- FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD Rage Hard (ZTT)
- Week Ending 6th September 1986
- 3 Weeks At #1
Eighteen months can be an awfully long time in pop music, as the chart kings of 1984 – Frankie Goes To Hollywood – were about to discover.
Last sighted in early 1985, via a shortened and souped-up version of Welcome To The Pleasuredome‘s title track (packaged with B-sides and Live material as “The Escape Act” E.P.), Holly, Paul and The Lads had spent much of the subsequent year a long way from home. First, touring America in an attempt to conquer the US market (outcome: hmm, not quite), and then settling in Ireland to write and record a follow-up album beyond the clutches of the taxman (a common trend in the 1980s).
They briefly broke their silence with a performance at the Montreux Pop Festival over Easter 1986, debuting rough versions of two new songs. It felt like the most exciting thing that could happen; new Frankie! Warriors Of The Wasteland! Rage Hard!
What to make of the new material? Well, you weren’t going to get an unbiased reaction from me, despite the typically poor sound of Montreux through a small ’80s television set. They sounded heavier than the Pleasuredome style, but once Trevor Horn worked his studio magic, then they’d surely sound amazing. Besides, we’d had Two Tribes already, no point in simply regurgitating the same old formula.
Eventually, the first finished fruits of Frankie’s second LP arrived. ZTT did their ZTT thing and gave Rage Hard the full promo push, creating an event out of its release as was expected. The artwork, completely different in style to Pleasuredome, was bold and confident. There were the usual array of formats, including Cassetted, Compacted and a glorious 12″ mix entitled The Young Person’s Guide To The Twelve Inch that managed to evoke both the naughtiness of Relax and the bombast of Welcome To The Pleasuredome while carving out a niche of its own with the plummy female voiceover from Pamela Stephenson (deliberately intended to sound like Joanna Lumley, though she declined to do the job herself) taking us through the multitude of instruments and effects, introducing each member of the band, enquiring as to how it felt for them (“hard”, naturally) before reassuring the listener that this was the “sound of Frankie, and Frankie only”.
Not even the absence of Trevor Horn seemed to matter, thanks to longtime collaborator Stephen Lipson’s efforts; Rage Hard looked and sounded like prime Frankie Goes To Hollywood fare. The only question was how long it would take to top the UK charts. Would it even debut at #1, perhaps?
In a glimpse of the brutal upheaval about to occur in UK chart pop in the final months of 1986, this eagerly-awaited new Frankie single could only manage a #6 debut followed by an apologetic climb to #4. Within 7 weeks, Rage Hard had dropped out of the Top 75 completely. What a return!
Just as I was with other favourites such as Howard Jones, Thompson Twins and Heaven 17, I remained loyal and impervious to the relentless march of change that was obliterating the fortunes of so many mid-80s TOTP regulars. Rage Hard is a magnificent record, for all the infighting taking place behind the scenes with the band and the misgivings of the label, coupled with Trevor Horn’s reluctance to take a hands-on role.
It wasn’t really the fault of the record that it failed to emulate what had gone before, although the same could not be said of the rest of Liverpool, the doomed second album which lacked enough killer tunes or fully-realised tracks to mount any sort of commercial fightback in the wake of its first single underperforming.
Divisions within the band, both social and creative, eventually proved their undoing, with Holly and Paul keen to continue Frankie’s relationship with the dancefloor while The Lads were determined to become the next Led Zeppelin. Rage Hard was a rare example of these two worlds meeting successfully, the artful Martin Fry pastiche of the verses leading into a blockbuster chorus that surely satisfied both factions.
It’s the sound of Frankie, and Frankie only.