Frankie Say Merchandise! Hide Yourself!
Before we start today’s entry, I need to get something off my chest – I quite like Frankie Goes To Hollywood. I quite liked them then, and I quite like them now. Oh, it feels good to finally say it…
I started paying attention to music in the early 1980s and Frankie Goes To Hollywood covered three of my main teenage interests – synthesizers, homosexuality and nuclear war. Mad Max 2 and the Pet Shop Boys may have hit two of the three, but only Frankiehad the trifecta. Their apocalyptic electropop was exactly in tune with my teenage mindset, and as a bonus I thought backing-singer Paul Rutherford was a super-spunk and I shared my birthday with one of the straight ones. I forget his name.
I originally bought their album, Welcome To The Pleasure Dome, the first time around (on double vinyl!), and every few years I buy a second-hand copy on CD. I don’t know what happens to these CDs as I have now bought this album at least four times and still don’t have a copy.
Before writing this article I downloaded (another) copy and – perhaps surprisingly – it still holds up. Relax remains an impressive piece of production (deceptively simple-sounding, it was allegedly recorded three times before producer Trevor Horn combined the versions at a then-astronomical total cost of ₤70 000). Their hit ballad The Power Of Love also can’t be faulted – musically, lyrically and arrangementally it’s a triumph.
We’ll ignore their second (and final) album, Liverpool – everyone else does – and the band split in 1987, leaving them with an odd legacy of 4 hit singles and one best-selling album.
Strangely, those hit singles keep on giving – two of them graced the UK top ten again in 1993, then a third time (in remixed form) in 1997. Welcome To The Pleasure Dome has been excellent value for money for record label ZTT – they’ve managed to release six Frankie best-ofs and remix collections almost entirely from one album.
But let’s get back to today’s book. A slim volume, the Frankie Goes To Hollywood Annual 1985 follows one of the proud time-travelling traditions of the format – it was released in 1984. My copy has the added glamour of being printed in Spain, and originally retailed for ₤2.95, which is nearly twice as much as I paid for it last month. Canny financial investors should probably avoid including FGTH annuals in their portfolio, although my copy may be overly depreciated because the wordfinder puzzle has already been completed.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of Annuals, a 2006 article from the UK’s Telegraph describes them thusly:
Annuals are a peculiarly British tradition. Usually costing around £7, they follow the same format — a hardback book of around 70 to 100 pages based on a comic, TV series, toy or film.
The BeanoAlbum first appeared in 1939 with the ostrich Big Eggo as its cover star and has been published every year since. Biffo the Bear soon took over from Big Eggo while Dennis the Menace has featured on every cover since 1979.
Because kids love Dennis the Menace.
I had assumed the annual had gone the way of 8-track tapes and Bruce Samazan’s career but the same article claims they’ve had a major resurgence, doubling in sales from 1998 to 2006 and now shifting 2.2 million copies every Christmas. I don’t know how well they do here – my phone call to Angus & Robertson was met by total bewilderment (“an annual what? what was the exact name of the book again?”).
The Annual always had a whiff of “knock ’em out cheap” about it, and the Frankie Goes To Hollywood Annual is even flimsier than most. It runs a mere 46 pages and most of those consist of full-page photographs on very cheap paper. An article on the history of the band takes up nearly half the book, presented in large type and an explosion of ’80s graphic design.
The charts and music mags were full of glossy glamour. But in the depths of Liverpool a demonic dance band reeking with rhythm and brimming with outrageous imagination decided to make a video to accompany their latest risque tune… And of course, the rest reads like a fairy tale fantasy. It came true!
It may be lurid in style, but it’s a commendably honest piece about the band, discussing their life on the dole and the accusation that Trevor Horn should be getting the accolades, not the band. Frankie manage to slag off virtually all of their contemporaries, and Paul Rutherford says of Two Tribes, “It’s the most graphic anti-war song I’ve ever heard. Anyone with any heart has got to be against nuclear war”. It’s hard to imagine there was anyone campaigning for nuclear war, but it was the ’80s…
To pad out the rest of the book are a Frankie quiz, a pointless horoscope page – each star sign gets one paragraph to cover the entire year – and short profiles on each band member. Here we learn interesting factoids like:
Holly: “My first crush was Miss Schofield, my infant teacher. She used to wear those really woolly jumpers and fabulous perfume.”
Paul: “I used to share a flat with Pete Burns from Dead Or Alive.”
Brian (Nasher): “I’ve met lots of stars like the Thompson Twins and Bananarama. But they’re dead normal just like us.”
Mark: “When I left school I became an apprentice joiner. I was still doing that when Relax was in the charts.”
Pete: “My mum’s house is quite near the Grand National racecourse. You can hear the shouting on Grand National Day.”
Finally, in tribute to Frankie‘s history of being banned by the BBC, there’s a cheeky page chronicling songs and performers banned in the UK for various reasons.
1965: After twice splitting his trousers, P J Proby is banned from appearing on BBC TV.
There’s also a drawing competition where you can win a copy of “Frankie’s grant new album, ‘The Pleasure Dome'” (sic). The rules state that “any type of drawing may be submitted, ie pencil, water colour, felt tip, etc” but I’m sad to report you’ve missed the entry date, which was February 15th, 1985. In order to assuage this disappointment, I’ll be happy to include your Frankie picture on The Outland Institute – simply send a jpg to the email address on the “About” page.
To sum up, how does one judge the Frankie Goes To Hollywood Annual 1985? On one hand it feels like half an issue of Smash Hits accidentally bound in hardback, and I can’t imagine anyone spending much time with it. On the other hand, it does tell you the history of the band and the photos do look like them, immediately raising it above the Doctor Who annuals of the time.
Looking at it now, my heart breaks for the optimism of the “1985” in the title.
There was to be no Frankie Goes To Hollywood Annual in 1986. Or any year to come.
While writing this up, I discovered that Paul Rutherford now lives on Waiheke Island in New Zealand. I was there for a wedding last year and can’t believe I missed a chance to stalk him. I mean, meet him. Or just shriek “I fancied you when I was 13!” at him. Because that wouldn’t have been weird.
That wouldn’t have been weird at all.
Previous entries in Great Literature Of The 20th Century: