Aug 09


FT + Popular125 comments • 16,216 views

#536, 16th June 1984, video

In 1982, armageddon came to the pages of 2000AD. The Sov-Bloc, sworn enemies of Judge Dredd, invented a missile defense shield that allowed them to strike at Mega City One with impunity. They did so, having first maddened and weakened its already-decadent populace. In one memorable scene, as the missiles fall, citizens in as yet unbombed zones take advantage of the radiation heatwave to strip down and dance, singing a catchy tune called “Apocalypso”. It was a typical 2000AD touch, absurd but with a kernel of resonant truth. In the face of certain annihilation, what else to do but dance it on? “Two Tribes” – as thrill-powered a record as has ever hit the top – asks the same question and gets the same answer.

The first three Frankie singles, according to their ideologue Paul Morley, took on the biggest themes going: sex, war, religion. But which was which? “Relax” restaged sex as an arena fight, with the British public as the scandalised and delighted audience, thumbs twitching up or down. “Two Tribes”, on the other hand, takes the “Relax” blueprint and makes it even sleazier. More driving and more grandiose, yes, but Holly Johnson’s barks and gasps sound just as depraved, and the crazed robo-bass that thunders through the track – black leather on metal hips – gives “Two Tribes” an anchor in rock’n’roll “Relax” had lacked.

Like several hit records, “Two Tribes” is notionally about the futility of war: like few of the others, it reacts to this with a nihilist lust. If sex and horror are the new gods – and the lipsmacking way Holly asks the question leaves no doubt it’s rhetorical – then what better way to worship than a world sacrifice? Like a Shangri-La’s record, “Two Tribes” taps into pop’s doomed-youth death-drive, except it’s not just some Jimmy or Johnny on that fatal motorbike ride, it’s all of us. The video ends, modestly, with the planet exploding.

The song stayed on top for weeks, then months, thanks to the string of 12″ remixes ZTT rolled out to the public. Each emphasised different elements in the song, threw particular spotlights on its madness: one looped the band’s unbothered scouser voices from an interview: “My name’s Pedz, my name’s Mark, my name’s Nash…MINE. IS THE LAST VOICE YOU WILL EVER HEAR.” Another took the record’s bombastic intro and built it up into Wagnerian muscle disco. A third made too great a use of a somewhat ragged Reagan impersonator. You got the feeling that somewhere there must exist the perfect mix, the one which caught the very best moments of each version. If it were ever played, perhaps the world would end.

The single mix almost works as this imaginary highlights reel – the inhuman bass keeps the juxtapositions and sudden flourishes from seeming too wild, and only the abrupt ending lets you down. Horn had really cracked the technology by now, too, not just triggering the right samples at the right time but making them work in the song’s headspace, so the Eno-esque synth washes float over the hi-NRG thunder like battlefield mist, and the symphonic blurts sound like Pedz (or Mark or Nash) had stepped forward and simply pulled a full orchestra out of his pocket. As that summer wound on and the holidays started, I went round a friends’ house and saw the new walkman he’d just got for his birthday. I asked to give it a go and this was inside, on tape – the first thing I’d ever listened to on headphones. It was the most exciting sound I had ever heard. Still is.



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  1. 76
    swanstep on 14 Aug 2009 #

    is the original (no nixon, cruise-missile stuff at the beginning), better (more coherent and violent!) version of the vid., with great audio too (it appears to be ztt’s channel).

    I liked the vid. but don’t remember it (or see it now) as being anything like the tail that wagged the dog (as it were). Rather, it was the entree/taster for the ‘Annihilation mix’:
    whose bits of reagan-impersonator dialogue were in turn the opening act for all the different slabs of reagan-impersonator discussing che guevara and revolutionary love, and the logic of belligerence, and on and on, in the War cover and all its remixes. Note that War sounded *pretty* awesome even without all the Morleyisms. Check out driving across the judean desert to it here:

  2. 77
    Weekend roundup « Paperhouse on 15 Aug 2009 #

    [...] I’ve been listening to the first thing Tom Ewing listened to on headphones: “It was the most exciting sound I had ever heard. Still [...]

  3. 78
    Steve Mannion on 15 Aug 2009 #

    #74 I like the idea that pop acts were excited about making music videos on this basis. In most cases the videos don’t hold up as they banked mostly on the novelty factor enabling directors to set iconic precedents in the medium which viewers would remember, from MJ’s pavement dancefloor to Run DMC and Aerosmith’s ego war to the hapless CGI grafters of ‘Money For Nothing’ fame – vivid imagery that thu a wilfully nostalgic lens is all treasured by many young enough to accept and appreciate this as a vital part of the pop experience (with TV as much a gateway as the radio…maybe another part of why I disliked ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ during my childhood was that I felt it simply wasn’t true…yet). Imagining most of the successful acts of this time (and pretty much any hereon) without the imagery of their videos is very difficult for me.

  4. 79
    MikeMCSG on 15 Aug 2009 #

    The bass line is copped from “I Feel Love” so it was getting a second airing on a chart topper.
    I seem to remember the band originally wrote this song based on the post-apocalyptic Mad Max 2 and then the lyrics were amended for more topicality.

    I can’t see this as a ten because the song’s a bit of a let down after that fantastic intro but it did stop quite a few crap records (hi Neil) getting to number one !

  5. 80
    admin on 15 Aug 2009 #

    The bass line is copped from “I Feel Love”

    that’s not so clear is it? yeah it’s hi-nrg, but i’ve heard plenty of tracks that do clearly re-use the i feel love bass-line, and this is some way further off. it has a different internal rhythm. ok, so i’m not hot on the technical distinctions and lingo here, but IFL is an even pulse where TT is more quick-slow-quick-slow-y

  6. 81
    swanstep on 16 Aug 2009 #

    The bass part for TT is indeed a strange and wondrous thing: there’s a bit of I Feel Love’s pulse in there for sure (but not nearly as much as in, say, Eurythmics’ ‘Love is a Stranger’ from around the same time), but there’s a lot else going on too. I detect some of the monster opening bass-pattern from Off the Wall’s ‘Get on the Floor’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ierY2nOVX64) as well as some of the awesome bass from Sister Sledge’s ‘Thinking of you’ (So i agree with #80-admin). And, most importantly, the total effect of TT’s bass part is pummelling shock and awe, not sinuous, get down joy (the thing that its important antecedents are beloved for).

  7. 82
    Jonathan Bogart on 16 Aug 2009 #

    Just a note for the relevant eyes: I think the spam-bait in #61 is the use of BBCode rather than HTML tags. I’ve made the same mistake and had posts disappear on me.

  8. 83
    Kat but logged out innit on 16 Aug 2009 #

    The I Feel Love lineage is clear to me – not for the bassline itself but the oscillating synth used to bring it to life. I am an absolute sucker for that sort of thing (see Blog 92 stuff passim but also more recent examples like Roisin’s Overpowered and Robyn/Royksopp’s The Girl And The Robot). But while Robyn and Roisin’s bibblings are wistful daydreaming, Trevor’s tense mechanical buildup (plus Holly’s ringmaster barking) is whipping us up into a frenzied dogfight where the payoff is the bombastic soundtrack to an Eastern Bloc women’s gymnastic team landing their quadruple flip off the vault to score unbeatable, ruthless, terrifying straight-across-the-board 10s. And that’s what score I’d give this song.

  9. 84
    Caledonianne on 16 Aug 2009 #

    Since we’ve been name-checking Ultravox “this means nothing to me”.

    I had a proper job by this time, and I saw all this as commercialised twaddle with an overlay of phoney politics. Didn’t buy in to all the threat of nuclear winter stuff – just saw a government with friends in big armaments looking for cover to pay lots of taxpayers’ big ones to their mates, hence the “protect and survive” hoopla. Maggie and Ron pace the Gone with the Wind pastiche, upping the ante because of the weakness the ongoing Afghanistan adventure had shown in the Soviet armour (though, at the time, we didn’t really understand the extent of the proxy manoeuvres going on there).

    As someone who is fairly political (including three years – much later – as a professional political operative)I think we are having false memory syndrome re the extent to which armageddon seemed imminent to the average Joe. If anything it felt (to me) less precarious than when we were all queuing at draughty church halls to see the banned “The War Game” in the 70s.

    To me this is “boys and toys” writ large, with nothing to say to me, a vaguely compelling rhythm distracting from the abject hollowness of the core. Emperor’s new clothes stuff. The dreary soundtrack of a vapid and dreary decade.

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Next?

  10. 85
    Rory on 16 Aug 2009 #

    #84 – We’re not talking about the average Joe, though, so much as the average buyer of chart music, aren’t we? And teenagers aren’t exactly noted for their sunny, optimistic outlook.

    I distinctly remember a long conversation with my parents around this time, probably in ’84, where I expressed exactly these imminent-armageddon fears. Fortunately, by sharing their own memories of the Bay of Pigs era, they persuaded me that it might not happen this time either. Fortunately, too, none of us knew that it almost had happened by accident at least twice in 1983 alone.

    If it’s a false memory in my case, it’s hardly one triggered by Popular; I was writing about it almost a decade ago.

  11. 86
    Caledonianne on 17 Aug 2009 #

    Ach, if teenagers wanted to be gloomy or sad or cynical they should’ve listened to Lenny or Janis or Randy. You know, good stuff. ;-)With tunes, and more than two lines.

    Frankie was a cult. And I’ve always been immune to cult.

    Just wasn’t in the demographic, I guess.

  12. 87
    mike on 17 Aug 2009 #

    Oh, I think that genuine fear of nuclear Armageddon was pretty widespread amongst the teens of 1984, was it not? (Difficult for me to say for certain, being 22 at the time, but subsequent conversation and reading has suggested so.)

  13. 88
    Tom on 17 Aug 2009 #

    I respect yr disdain for all things 80s Caledonianne but the war fear of the 80s certainly wasn’t confined to Frankie. Potential game-changers were:

    - Afghanistan, which wasn’t generally interpreted as ‘weakness’ until the game was much closer to being up.
    - Reagan’s election, and a shift from realpolitik to a much more eyeball-to-eyeball US foreign policy (plus the vaguely patronising fear that he was a doddery old fool who really MIGHT bomb first and ask qns later)
    - Cruise missiles in the UK making us a primary first-strike target (which we were anyway but it brought the danger home a bit more)

    Of course I was an 80s teen so that’s when I was scared, but the above I think are good reasons to think it wasn’t JUST my own perspective that made the danger seem a bit nearer.

    Also “Threads” is way scarier than “The War Game” so there ;)

  14. 89
    ace inhibitor on 17 Aug 2009 #

    “If anything it felt (to me) less precarious than when we were all queuing at draughty church halls to see the banned “The War Game” in the 70s.”

    some of us were watching the – still banned – War Game in draughty quaker halls in 1983… less pedantically, the really big CND demonstrations, in my memory, were in 83/84 – the human chain from greenham to aldermaston, half a million (reportedly) in Hyde Park… nuclear-fear was huge, and not just among adolescents I think

    there’s maybe an echo here I think of the way opposition to the Vietnam war went mainstream in 1970/71, when the numerically biggest demonstrations were, whereas a lot of Movement people would have located the high point of protest as being 67/68 (smaller but more militant).

  15. 90
    enitharmon on 17 Aug 2009 #

    1984 was the year CND’s autumn rally came to Barrow! In order to encircle the Devonshire Dock, where nuclear-powered subs are built. (Now I’m living here in my home town again I feel it’s important to point out that we build the engines, which could be used to power merchant shipping just as easily. The destructive bits are, of course, made at Aldermaston near Reading.)

    Because it was my home town I made a big thing of making sure the St Neots CND branch had a bus going there. Once they arrived, parked on a piece of derelict dockland now occupied by Morrisons and an agreeable waterside promenade but then a bit of a mess, the driver asked when everybody wanted to go home. NOW! they all cried in unison.

    My partner and I sneaked across the Walney Bridge to the Ferry Hotel – quite a good pub in those days, crap now – to spend the afternoon enjoying pints of the sadly defunct Hartleys XB.

    NB – don’t know why I’ve suddenly become enitharmon – should be rosie. Let me check something.

  16. 91
    Rory on 17 Aug 2009 #

    Don’t forget the impact of nuclear winter on the teenage psyche at this time (and not just teenagers, as others noted). The concept entered the popular consciousness just before 1984 — see this 1983 Carl Sagan piece, for example — and it shook up beliefs such as being able to sit it out in a bunker, some parts of the globe being less affected than others, and so on. In my corner of the world we might previously have kidded ourselves that we were out-of-the-way enough to avoid the worst; now we were being told we would end up envying the ones taken out by the bombs themselves. (Cf. Cormac McCarthy’s recent novel The Road, a harrowing recreation of such early-’80s nightmares.)

    As Sagan wrote, “But what if nuclear wars can be contained, and much less than 5000 megatons is detonated? Perhaps the greatest surprise in our work was that even small nuclear wars can have devastating climatic effects. … The threshold for what Richard Turco has called The Nuclear Winter is very low.”

    This was new, and it did change the debate. For people in my age group, it changed our outlook, if not forever, then for a long time to come.

  17. 92
    Erithian on 17 Aug 2009 #

    Rosie #90 – not wishing to denigrate the St Neots CND branch in any way, but that story reminded me of the Tooting Popular Front!

    Kat #83 – a strange analogy since unbeatable Eastern Bloc women’s gymnastic teams were highly conspicuous by their absence at the LA Olympics which began during “Two Tribes”‘ run at number one.

  18. 93
    enitharmon on 17 Aug 2009 #

    Erithian @ 92: The comparison is entirely valid!

  19. 94
    enitharmon on 17 Aug 2009 #

    Erithian @ 92: The comparison is entirely valid!

    I like this login. It appears to have magical powers. I’m trying to think of a way of using it constructively, since I don’t seem to be able to log out of it!

  20. 95
    misschillydisco on 17 Aug 2009 #

    i have to say that the five crashing guitar chords that end the song are one of my favourite ever moments in pop.

  21. 96
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 17 Aug 2009 #

    yes they didn’t have nuclear winter in the 60s — it was invented by the scientists who realised that the dinosaurs were all made extinct by a giant asteroid and so might we be (to simplify rather severely)

  22. 97
    Erithian on 17 Aug 2009 #

    Channel 4 Top 100 Watch: with just over one and a half million sales, this is No 22 on the UK all-time list.

  23. 98
    swanstep on 17 Aug 2009 #

    The nuclear winter hypothesis functioned in two ways in the debate at the time: it seemed to show that there was little hope of survival even in places like New Zealand that probably wouldn’t take any direct hits (Rory’s point above), but it also argued that even an incredibly militarily successful first strike would be futile, because it would precipitate environmental collapse dooming the first striker. That was a new paradox for the strategists to think over. Add to this the thereat that Reagan’s mega-expensive and (still) largely fantastical SDI (‘star wars’) initiative would nonetheless potentially undermine existing deterrence strategy, and suddenly the whole ‘balance of terror’ structure seemed more unstable and absurd and obscene than it ever had before (and it was always *pretty* bad, see Dr Strangelove). This led to more and more agitatedly helpless protests by the masses, and so on. The anomalies just kept piling up… That’s the nutty pre-Gorbachev state of the world that Two Tribes and Reagan’s ‘we start bombing in 5 minutes’ joke on Aug 11, 1984 (as if he were providing a sound-bite for Frankie!) crown.

  24. 99
    AndyPandy on 17 Aug 2009 #

    I was a teen in the early/mid 80s and when I gave the situation any thought I was extremely worried by it – and that’s coming from a person who back then didn’t give a toss about politics or pretty much anything besides getting off my head and doing all the things that seemed to happen once you were off your head.

    The nuclear clock was at 2 minutes to midnight for the first time ever back then and I knew that one false move from either of the superpowers could at anytime mean that within a few minutes the vast majority of people in Britain would all be dead/dying in the most unimaginably horrible way.I couldn’t believe that our leaders were taking such a fuckin horrible risk.

    And of course one evening in 1983 we can all count ourselves very lucky to have ever woken up the next day…

    Not that most of the people I knew seemed to care.

    I think we should always remember that we (ie most of us on here who I should imagine are thinking people who probably went to university)are very different in some ways from the masses of teenagers ie the kind who I went to school with (working class, left school at 16, no qualifications)who I doubt ever gave the possibility of nuvlear anhilation a second thought.

  25. 100
    Izzy on 17 Aug 2009 #

    I don’t know, I wouldn’t say they didn’t give annihilation a thought – more likely they noted it then quickly filed it under ‘things I can’t do anything about and so not worth my time worrying about’, and then got on with life instead. I did have bad dreams for a while, then quickly adapted when I realised the world wasn’t going to end. It was only later that I learned to worry about things that didn’t concern me and prioritise ideas over the everyday, which led me to some distinctly unpopular times musically.

    They get it right more often than we do, I’d hazard. Sometimes I see the whole Popular project, in its due context, as a celebration of that view of life.

  26. 101
    Tom on 17 Aug 2009 #

    A comments century – and a very meaty one too.

  27. 102
    lonepilgrim on 17 Aug 2009 #

    The imminent threat of nuclear war permeated youth culture at that time – regardless of class or education:
    The plot of ‘V for Vendetta’ – which began publication in 1982 – takes place in a post-nuclear winter UK (in a scenario which Alan Moore has since recognised is a wildly optimistic version of what the country would look like). Raymond Briggs’ “When the wind blows’ book had also been published that year.
    There was also still a culture of resistance and protest – as seen at Greenham Common, the Miner’s Strike, Rock against racism, etc which didn’t require a University education

  28. 103
    Caledonianne on 17 Aug 2009 #

    Ace inhibitor’s point is very telling, I think. Good call re perceptions of activism. I was a member of CND in the late 70s, and felt most in danger around the time of the failed attempt to rescue the American hostages during the Carter regime (finally freed by the Iranians just as Carter had demitted office).By the 80s I knew enough Game Theory to get on with life. My sleepless nights came from unssuccessful attemps to get interdicts (injunctions) for victims of domestic violence. For me that was the “protect and survive” of the time. Never felt anything then like the apprehension I felt about using the tube in the aftermath of 7/7 (and in fact didn’t for nine months).

    Have a friend whose mother was one of the Greenham wimmin who took the MOD to the House of Lords over access rights. Game old bird, even now. Was usually in Holloway when I first knew her daughter.

    Good discussion. Still think the record’s pants, though;-)

  29. 104
    AndyPandy on 17 Aug 2009 #

    Lone Pilgrim @ 10: I’m not saying you needed a university education but surely you’re not saying the average person in their late teens/early 20s working as mechanics/builders/hairdressers/on the tills in shops etc back them had any interest in a “culture of resistance and protest”.

    And depressingly if they did have any opinions on Greenham Common/Rock Against Racism it would have been invariably hostile. One particularly ugly story that I remember circulating at the time involved a load of boozed up post chucking out time idiots driving up to the Daws Hill Peace Camp at the American airbase in High Wycombe and supposedly causing chaos by driving through the tents etc…obviously that was extreme but in all the years from leaving school spent having a succession of jobs in the building trade/or factory labouring to when I went to university I was condemned to live in a (youth)culture completely opposed to any progressive thought. Or more probably completely ignoring it.

  30. 105
    Mark G on 17 Aug 2009 #

    I had that Hibakusha mix in my box, back in the day.

  31. 106
    lonepilgrim on 17 Aug 2009 #

    “surely you’re not saying the average person in their late teens/early 20s working as mechanics/builders/hairdressers/on the tills in shops etc back them had any interest in a “culture of resistance and protest”.

    I am saying that there was a range of opinion both among the ‘average’ people – and the university ‘elite’. I was a Youth Worker in Barnsley in the years before the miners strike and the young people I worked with were more politically aware than many of the people I’d been at college with – than I was myself.

  32. 107
    enitharmon on 21 Aug 2009 #

    During its reign I hit my thirtieth birthday. I say ‘hit’ advisedly; I ran full tilt into this one and it hurt.

    I’ve always had a problem with my birthday being at the beginning of August. Other kids had big birthday parties but on my birthday other kids were always away on holiday so mine were a reduced affair. As it happens I was dreading my thirtieth as one does, because it felt like I would now be forever ancient and life as I knew it was about to come to an end. And, as so often, I was in a strange (very strange!) small town and there was nobody I knew all that well around to mark it with. So I treated myself to a meal for one in the St Neots Tandoori and in the middle of it I just burst into tears. Suddenly an impromptu party sprang up around me, with a large scotch free from the management.

    The following day I received a package, unfortunately delivered a day late. In the attached card was a note, saying that inside the package was something entirely appropriate to such a momentous birthday. And inside the package, a pair of red socks and another note saying “Red socks? Is that all?” (I’ve been a little bit disingenuous – the socks were, in fact, rather expensive Norwegian woollen walking socks.)

    It was then that I learned one of life’s most important lessons. When you are young you waste a lot of time looking ahead to a time when you will be Grown Up, and have to be responsible and stop having any fun in return for being treated with some respect. For many, it’s that ominous big Three-Oh that is the watershed, with what lies beyond being Over The Hill. But when you get there, you realise that being Grown Up was just a myth after all and ahead of you are real mountains, not hills. Forty was a ten-day party for me; Fifty a wonderful occasion.

  33. 108
    Billy Smart on 22 Aug 2009 #

    Bit too late to add very much… A few random thoughts.

    Did the Chernyenko lookalike in the video get any other work?

    In Rip It Up & Start Again, Reynolds sees FGTH as the culmination of a seven year cycle of post-punk mutating into new pop. He notes the massive sense of event and significance at the time, and the lack of any influence of FGTH on future music (unlike the Sex Pistols, who never seem to go away). I think that The KLF might have owed a bit to Frankie.

    I showed a group of 19 year-old undergraduates ‘The War Game’ recently and they seemed to get upset by it. They were most sceptical about the use of talking heads not implicated in the action, but that may be because documentary techniques of 1965 are now rather alien to them.

  34. 109
    Billy Smart on 24 Aug 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Frankie Goes To Hollywood performed Two Tribes on Top Of The Pops a whopping eight times! (The Christmas show I’ll come to in the fullness of time);

    14 June 1984. Also in the studio that week were; The Art Company, The Smiths, Scritti Politti, Nick Heyward and Nik Kershaw. Peter Powell & Mike Read were the hosts.

    21 June 1984. Also in the studio that week were; Gary Glitter, Cyndi Lauper, The Associates, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions and Elvis Costello. Gary Davies & Simon Bates were the hosts.

    5 July 1984. Also in the studio that week were; OMD, Ultravox, Thompson Twins and Shannon. Jimmy saville & Mike Smith were the hosts.

    12 July 1984. Also in the studio that week were; Shakatak, Neil, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Bluebells and Phil Fearon & Galaxy. John Peel & Tommy Vance were the hosts.

    19 July 1984. Also in the studio that week wereAlso in the studio that week were; The Mighty Wah!, Billy Idol, The Kane Gang, Blancmange, and Divine. Peter Powell & Richard Skinner were the hosts.

    26 July 1984. Also in the studio that week were; Phil Fearon & Galaxy, Neil, Hazell Dean, Jeffrey Osborne and Shakatak. Dave Lee Travis & Janice Long were the hosts.

    9 August 1984. Also in the studio that week were; Tracey Ullman, Windjammer, Hazell Dean and Blancmange. John Peel & Richard Skinner were the hosts.

  35. 110
    SteveM on 25 Aug 2009 #

    re 108 and FGTH’s (un)influence, the Discogs profile for Canadian MC Gonzales reveals he was primarily influenced by Frankie in his teenage years. Seems tenuous given the general dominant jazz-funk and hip-hop aspects of the Gonzales ouevre but, uh, there you go.

  36. 111
    punctum on 10 Sep 2009 #

    “However, life is cheap, dirt cheap, according to this society, judged by the way it acts, the only true test, saw Christie, dispite its pious mouthings. What it does in practice is not what it says it does. It does not care for human life: it shortens that life by the nature of the work it demands, it poisons that life in pursuit of mere profit, it organises wars from which it is certain mass killing will result…but you know the ways in which we are all diminished: I should not need to rehearse them further.”
    (BS Johnson, Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, chapter XIII: “Christie Argues With Himself!”)

    “It was not from modesty that I wanted to be a drummer in those days. That was the highest aspiration – the rest is nothing.”
    (Adolf Hitler, from the transcript of his final address to the judges at his Beer Hall Putsch high treason trial, 1924)

    Much as the names Joy Division and New Order attempt to make right signifiers which are otherwise irretrievably wrong, so Horn and Morley’s reclamation of the term Art Of Noise from the Italian Futurists who coined it can be viewed in a similar light. Marinetti and his disciples openly welcomed war and apocalypse, revelled in its promises of blood and carnage – and inevitably ended up cheerleading for Mussolini.

    Trevor Horn has subsequently been rather diffident about “Two Tribes,” claiming that it was more of an examination of the alleged glamour and attraction of war and slaughter rather than an anti-war record per se. While this certainly isn’t wrong – the sleevenotes juxtapose sober reflections of the infancy and subterfuge of nations who need to keep the pretence of war alive in order to justify their military budgets with detailed lists of proposed Cruise and Pershing II missile deployments in Western Europe for 1985 and remarks about the Gurkas being “the kind of men one would wish to go into the jungle with” with a deliberate phallic bent, and on the B-side’s cover of Edwin Starr’s “War,” Chris Barrie, impersonating Reagan, delivers a chilling “Relax” before admitting “I don’t want to die” – Morley certainly had different ideas.

    “Two Tribes” was designed to be to the summer of 1984 what “God Save The Queen” had been to the summer of 1977 – an inescapable and huge gauntlet of protest. The 12-inch itself featured pictures of Lenin and Reagan dead centre on either side, with the hole going through their foreheads as though they had just been shot. More than anything it was to be ZTT’s Gesamtkunstwerk; a total work of art involving not just the basic song and its infinite remixes, but the sleeve design (the rear of the 12-inch sleeve features Thatcher and Reagan in mute hand-on-heart prayer, Thatcher’s eyes closed as though in deep anticipation of imminent orgasm, Reagan smiling dopily, Donald Rumsfeld in shades and scowl lurking just behind both), the video (directed by Godley and Creme and featuring Reagan and Chernenko lookalikes slugging it out in a Jerry Springer-anticipating chat show arena), even unto the adverts and press interviews. Each element commented on, or amplified, or changed the perspective on, all of the other ones. It was New Pop’s final battle; to put the rest of 1984′s New Right pop to total and humiliating shame.

    The contemporary impact of “Two Tribes” must be put in its proper perspective. In the summer of 1984 I had just completed my Finals and graduated from Oxford, which politically at the time could fairly be said to divide into two unequal-sized camps – the CND/Labour/National Union Of Mineworkers-supporting Old Left, and the Thatcherite what-me-worry-straight-to-the-City-and-don’t-pass-the-slums New Right. Economic cold rationalism was already beginning to bite into the veins of academia, and increasingly large numbers of people saw no reason why unregulated free market economics should not be welcomed or embraced.

    But to those of us still on the Left, disgusted if not surprised by Labour’s rout in the 1983 General Election – although their 1983 election manifesto was described as “the longest suicide note in political history” it represented, and still represents, everything in which I believe. But no one else believed it at the time, despite the Greenham Common protests and lock-ins, despite the utterly palpable dread of imminent nuclear holocaust – this was in the immediate pre-Gorbachev days, when nothing had been resolved. Nevertheless the threat of forthcoming extermination breathed fire down every properly fearful neck; but no, the weapons had to be kept and maintained and added to, since every Chile and El Salvador with the brass neck to try socialism was routinely routed from the viewpoint that They Had Been Put Up To It By Russian Guys In Big Furry Hats.

    And then, more pressingly, there was the miners’ strike, which lasted the best part of a year and revealed the fascism always latent in the British establishment when challenged at its root. I well recall travelling on the motorways of Britain that summer, seeing coaches of ordinary people being routinely pulled over and emptied by police (“We’re arresting everyone this morning”) because by default they were carrying flying pickets. At the coal depots themselves police hurled themselves at strikers with bloody battlecries and set about them on live television with truncheons, baseball bats and worse. Meanwhile the smugness of the Tory heartlands radiated like capitalist plutonium; Auberon Waugh remarking in the Telegraph that the South of England had sufficient reserves of coal for decades and that the underclass were getting what they had deserved since the days of the Chartists. Among the mining communities themselves there formed irrevocable splits and rifts; those too broke or too afraid to remain out on strike tried to return to work, with consequent violence, social ostracising and, in the end, fatalities (the music press too was silent that summer due to a National Union of Journalists strike – so there is a pleasant attendant irony that no immediate critical commentary on “Two Tribes” was ever made). But there were also differences within that community itself; the 22-year-old Jarvis Cocker (though not a miner) routinely turned out for picket lines and NUM support in Sheffield and environs but he too was regularly ridiculed by miners for sitting in cafes wearing glasses and…gasp…reading books (to quote Alan Bennett’s comment on another “scab” miner, filmed against a backdrop of shelves and shelves of books, “he was clearly on a different track from his brothers even before the strike began”).

    “Two Tribes” acted as a rallying call, a protest on the part of the sizeable minority who weren’t blinded or bewitched by the alleged wonders of Thatcherism, a furious roar of defiance against the flimsy facade which 1984 Britain presented from all quarters. It was designed to flatten the opposition – and, at least in terms of that summer’s alleged pop, it did.

    The record was premiered on Radio 1 ten days before its release – and in those days that was considered a long time; normally new releases would only be played one week before release. Peter Powell opted for the “Annihilation” 12-inch version; audibly shaken, he stated that this was “the most exciting and startling record to come along in…years.” The group were interviewed live on air – there was no way that the BBC could also ban “Two Tribes” despite its far more inflammatory nature; they had already been made to look sufficiently ridiculous. Powell urged listeners to go for the full 12-inch rather than the standard 7-inch mix (which really does only tell part of the story) and then played it in full, uninterrupted. At the end there was a silence which lasted for seconds, before Powell came back on to say that “All in all, it’s more than I can cope with…I think it’s stunning.”

    It was, and it is. Opening with air-raid sirens and Anne Dudley’s biggest, boldest orchestral introduction to date, the timpani and drums explode like junior ICBMs as Barrie’s Reagan presents himself as one of the record’s two “narrators.” “Ladies and gentlemen…Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Possibly the most important thing this side of the world,” immediately followed by a Scouse snigger of “well ‘ard” from one of The Lads before the gigantic beat kicks in – hard-on-the-one, like “Relax” but at double speed. Compared with even the mainstream dance music released in 1984 this sounded like Picasso among a shed of schoolboy scribbles.

    The beat plateaus, Fairlight and orchestra re-enter, and “Reagan” intones the famous “You may pronounce us guilty a thousand times over…” speech – which is also taken from Hitler’s final summation at the abovementioned Beer Hall Putsch trial. Comparing Reagan to Hitler was not unknown in the non-mainstream music and contemporary art of the time (see Peter Kennard’s photomontages, for instance) but in the middle of the marketplace it was like a nailbomb being set off. Topped by his abstract “history will absolve” and an apposite quote from the chorus of “American Pie” it was also extremely chilling.

    Then “Reagan” disappears, to be succeeded by the closer-than-the-ear-can-hear voice of actor Patrick Allen. It was Allen who had been booked to do the voiceover for the absurd Government Protect And Survive nuclear war public information campaign in the sixties (Britain’s Duck And Cover) and he was hired by Morley to recreate his announcements in this new and startling context. To hear Allen’s grave authoritative baritone reading out ludicrosities like “If you’re caught in the open, lie down” over Horn and Dudley’s increasingly harder and menacing backdrop scared the shit out of me and everyone else who heard the record for the first time that summer. Most chilling of all is the seemingly snagged tape loop of the instruction “If your mother (or grandmother) or any other member of your family should die whilst in the shelter, put them outside, but remember to tag them first for identification purposes” with shrill string and percussive screams behind Allen’s voice. This was purposely uncomfortable listening.

    That storm eventually breaks, and “Reagan” re-enters with some gallows humour – “Ha! It’s enough to make you wonder if you’re on the wrong planet!” – and then, after a quadruple quadriceps revving-up of the bass, Holly’s howl comes in and the song proper begins. Though in itself “Two Tribes” is not much more than a list of dissolute signifiers (“Shirts by Van Heusen,” “Cowboy Number One”) with the usual sexual metaphors (“Switch off your shield/Switch off and feel”) and the occasional pointed, pertinen jibe (“Working for the black gas” – then as now), as a record, and in terms of purpose-driven bigness, it is all that is required. In the instrumental break (as opposed to the Prokofiev quotations and “Love and life” beseechments in the 7-inch) Allen returns with more pointless instructions (“You will hear three bangs like this” – followed by utter silence). After his exclaimed “Keep the door shut,” Allen and Holly intermingle for one final rush, Johnson’s screams trying to climb above Allen’s determined, robotic bureaucracy. With the final reckoning of “Are we living in a land where Sex and Horror are the NEW GODS?” the final nails into the coffin of humanity are banged in again and again…and then it ends (the truly scary postscript, tucked away right at the end of the B-side, features Allen over creeping, sinister electronic drones, intoning “Mine is the last voice you will ever hear. Do not be alarmed”).

    I was working in a record shop in Oxford that summer and I remember the huge consignment of “Two Tribes” we had delivered that weekend. By about 10:30 on the Monday morning we were out of 12-inches – having handily kept copies of both the 7-inch and 12-inch aside for ourselves – and kept having to order and re-order. Queues formed outside the shop. With advance orders of close to a million, “Two Tribes” was guaranteed to enter the chart at number one, but even then few could have anticipated the gigantic side-effects. In that first week it outsold all of the singles occupying numbers 2-37 in the chart put together. They were welcomed back to TOTP and treated like royalty returning from exile. They made everything else on the programme look timid. Thanks to the usual string of remixes and remodellings – but also in part because of a worrying lack of competition – “Two Tribes” remained at number one for nine weeks, the first single to do so since “You’re The One That I Want” six years previously. Its orbit was so remorselessly attractive that it even pulled “Relax” back up the charts in its slipstream, all the way back up to number two – Frankie thus becoming the first act since the Beatles to keep themselves off the top. They owned the fucking summer and they knew it – Johnson in particular was dazed that they had become to 1984 what Bowie and Roxy had been to 1973, except that neither Bowie nor Roxy had even managed a number one single that year. With a few very notable exceptions – Prince, the Smiths, Scritti, Sylvian, Bronski Beat, Melle Mel and precious few others – the rest of that summer’s pop music might as well not have bothered. Compare Nik Kershaw’s timid and weedy anti-nuclear ditty “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” which briefly occupied second place to “Two Tribes” before being unceremoniously unseated by the resurgent “Relax” and the difference is like pop before Elvis and pop after Eno – instead of CHOOSE LIFE, Frankie’s Hamnett-derived T-shirts urged ARM THE UNEMPLOYED. The original Annihilation 12-inch mix was and remains a work of peerless pop art, as sadly relevant now as it was a generation ago. At the time it seemed like the ultimate and glorious revenge of New Pop, which looked to be triumphant and omnipresent in ways at which even 1982 had only hinted.

    And then George Michael went back to number one, as he had been before “Two Tribes,” as though nothing had happened.

  37. 112
    Paul Lester on 25 Sep 2009 #

    Marcello, this is an absolutely brilliant piece on a truly brilliant single. You’re right, this was a New Pop-culminating record, and it blew my mind at the time, seemed to take over my life that summer, even if ever since I’ve been left wondering whether I must have imagined it all – it barely gets a mention in the press, and you’d think it was just some novelty Hi-NRG dance track from the way it’s consistently been ignored this past quarter century, rather than the, as you say, total work of art that it is. Good point about the press being “off” that summer – not that it would have made much difference because Frankie are one of the most weirdly underpraised bands ever, which I can only put down to jealousy on the part of NME journos of Mr Morley.

  38. 113
    Brooksie on 4 Mar 2010 #

    The thing that always bothered me about Frankie, is that the band seemed like such a groups of lunkheads. I remember listening to this and wondering how such great music could be made by such moronic sounding musicians. The answer was, of course; it wasn’t made by them. The Sex Pistols had made music under the Punk DIY ethic and had their songs tied together with Lydon’s acerbic and unforgettable lyrics. There was no question they made their own songs (more or less). With the Frankie rebellion, it was clear that the music being bought was less to do with the band than Horn’s production. It was rebellion by committee; it all seemed a little too perfect and well-timed. Naturally, when Horn and Morley left the band to their own devices they completely caved. But for this moment they ruled the world. It was then and is now – a great slice of power pop.

  39. 114
    thefatgit on 5 Mar 2010 #

    Tom’s paragraph on Judge Dredd is apt. In JD’s development arc John Wagner invents new problems and obstacles for JD to overcome. Carlos Ezquerra devised the definitive lantern-jawed look for JD, even after initially creating a blend of Death Race 2000′s Frankenstein (Ezquerra designed the poster for that movie) and Shaft. Subsequent artists, Brian Bolland, Ron Smith and Steve Dillon experiment with Dredd’s look. Ron Smith in particular attempts to soften Dredd’s image, much to the annoyance of many a fan. Dredd’s reinterpretation is almost the mirror image of the half-dozen or more (unsure of the total) mixes of the single “Two Tribes”, one becoming more dismorphic than the last.

    Punctum’s choice of the Annihilation mix as the ultimate version is unsurprisingly as far removed from the original 7″ (possibly the most unsettling piece of vinyl you could listen to, even today) as you could get, until the cassingle arrived and seemed to cherry-pick the best bits of all the previous mixes and blend it into an epic creative fable from it’s origins as a 7″.

    The summer of ’84 belonged to Frankie; Holly’s YYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH’s and those Scally jesters, Pedz, Mark and the other one(?) that made up the rest of the band, Paul Rutherford as proto-Bez, Morley’s ego cranked up to 11 and Trevor Horn revelling in the creative bombast of it all. Katherine Hamnett’s voluminous slogan t-shirts were the icing on the Frankie cake…everyone I knew at the time had bought a slice.

  40. 115
    thefatgit on 5 Mar 2010 #

    Just a minor correction to the above: it’s the Annihilation mix and not the 7″ that is possibly the most unsettling piece of vinyl…

  41. 116
    Paytes on 17 May 2010 #

    Punctum’s piece (at 109)is probably the best thing ever committed to this site and sums up what it was like (as far as my 12 year old self can remember) during that Summer

    I still like Careless Whisper , though … ;)

  42. 117
    KIJUHYGTFR on 9 May 2011 #

    BOXE NOFAL 2011

  43. 118
    Mark G on 10 May 2011 #

    #111 absolutely captures it.

  44. 119
    nick on 2 Apr 2013 #

    Great write up for the greatest song ever made


  45. 120
    Mark G on 30 Sep 2013 #


  46. 121
    glue_factory on 30 Sep 2013 #

    Doh, I was hoping Two Tribes Longchamp Bags was one of the products they missed from the insert of Welcome To The Pleasuredome. But now my PC is spamming the world and Dr.Durotoye from Nigeria has all my money.

  47. 122
    thefatgit on 30 Sep 2013 #

    I believe the bags were named after Edith Sitwell, if memory serves correctly.

  48. 123
    Hugh on 9 Sep 2014 #

  49. 124
    hectorthebat on 5 Dec 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 705
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 741
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1980s (2008)
    Mojo (UK) – 80 from the 80s: Our Fave 45s for Each Year, 1980-1989 (2007) 1
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1980s (2012) 54
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (2002) 85
    Q (UK) – The 50 Most Exciting Tunes Ever (2002) 50
    Q (UK) – Top 20 Singles from 1980-2004 (2004) 19
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Wanadoo (UK) – The 20 Best Songs of the 80s
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 14
    Melody Maker (UK) – Singles of the Year 1
    Schlager (Sweden) – Singles of the Year 2
    Spex (Germany) – Singles of the Year 12

  50. 125
    Michael K on 20 Oct 2015 #

    It’s good that you start this excellent piece by remembering that so much of military and marketing ‘imagination’ is sourced in comics and sci-fi, now more than ever as Research budgets get allotted to ideas that Phil. K. Dick starved for.
    But there’s something more specifically in the Two Tribes thing, the reason why you and I were prepared to buy several versions then all the versions and then the rest of what ZTT were putting out.
    When someone, commenting, observes that all of this has been forgotten, it’s probably because all of us, at some time, totted up how much we’d spent on two or three Frankie Goes to Hollywood singles. God help those who continued to be addicted as there’s been no cessation by Horn, Morley and co in the variations right up to date.

    But back in 1984, what was happening was that Horn and Morley were summoning up all of bootleg culture (an alternative to reality) and placing it in the world of Marvel Comics (with variant covers). Underrated as the germ of genius that made such a devlish scheme possible is the band, who were just as razor-sharp.

    We shall never see their like again until the next boxed set. Oh here it comes now…

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