH material. This was to avoid legal issues with Holly Johnson over use of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood name. Live dates were announced, but in June 2007, these were cancelled and the band collapsed with the departure of Molloy.
Forbidden Hollywood's management stated in mid-October 2007 that the band will be continuing, with an announcement expected in the near future.
|Year||Single||United Kingdom||USA||Germany||Austria||Switzerland||France||Sweden||Norway||Poland||Italy||Netherlands||Australia||New Zealand||Album|
|1983||"Relax"||1||10||1||4||1||21||4||4||18||1||5||35||Welcome To The Pleasuredome|
|1984||"Two Tribes"||1||43||1||16||15||1||4||1||Welcome To The Pleasuredome|
|"The Power Of Love"||1||4||2||Welcome To The Pleasuredome|
|1985||"Welcome To The Pleasuredome"||2||9||1||Welcome To The Pleasuredome|
|"Warriors Of The Wasteland"||19||7||13||13||Liverpool|
|1987||"Watching The Wildlife"||28||23||Liverpool|