7_Songs: Holly Johnson / Frankie Goes to Hollywood

This year in February Holly Johnson turned 60 and we thought it would be a nice occasion to pay tribute to him and his former band Frankie Goes to Hollywood with this 7 Songs feature. Johnson’s career start goes back to the late 70’s Liverpool punk scene out of which the nucleus for Frankie Goes to Hollywood took shape. Inspired to take a name after the title from the news article in the New York times, it seemed that Frankie Goes to Hollywood would be there for big things, and indeed, with the first single and the album release they found pop stardom. 

Photo courtesy of TheGuardian
In 1984, FGTH released “Relax” which was not only a tune but also a motto and a symbol of the mid-80’s and at the same time the band’s biggest hit. One could say that it had an impact on the general pop culture also hitting the street fashion and there was also a themed video game. “Relax” was also an introduction to the band's brilliant album Welcome to the Pleasuredome which gave birth to a string of hits, out of which three reached no.1 in the UK charts. The album was produced by Trevor Horn and released on his ZTT label. It was rich, provocative and decadent with excellent production and a festival of influences which could easily be referred to as progressive disco as an end product. With the release of the second album Liverpool, fame faded and the tensions between the band members were growing. The band managed to release three more singles from it, to tour again, after which Johnson decided to leave the band. He also had to go into a legal battle with the record company winning the dispute in the end. 

Photo courtesy of theartsdesk.com

In the late 80’s Johnson started his solo career when he was signed to MCA, released his solo album Blast and managed to have a series of hits including “Americanos” and “Love Train”. In the early 90’s, Johnson was diagnosed with HIV and thinking this was his end, he wrote his autobiography A Bone in My Flute. Eventually he turned more to art but never really left the music business. He recorded songs and performed occasionally.

The band never reunited even though in 2003, the VH-1 program Bands Reunited brought Johnson, Rutherford, Gill, Nash, and Mark O'Toole together, in the hope of their agreeing to perform impromptu on the show. However, a reunion performance did not transpire. 

Holly Johnson never performed again with Frankie Goes to Hollywood. There is not a single thing in the world that sums up the 1980's as perfectly FGTH and Welcome to the Pleasuredome does for the 80’s. In particular 1984 seems to be the year of the band when they almost made 4 consecutive No.1 in the UK. Frankie was the mega sensation, the artistic concept and even a brand. They were hitting the Euro dance floors and beyond and they were shocking the conservative adults to gain prominence. They had that perfect formula if you are going to do pop, attack it.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Relax
"Relax" was the debut album by FGTH which also gave them the international breakthrough. It is one of the most controversial and most commercially successful records of the decade. It was banned by BBC because of its lyrics that we interpreted to be explicit. Despite all the scandals, the song sold 12 mill records around the world and won the Brit Award for the best song in 1985. It also went beyond music hitting the street fashion with the T-shirts with the slogan Frankie Says Relax

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - The Power of Love 
This was the third single from their debut album and also the third consecutive No.1 which rounded up a successful year for FGTH. This song is often referenced as a Christmas single due to the music video that features Nativity and also because it was released ahead of Xmas in 1984. In tone it was also different then the previous which were louder made for clubland. The song went platinum in Canada, Germany, New Zealand and triple Platinum in their native UK. 

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Welcome To The Pleasuredome
This was the title track to the debut album and the only single release that did not reach the UK No. 1 despite having this potential. The spoken-word introductions to both 12-inch mixes are adapted from Walter Kaufmann's 1967 translation of Friedrich Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy. The video, by Bernard Rose, features the group stealing a car, going to a carnival and encountering all manner of deceptively "pleasurable" activities.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Rage Hard 
In 1986, Frankie Goes to Hollywood released their second album Liverpool. This album saw more use of the band than the debut album and expressed a more rockier sound than their debut but it was still pretty much powerful in rhythm and form. It was FGTH's first single to be released on CD and even Cassette. It reached number one in the German official charts and No. 4 in the UK. 

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Warriors of the Wasteland
Another single followed from Liverpool which many think is one of the best tracks on the album. Some interesting inspirations were drawn from T. S. Eliot, but Johnson also cited the 1981 Mel Gibson film, Mad Max 2, and the 1979 film, The Warriors as inspirations. This song barely made it in the Top 20 in the UK and commercial success was starting to decline. FGTH would release one more single before disbanding.

Holly Johnson - Love Train
After the split of FGTH, Holly Johnson released his debut album Blast 1989 and "Love Train" was the first single to be taken from it. Even though it was clearly a dance track it featured the guitar solo from Brain May from Queen. The song reached No.4 in the UK and also had success in Europe. The song was issued as both 7” and 12” including several versions of the song.

Holly Johnson  - Americanos
"Americanos" was another single from Blast that managed to make a big impact on the charts reaching No. 4 in the UK and was a commercial success across Europe. Chris Heath of Smash Hits described the song as an "80’s update of David Bowie's Young Americans in both its content and its spirit, where he acknowledges the superficiality of the American dream but isn't narrow-minded enough to simply condemn it.”. 

Singles cover photos courtesy of discogs.com

For the complete Frankie Goes To Hollywood / Holly Johnson discography, as documented in music videos, please check the following the link below.