||DANCING ABOUT ARCHITECTURE
HIGH CONCEPT: FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD'S WELCOME TO THE PLEASUREDOME
by Marc “Moose” Moder
This article shared 2283 times since Tue Feb 28, 2012
On a recent episode of WBEZ's Sound Opinions, hosts Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis explored the birth of "the album as art" in the year 1967. Born that year were classic albums by The Velvet Underground (w/Nico), The Beatles (Sgt. Peppers) and Pink Floyd (The Piper at the Gates Of Dawn). Music LPs went from a mere collection of singles and B-sides to full-fledged works of art on par with classic novels and films, raising pop music from teen trash to adult immersion in sound. This era continued, more or less, for the next 15 years via concept albums by Yes, Jethro Tull, and even Donna Summer.
By the '80s, singles became far more prominent with the advent of MTV and its faster pacing in presenting music for the masses. While there were still highly wonderfully consistent albums by artists like Duran Duran, Michael Jackson and Prince, the concept album or "album as art" had died off, with one exception. Trevor Horn, owner/founder of ZTT records was creating masterworks by his own bands (Yes, Buggles, Art of Noise) and for other New Wavers like Grace Jones and Propaganda. But his biggest conceptand last gasp of the large-scale concept albumcame from a mismatched batch of gay and straight Liverpudlians called Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and the gay 13-year-old Moose was in love.
FGTH came to our US ears via MTV and the rumors of The Queen herself banning their hot single "Relax" (don't do it, when you wanna come!). "Relax" came complete with three different music videos from vanilla to full on leather bar with one directed by then hot director Brian De Palma (Carrie, Body Double). Frankie singers Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford had no problem flaunting their sexuality while the remaining three members seemed to feel good about teasing you into thinking they were a bit gay, which was pretty refreshing and unheard of at that time in pop music. Now with their campy hit single in place, we wanted to hear more but didn't expect much more than your standard one- or two-hit wonders. We were wrong.
The debut double album Welcome To the Pleasuredome was a journey like nothing since Pink Floyd's The Wall (but for homosexuals). First, you start out with the giant album art by none other than Andy Warhol (see Velvet Underground above). The inner sleeve even had a pleasuredome that looked suspiciously like the head of a male member. Obvious references aside, the actual music was far better than it had a right to be, with each of the four sides holding a different mood and two discs acting like two epic films back to back: The Godfather 1 and 2 of music. Side one seemed like one long track, essentially a 25-minute version of Welcome To the Pleasuredome. If you were gay and didn't have sex to its quiet pastoral opening and its building sexual crescendo, then you weren't having sex in the '80s, at least not with anyone cool. Side two was the punch, containing the two hit singles: "Relax" and "Two Tribes," sandwiching a remake of Edwin Starr's "War" with a Reagan-esque voiceover. Side 3 hit you with a few more remakes, like "Ferry Cross the Mersey," Springsteen's "Born To Run" and Bacharach's "Do You Know the Way To San Jose?" Side four kept the energy going, then relaxed again with the epic power ballad (now a UK X-mas classic), "The Power of Love."
By the time this hour-plus epic was over, you were exhausted and happy. It was the closest thing most of us got to good sex in the '80s. After that, FGTH petered out with one more album, the middling Liverpool, then broke up and faded away, and along with it, the giant concept album. Many would try, but no one with the power and vision of FGTH and Trevor Horn again or since. Do yourself a favor and seek out Welcome To the Pleasuredome on its original vinyl and enjoy in order. Unless you actually want to have sex to it, then I'm sure the digital version is far more practical.
On March 8 , Moose will be spinning a special Frankie/Duran set at Downtown Bar.
This article shared 2283 times since Tue Feb 28, 2012
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