“The Frankie Trilogy”: A closer look at three controversial Frankie Goes To Hollywood videos

By on December 13, 2018

In this special episode of Video Killed The Radio Star, Frankie Goes To Hollywood‘s Holly Johnson and video directors Kevin Godley & Lol Creme talk about the significance and impact of three of their videos — “The Frankie Trilogy” composed of the genre-and-gender-bending “Relax,” “Two Tribes” and “The Power Of Love,” all of which charted at #1 in the UK — and how they pushed the envelope in terms of acceptable sexual content.

Watch Extended Play: Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Trilogy now on Night Flight Plus and read more about the series here.

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“Relax” — written by Holly Johnson, bassist Mark O’Toole and drummer Peter Gill — was their biggest hit in America (#67 on the Billboard Hot 100), where somewhat surprisingly the song’s hints at sexual innuendo (“relax, don’t do it, when you want to cum”) didn’t cause that much of a stir.

In their home country of England, however, the song was temporarily banned by the BBC.

On January 11, 1984, Radio 1 deejay Mike Read read an announcement on air explaining that he was refusing to play “Relax” because of its controversial lyrics.

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After Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s appearance on the TV show “Top of the Pops,” the single shot to #6 on the UK charts.

The BBC eventually lifted the ban at the end of 1984, just in time for the group to perform the song on a Christmas edition of “Top of the Pops.”

“Relax” spent a total of 48 weeks on the UK Singles chart, and after “Two Tribes” was released in the summer of ’84, the song re-entered the charts for another four weeks, climbing up to the #2 slot, right behind their #1 hit, “Two Tribes,” giving Frankie Goes To Hollywood the top two songs in the country, a feat only previously accomplished by Elvis Presley, the Beatles and John Lennon.

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There were actually three music videos made for “Relax,” the first of which — directed by Bernard Rose — showed the band in a seedy Ancient Rome-themed S&M club with everyone dressed in bondage gear.

A fatso “emperor” gets so hot and bothered watching people fighting in cages and  Holly Johnson wrestling a tiger (!!!) that he strips off his toga (the video was banned by both MTV and the Beeb).

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A second video (for the UK) showed Frankie Goes To Hollywood lip-synching to the song while standing in a green laser beam, and a third (for the U.S.) saw them performing the song while being hugged and kissed by fans.

“Relax” was also used in Brian De Palma’s Body Double, the 1984 suspense thriller in which Holly Johnson leads a man into a sex bar in a “film within a film” sequence on the set of a porn film (read more here).

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Read more about “The Frankie Trilogy” and Video Killed The Radio Star below.

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Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s second promo video was for their Cold War-era anti-war song “Two Tribes.”

Produced by the Buggles’ Trevor Horn (the man behind their hit “Video Killed the Radio Star”) and released in 1984, “Two Tribes” spent nine weeks at #1 on the UK singles chart.

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The video — directed by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme — featured U.S. president Ronald Reagan and then-Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko look-a-likes who settle their differences by beating the shit out of each other at an underground bare-knuckle MMA-type event.

They’re being cheered on by an angry assembly of international representatives from the world’s other nations, their grudge match ultimately degenerating into complete global destruction.

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The video — seen as a big “fuck you” to Cold War politics between the Americans and Russians, who were at each other’s throats a lot during the early Eighties — may have lacked the sexual content and innuendos of their first hit, “Relax,” but it certainly didn’t pull any punches.

Reagan even tries to bite Chernenko’s ear off (MTV thought the violence was too over the top, which may be one reason why it was the final video to end up on MTV’s regular rotation).

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Released in November of 1984, just prior to the Christmas season, the video for “The Power Of Love,” Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s third consecutive #1 hit.

It’s a beautifully shot re-telling of the Nativity Story, but has very little to do with Christmas and it isn’t even a holiday-oriented song.

The original showing of the Godley & Creme-directed video on “The Tube” featured the Nativity occupying the whole screen, however the borders of band members were added for later showings due to pressure from UK broadcasters.

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The single — the picture sleeve features The Assumptions of the Virgin — was #1 by early December.

It would also be a huge Top Ten hit in several European countries, in Australia and New Zealand, and in Canada.

“I always felt like ‘The Power of Love’ was the record that would save me in this life,” Holly Johnson once said. “There is a Biblical aspect to its spirituality and passion; the fact that love is the only thing that matters in the end.”

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Video Killed The Radio Star is a short-format documentary series delving into a handful of the classic ’80s and ’90s-era videos and the people who made them, through in-depth and anecdotal interviews with music video directors and sometimes even with appearances by the artists themselves.

These VKTRS episodes — each one is about twenty minutes in length — were originally created for Sky Arts, an arts-oriented UK-based subscription channel offering 24 hours-a-day programming which features cutting-edge documentaries, cult films, and rock concerts on its schedule.

Watch Video Killed The Radio Star on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.