Monday, 4 May 2009

1984 Frankie Goes To Hollywood: The Power Of Love

You can't argue with the math - third single, third number one. An impressive record by anyone's standards. What makes it all the more noteworthy is that instead of wringing the last drops out of their tried and tested high energy dance formula, FGTH wrongfooted expectations by releasing an uber ballad that riffed on the theme of 'love' with a dead straight bat.

Building from a strummed acoustic guitar, spare piano and a wistful vocal, 'The Power Of Love' builds with a slow burn into a series of waves that hit the listener with all the force of 'Relax', but which wash over rather than pummel into submission, making it a strangely ambient listen for all its bluster.

Instead of being a pop song dressed up in fancy clothes to try and pass it off as something more worthy or 'serious', 'The Power Of Love' only 'works' by virtue of its total package; it would not be the same song if any of it's internal equation were altered in any way. Lyrically direct, 'The Power Of Love' contains none of the ambiguity of 'Relax' or 'Two Tribes'; it's a love song pure and simple and Holly Johnson's vocal does not need to define the love as homo or hetro because it simply does not matter:

"The power of love

A force from above
Cleaning my soul
The power of love
A force from above
A sky-scraping dove"

Straight, direct and with a clarity that excluded no-one from the party, 'The Power Of Love' is devoid of the cynicism or risqué camp that many thought were FGTH's stock in trade and the band resolutely refuse to give a knowing wink to the camera. And by name checking 'the Hooded Claw' they cleverly ensured that a whole different generation, who perhaps saw themselves as too old or too cool to be involved in all the T shirt malarkey, sat up and took notice.

As a song it's always predictable, even on first listen, and you always know exactly where it's going. Though a power ballad at heart, you can't imagine it stripped down or 'unplugged' to acoustics as it would just get repetitive, boring and end up chasing its own tail. But Trevor Horn's production is again the key to the success of the song and the anticipation of a reprise of the previous verse with added gusto and the slam of the orchestration adds a genuine frisson to the experience. Even if a Sinatra was to tackle it he'd need to retain the arrangement to retain the power.

And yet for all of the above, 'The Power Of Love' represents the first time that team Frankie put a foot wrong. By wrapping the single in a sleeve of religious iconography and promoting it with a video that featured the nativity, 'The Power Of Love' has wrongly been branded a 'Christmas song' and is now rarely played outside the festive season. No doubt such cynical promotion helped to blast the song to number one in December 1984, but the intervening years have seen it relegated to almost an also ran status behind the first two singles whereas it is in fact my favourite of the trio. But no matter, the lack of contemporary airplay means that out of the three it's the one that still sounds the freshest. At any time of the year.

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