Monday, April 26, 2021

Musical Monday - Two Tribes by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: June 16, 1984 through August 11, 1984.

In the United States, Frankie Goes to Hollywood was basically a one hit wonder. In the U.K., they had multiple songs reach the top of the pop charts, including this one, which dominated the British pop charts for pretty much the entire summer of 1984. The thing is, while I can see why this song was not a big hit in the U.S., and why it might have resonated in other parts of the world, I am of the opinion that it is just not a very good song that happened to be attached to a fairly compelling music video.

The lyrics of the song are a pretty blunt assessment of the dangerous and potentially destructive rivalry that existed at the time between the United States and the U.S.S.R., taking some pretty sharp jabs at both sides, and Ronald Reagan in particular. Given the nature of American popular culture at the time, this probably served to limit the song's popularity in the U.S., an issue that obviously would not be a problem for U.K. audiences. The larger problem is that while the lyrics do have a handful of bitterly satirical turns, they descend into being annoyingly repetitive, matching the pounding but kind of boring music that backs them.

Where this song really shines is the music video that was made for it which depicts a no-holds barred grudge match between a Reagan caricature on one side and a Chernenko-like character on the other. The pair go back and forth taking shots at one another between grandstanding for the crowd of world leaders crowded around the ring. The members of Frankie Goes to Hollywood appear in the video as a sportscasting team broadcasting the match and offering color commentary. Although the video is just as blunt in its messaging as the lyrics of the song, somehow the satire works better visually than it does as lyrics.

The fact that the video elevates a kind of mundane song into an iconic cultural artifact is more or less the story of the 1980s. The rise of MTV, and as a result the rise of music videos, transformed the world of pop music, making the visual offering as important as (and sometimes more important than) the auditory portion of a pop song.

Previous Musical Monday: Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper
Subsequent Musical Monday: Dancing in the Dark by Bruce Springstein

Previous #1 on the UK Chart: Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham!
Subsequent #1 on the UK Chart: Careless Whisper by George Michael

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

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