FRANKIE SAY WAR! HIDE YOURSELF.
FRANKIE SAY ARM THE UNEMPLOYED.
So who is this FRANKIE, and why is he SAY-ing all those things? There Is No Frankie
Frankie Goes to Hollywood is a five-man Liverpudlian pop group that took its name from a '50s billboard announcing Frank Sinatra's first movie. Their first record, the explicitly sexy "Relax," was deemed too naughty to air by the BBC, as was the spectacularly orgiastic companion video. The single promptly became a monster hit (6 million copies sold worldwide), with the longest run of any record ever on the British charts (more than 50 weeks). That song and the second, the antiwar "Two Tribes," grabbed the number one and two spots simultaneously on the British singles charts -- which hasn't happened since the Beatles and Elvis Presley quit making hits.
More fab Frankie fax: Fronted by Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford, two openly gay lead singers. Produced by Trevor Horn, the hottest pop record producer since the Beatles' George Martin. Masterminded by journalist/provocateur Paul Morley, the smartest pop Svengali since Malcolm McLaren pointed the Sex Pistols at the world. Headed for its American concert debut at the Ontario Theatre in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Election Night. Words at War
Pure image, an explosion of sound, sense and nonsense, the Frankie phenom has put some color back into the pop world's cheeks. This summer in London it seemed as if everyone and his brother was wearing T-shirts emblazoned with oversized graphics screaming cleverly confusing non sequiturs -- FRANKIE SAY! -- and dancing to the group's manifestoes with a disco beat.
Another front of the most recent British invasion, Frankie rode in on a wave of pop acts flourishing in a newly tolerant (or curious) atmosphere and cannily co-opted the craze for causes. All of a sudden it seems that everyone is doing protest songs again -- Culture Club and others are charting with antiwar anthems -- and the word "gay," at least in the record biz, is no longer pop poison. In fact, gay has cachet -- witness the success of the Smiths and Bronski Beat.
Frankie itself seems as manufactured as a modern-day Monkees, a post-punk Village People sprung forth fully armed from the brow of junk culture. Every move the group makes is orchestrated -- literally and figuratively -- by Trevor Horn and Paul Morley, who have put together an audacious record label called Zang Tuum Tumb (named for one of Horn's synthesized drum sounds). Horn diddles the dials and pushes the levers, and Morley concocts the outrageous advertising-based slogans, playful propaganda and pseudo-philosophy intended to sell the band's musical McNuggets and stir up the censors. There's nothing like controversy to get a band noticed -- remember the Sex Pistols?
A BBC ban may be a band's best friend, and Frankie won its boost of notoriety when London's Radio One censor Mike Read picked the single "Relax" as the Hit to Nix. "I don't regret what I did," Read told London's Jamming! magazine. "You don't think about the repercussions it's going to have. I think I did it because it felt right at the time."
Read said he suggested the ban because of "the content. I mean, from the outset, the band were very open about what they were about and the simulated sex scenes on their video made it clear that 'Relax' was about gay sex. Obviously gay sex is around and a thing which everyone is aware of, but I think Frankie were going out deliberately from the start to get banned."
Once the scope of the potential success was in sight, however, the band retreated from its brash stance, remade the video, reassembled their features and became cuddly rebels for the press. "Of course, they pulled back as the record climbed the charts," Read said, "and in the end their interviews were all, 'Hey . . . what's all the fuss about . . . It's just about relaxing, isn't it?' " Frankie Went to Hollywood
The group made its movie debut as erotic rock stars in Brian De Palma's new "Body Double" -- an appropriate entree for the band that asks the musical question, "Are we living in a land where Sex and Horror are the new gods?" De Palma reportedly liked them so much that he directed another version of their "Relax" video. (That makes three -- De Palma's, the made-for-MTV version, and the original, which Island Records coyly calls the "not-so-clean version.")
The "Two Tribes" clip, described by an industry insider as a "dance-floor freezer," features Ronald Reagan and Konstantin Chernenko look-alikes engaged in a bloody slug-fest while thousands cheer. High on MTV's play list, it has been restricted to after-midnight airings on British television. Reagan's voice spouts stuff like "Leaders will not surrender until surrender is academic," and amid the wail of doomsday sirens an ominously official voice proclaims, "Mine is the last voice you will ever hear. Don't be alarmed." Showings in video clubs often end in applause. Frankie Comes to Washington
Frankie is making its first live appearances in North America, a disappointment to the hometown crowd, the European Frankie fans who bought the records and wore the shirts. The first album, the double "Welcome to the Pleasuredome," was shipped in enormous quantities and hit the streets Friday.
"The demand is unreal," said Sheldon Michaelson, buyer at Washington's Record and Tape Ltd. Michaelson said the Georgetown store alone is moving 100 copies a week of both the "Relax" and "Two Tribes" 12-inche records, and even the standard 7-inch single is selling fast. "People come in off the streets and ask, 'When is the album coming?' -- that's wild."
Michaelson thinks Frankie is popular because people want to be on top of what they think may be the Next Big Thing.
"They appeal to rockers and disco people, straights and gays," Michaelson says. "They have no form and no substance -- they never do the same thing twice. So people see in them what they want. They're only as controversial as you see it. And the sound is infectious. When they first put it on in the store, I had to come out of my office and ask what it was -- never heard anything like it." Michaelson says he has ordered 2,000 copies of the new album, the biggest order the store has made in a long time -- surpassing even Prince's "Purple Rain."
Jim Swindel, head of sales for Island Records, the band's label, says the company is pumping more money than usual into its new act, and is even offering a line of Frankie fashions. Each album includes an order form for T-shirts, enameled badges, temporary tattoos, overnight bags, socks and boxer shorts. Frankie Say What?
The anti-Frankie backlash has already begun -- a sure sign of a true pop phenomenon. In London, T-shirts have been spotted with those can't-miss-it graphics, the message being:
WHO CARES WHAT FRANKIE SAY?