Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 10 best songs, ranked

30 January 2024, 14:44

Frankie Goes To Hollywood. (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)
Frankie Goes To Hollywood. (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images). Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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They certainly knew how to make an entrance.

When Frankie Goes To Hollywood appeared during the 1980s, their uncompromising sound and style immediately put them on the pop music map.

Their classic lineup of singer Holly Johnson, Paul Rutherford, Mark O'Toole, Brian Nash, and Peter Gill led the Liverpudlian legends to global renown.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood were also guided by producer Trevor Horn, dubbed "the man who invented the eighties" due to his influence on the era's music, who took the band under his wing.

They embodied synth-pop provocation and pulled it off perfectly, decked out in varying forms of fetish gear in television appearances and writing truthfully about their lived experiences.

The more conservative members of the British public didn't quite embrace them off the bat, let's say, leading the BBC to ban the band due to the outrage caused by their sexually-charged lyrics and aesthetic.

It didn't stop their march to the top of the charts. The notoriety had an adverse effect, catapulting Frankie Goes To Hollywood toward global superstardom.

Their tenure was relatively short-lived however, breaking up a few years later - though they did reunite for a stint between 2003 and 2007, as well as their original lineup reunion for Eurovision in 2023.

Despite their fortunes fading fairly quickly, Frankie Goes To Hollywood remains one of the decade's defining bands. That said, we've ranked the best ten songs from top to bottom:

  1. 'Watching The Wildlife'

    Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Watching The Wildlife

    'Watching The Wildlife' was Frankie Goes To Hollywood's final ever single release, and it didn't fare too well on the charts either.

    That said, it's remembered fondly due to the stylistic change from the other songs on their 1986 album Liverpool, incorporating a more psychedelic, doo-wop sound.

    The band wanted to pay homage to their hometown which is why there's a genuine John Lennon feel on the sweeping guitar parts and string arrangements.

  2. 'Born To Run'

    Born To Run

    A Bruce Springsteen cover might seem like a bit of a curveball for a synth-pop sensation.

    But with Frankie Goes To Hollywood subversive bravado, it works, especially when you consider that 'The Boss' championed the stories of blue-collar people.

    Featuring on the band's lauded 1984 album, Welcome To The Pleasuredome, their passionate and pumping 'Born To Run' cover is as exhilarating as it gets.

  3. 'San Jose (The Way)'

    San Jose

    Another cover that featured on Frankie Goes To Hollywood's debut 1984 album was 'San Jose (The Way)'.

    A cover of Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach's 'Do You Know The Way To San Jose' - with a slightly re-jigged title - was one of the album's more pensive, tender moments.

    Encompassing the dreams of an ambitious band from humble beginnings, their wide-eyed version of a Bacharach mega-hit indicated the band weren't always courting controversy.

  4. 'Ferry Cross The Mersey'

    Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Ferry Cross The Mersey - Debut Appearance On The Tube.m4v

    A song that was evidently close to the Liverpudlian's hearts - and every person from Liverpool in honesty - is Gerry & The Pacemakers' 'Ferry Cross The Mersey'.

    Gerry Marsden's 1964 song was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and Frankie Goes To Hollywood lent an angelic quality to the regional favourite.

    Another cover version to feature on their debut album, the band fancied themselves to reinvigorate classic songs, and they don't come more evocative and atmospheric as this.

  5. 'Warriors Of The Wasteland'

    Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Warriors of the Wasteland (ZTAS25)

    Once they'd injected the mainstream charts with sexually-charged synth-pop, Frankie Goes To Hollywood turned their attention to hard-hitting rock.

    Guided through their musical transition by producer Stephen Lipson, the band - who until their second album largely used session musicians - took the lead, and leaned into becoming bonafide rock stars.

    With 'Warriors Of The Wasteland', the band made a hit out of a political statement, which would in turn be their final top 20 charting song in the UK.

  6. 'Rage Hard'

    Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Rage Hard

    Scaling back on the synths, Frankie Goes To Hollywood pushed a hole in expectations for the second album, Liverpool, by amping up the in-your-face guitar solo and pounding drum beats.

    'Rage Hard' encapsulates their change in direction, the first single from their second album which carried on the success of their first album, reaching No.4 in the UK charts.

    The lyrics were inspired by Dylan Thomas' poem, Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night, which reflects on death and not losing hope in the darkest moments of life.

    Frankie Goes To Hollywood may have changed tac slightly, but they were back with edgier material which mirrored the political landscape of the time.

  7. 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome'

    Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Welcome To The Pleasuredome

    The title track from their enduring 1984 album which shook up the music industry, 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome' embodied Frankie Goes To Hollywood's entire agenda.

    Based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan, the song touches upon the dangers of mindless excess and indulgence, much like Coleridge's poem.

    Not that their critics cared about the song's message, who branded the band debauched themselves.

    Despite the backlash, it remains one of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's greatest floor-fillers, proved by the band when they performed it for their Eurovision opening ceremony reunion in Liverpool in 2023.

  8. 'Two Tribes'

    Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Two Tribes

    'Two Tribes' riffed on the tribal battle between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, which was dragged into focus once again through the 1980s under Ronald Raegan's presidency.

    Frankie Goes To Hollywood certainly had their finger on the pulse when it came to political issues, and it merged the messaging with perfect synth-pop hits.

    Though it didn't fare that well in the US - maybe too close to the bone for some - it became the band's second number one hit in as many releases.

    They even occupied the top two spots once 'Two Tribes' went to number one, a feat only achieved by The Beatles and John Lennon, themselves Liverpudlians. The city's strange hold on this unique nugget of chart history was stopped by Madonna the following year.

  9. 'The Power Of Love'

    Frankie Goes To Hollywood - The Power Of Love

    The raunchy ravers and misbehavers indicated their versatility with their third single release, 'The Power Of Love', which has since become one of their most beloved songs.

    The song sees Holly Johnson tackling spirituality and religion, though they were once again lambasted for criticising faith, particularly with the accompanying music video which was filmed in the desert surrounding Jerusalem.

    Director Kevin Godley - himself a member of 10cc - told The Guardian in 2022: "'The Power of Love' was like the planets aligning. It's coming up to Christmas, the song's about love, what's the most appropriate thing we could do?"

    "We didn't set out to take the piss. We wanted it to be as genuine as possible, to hit some emotional marks in the song. I think the film amplifies that in a very appropriate way."

    After its release, Frankie Goes To Hollywood became a record-equalling chart sensation with their three debut singles reaching number one in the UK charts.

  10. 'Relax'

    Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Relax (Official Video)

    Could it be anything else? The synth-pop perfection, the "Frankie Say" slogan t-shirt craze, and the media furore around the song. 'Relax' can't be overlooked as Frankie Goes To Hollywood's greatest song.

    Its pulsating intro only hits home the song's overtly sexual innuendo from the get-go, combined with the band members performing in varying degrees of fetish gear.

    The homosexual messaging in 'Relax' went over the heads of most in the US, though the BBC banned the song from receiving airplay, the first song they'd culled since Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin's saucy duet 'Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus' in 1969.

    With the help of Trevor Horn's zeitgeist-capturing production in the studio - and the notoriety of being banned - Frankie Goes To Hollywood brought the underground to the mainstream, even in spite of the prejudice the queer community faced amid the AIDS epidemic.

    Initially saying the track was about "motivation", they couldn't fool anybody and later confessed 'Relax' was about "shagging".

    The controversy - and subsequent record sales - propelled the single to the top of the charts, beginning Frankie Goes To Hollywood's remarkable reign, staying put at the summit for five weeks.

    Even now 'Relax' remains a cultural signifier of the era, proof that Frankie Goes To Hollywood was one of the defining acts of the entire 1980s.