The song's energy was infectious and its anti-nuclear message tapped into the paranoia of the time (Godley and Creme's video had Reagan and Chernenko lookalikes trading blows). The BBC banned the video; the single went in at No 1 on 16 June 1984. It matched "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "You're the One That I Want" by staying for nine weeks.
On 7 July, "Relax", which had been in the charts for six months, went back up to No 2. Only the Beatles and, posthumously, John Lennon had claimed the two top spots before. And yet, Sounds's long-term prediction was as misguided as its critic's shameless punning. Frankie were the most potent chart force of 1984. Then, in an Eighties morality tale (rise, fall and law-suit), they disappeared.
Formed in Liverpool by Holly Johnson, the five-piece made their name at a time when fey New Romantic pretty boys were in vogue. Johnson and Paul Rutherford, the two frontmen, were provocative, openly gay perfomers; the band's club shows were S&M-influenced spectacles.
Trevor Horn signed them to his new label, ZTT, after seeing them on The Tube in 1983. By the time he had relentlessly re-recorded "Relax", only Johnson's voice remained from the band's original. The single crawled up to No 35 at the end of the year. When the band appeared on Top of the Pops during a post-New Year lull in 1984, "Relax" was propelled to No 2. Then Radio 1's Mike Read called its lyrics "obscene", and the BBC imposed a (belated) ban; it went to No 1, and stayed there for five weeks.
Aided by a ruthlessly orchestrated marketing campaign of remix releases and Katherine Hamnett-inspired slogan T-shirts, the single went on to sell two million copies. The various remixes of "Two Tribes", which again featured only Johnson's voice, sold one and a half million copies. In November, "The Power of Love" made it three No 1s in a row, and equalled a new-band record set by Gerry and the Pacemakers.
By then, the critics had had enough and accused Frankie of being merely ZTT's "puppets". "It's the smoothness of Frankie's success that unnerves me," wrote Simon Frith, in an article on pop and the 1984-85 miners' strike. "It's hard to find anyone (other than ZTT) who thinks that Frankie, or their records, are changing the way people understand their lives." Jon Savage also claimed that you rarely met "committed Frankie fans", and thought the band epitomised "the vacuum that lies at the heart of current British pop".
After a rapid decline in sales and interest, Johnson left in 1987 and took the name with him. In a landmark, lengthy court case in 1988, he won his freedom (and costs) from ZTT.Reuse content