13
Aug 09

FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD – “Two Tribes”

FT + Popular125 comments • 20,326 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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Comments

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  1. 31
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Aug 2009 #

    WHERE NONE IS A NUMBER

  2. 32
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Aug 2009 #

    SAW: Well, “rising” in the sense they had so far worked together on Cyprus’s entry in 1984 Eurovision, and THAT’S IT. The record they made with Divine wasn’t out till July (acc.wiki). I think the grasp of what was to come goes the other way round: except they WERE DJs (or were anyway much more locked into the sensibility).

  3. 33
    Steve Mannion on 13 Aug 2009 #

    we’ll get the ‘too many mixes’ thing on another big 80s #1. i wonder if it actually hampered the 12″ sales tho, preventing them from surpassing ‘Blue Monday’ (tho Relax and Two Tribes obv sold a lot more overall, both in the top 5 biggest-selling singles of the decade iirc) which ended up with the similar achievement of having had more remixes of it released than any big hit.

  4. 34
    will on 13 Aug 2009 #

    I always thought it was “a point is all that you can score.”

    I’m not sure how I feel about Two Tribes these days. At the time I got carried away by the whole gynormousness of the whole, yes, event. The biggest sounding record was the biggest selling record about the biggest issue in all of our lives at the time. Straight in at the top and then Number One for nine whole weeks. It was hard not to by dwarfed by it all.

    And now? Well, there’s not much of a song there, is there? And now that nuclear paranoia is no longer an ever-present fact of life, it feels more of its time than perhaps any other 1984 Number One. Some pop songs grow in stature as the years go by, Two Tribes feels like one that’s shrunk.

  5. 35
    Mark M on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Re 20: “Penthouse suites, cocaine and champagne” more likely to = somebody droning on with ferocious urgency about brand identity than to be the precursor to great sex or anything else. And as assorted folk have pointed out, the fact that she was shagging dear old Bob Elms extinguished any mystery remaining around Sade after you’d heard her soporific tunes.

  6. 36
    logged-out Tracer Hand on 13 Aug 2009 #

    lex have you listened to very much Sade? Her music is much more about loneliness, bare feet, skunk, and being sad.

  7. 37
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Aug 2009 #

    THE INDIE OF SOUL

  8. 38
    Pete Baran on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Yes, shagging this would wipe away all sophistication I think.

  9. 39
    mike on 13 Aug 2009 #

    As it happens, SAW’s first release did pre-date “Two Tribes” by a few weeks or so: “The Upstroke” by Agents Are Aeroplanes, which was conceived as a direct rip-off of “Relax”!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwF8F8fc-so

    (Also, SAW/Divine’s “You Think You’re A Man” started getting radio play round about the same time as “Two Tribes.”)

  10. 40
    lonepilgrim on 13 Aug 2009 #

    btw – is Corinne Bailey-Rae the Sade of today?

    I don’t mind either of them – although neither of them are as ‘sophisticated’ as they are often portrayed

  11. 41
    Miguel Toledo on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Appreciating Sade for being decadent, then dismissing FGTH (probably the most decadent ensemble ever) is totally off the mark.

  12. 42
    Martin Skidmore on 13 Aug 2009 #

    I have some real love for this mostly because of a very memorable scene in the Comic Strip’s TV movie Supergrass. Actually it is the only thing I remember about the whole film: Robbie Coltrane in a suit carrying a guitar case along a sea wall/jetty as waves crash across it, soundtracked by “Two Tribes.” You can watch it now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gL9XM2_S_sM.

  13. 43
    Conrad on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Well, I absolutely love New Pop and don’t go at all with this style over substance argument. In great pop there is plenty of room for both.

    But this. THIS!

    This is such a non event as a piece of music. A real non-event. The moment where Horn’s production brilliance spilled over into parody. The incessant bass riff is great, but the rest is a drag. I admire the ambition, but a song as sleight as this comes nowhere near carrying it off.

    I am genuinely surprised at the enthusiastic response to this one. I think it must be partly an age thing to an extent – in early/mid teenage a gap of only 3 or 4 years can make a significant difference. I still loved pop in 1984 but New Pop, rather than being at its peak, seemed well past its sell by date by now.

  14. 44
    Alan on 13 Aug 2009 #

    most urgent, er point, is that it does indeed appear to be ‘(a) point’ is all you can score. judging by the miming on display in the ToTP videos on YouTube it’s definitely plosive looking with a swallowed to non-existent ‘a’. the rest of the world is not so sure acc to google:

    “one is all that you can score” 242 results
    “a point is all that you can score” 349 results

    the lousy lyrics sites fall in the latter camp, and although they do just rip each other off i see more reputable sites there too including (ahem) MTV with a “gracenote” credit.

    doesn’t stop the rest of the world having another view. FOR TWENTY FIVE YEARS.

    and the same gracenote credited lyrics do include the backing line “sock it to me biscuits, now”. so i’m still not 100% convinced

  15. 45
    LondonLee on 13 Aug 2009 #

    I’d say “only” a 9.5 from me, but at the time I would have gone up to 11.

    I haven’t heard the 7″ version in a long, long time so it never really occurred to me to think about how much or little of an actual “song” there is to this. To me it’s always existed in long, epic, widescreen form (either the Annihilation Mix or the OTT 16-minute Cassette Mix) way beyond the pop song structure of verse-chorus-hook etc. Is there a “song” in all the mayhem and effects? Probably not, just a couple of refrains repeated over and over again and enlarged to Cecil B. DeMille size by Trevor Horn.

    There was more that one version of the video too, wasn’t there? Around this time my friends and I used to drink in this bar/club off Regent Street which had a big screen that was always showing a long version of the video which used cut and spliced old clips of Richard Nixon to great effect. One of the first vids I ever saw that did that sort of “mash up”.

  16. 46
    Alan on 13 Aug 2009 #

    that’s the video linked in the main post BTW

  17. 47
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    #43 – well I would see this as a last hurrah of New Pop, rather than Mike’s peak, but he’s a bit older than me and ‘was there’.

    To be absolutely honest with you, I’m quite glad to see the back of NP. Amazing at the time, the records absolutely stand up, but surely it wasn’t meant to become the slightly sniffy measuring stick it has sometimes been in these comments boxes? Not getting at you in particular Conrad – we’ve all been at it – but all this ‘what was real New Pop and what wasn’t’ is a bit, I dunno, puritan for my liking. Like it was Power Pop or something. I’d known this was likely to be a 10 from decades off, and now it’s exploded over yr screens in purple praise I’m really keen to be getting onto the less historicised, more contestable second half of the 80s!

  18. 48
    Steve Mannion on 13 Aug 2009 #

    I’d never heard the term ‘New Pop’ until a couple of years ago so talk of it has been a little lost on me although I can see what the tunes tagged with it have in common, just about.

  19. 49
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    OK, re-reading that I’ve been way too harsh (crabby after 5 hr journey home from work, plus internal issues surrounding quite different bits of writing I’m doing about other bits of ‘pop history’).

    Conrad’s comment wasn’t saying anything LIKE what I was reading into it, and I’m obviously getting this sense of New Pop evolving into a critical cult from somewhere else completely. (I’d say Rip It Up And Start Again, maybe, except I’ve never read it!)

  20. 50
    Miguel Toledo on 13 Aug 2009 #

    The cult of new pop is about to enter Momus’ “anxious echo” land? I won’t change my mind and I’ll always stand by new pop, but 80’s nostalgia? It’s about time it goes back to rot in hell.

  21. 51
    AndyPandy on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Bang on Conrad’s comment @43 – New Pop could contain style, substance and just about everything else but surely it was dead in the water by about mid 1983 and Frankie Goers to Hollywood were an awful parody and in this responsible for 1 of the ugliest Number 1s there’s been.
    And also ironic in its use of ‘mixes’ and the 12″ format for something so relentlessly un-dancey…

    This didn’t have any substance and defintely didn’t have any style…

  22. 52
    Izzy on 13 Aug 2009 #

    I was having a nostalgic look at the whole cold war horror chic when I revisited this record a while back. Fascinating stuff and curious that we all lived under its shadow, but what’s most amazing is how it all (‘Protect and Survive’, ‘Two Tribes’, that famous daisy-picking advert) permeated my consciousness as a child at the time – I had nightmares about nuclear attack – even though I have no actual memories of seeing or hearing any of it. Its incorporation into this moment I still consider some kind of proud, cynical pop genius.

    I mean, there’ll’ve been nothing like this in Russia.

  23. 53
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    I had not seen that Seth Godin-esque chart of Momus’ before now!

    No, not really an “anxious echo” in the way he’s using it.

    I think it’s more about the difference between the good and the interesting.

    When pop critics look at history, because they’re fans too they generally look at the good bits first. So these are the bits that get narrativised, and idealised, and New Pop is an example of this. Helps too that it was being narrativised at the time by Morley, etc.

    But once that’s happened those bits become less interesting, unless all you’re interested in is peak moments at least. The times that don’t fit into the narratives, on the other hand, have been comparatively neglected and end up more interesting. Even though they’re not as good. So: 60-62, 70-71, 75, 80, 85-86….

    (You can really see how this is going to pan out for the 00s too)

  24. 54
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    #51 – like a lot of records dance music fans describe as un-dancey, this is incredible fun to dance to.

  25. 55
    Conrad on 13 Aug 2009 #

    I agree that the term New Pop has been used (too) exhaustively over the past couple of years or so of Popular entries.

    Funnily enough, for me it always meant more a feel than anything else – a bright, yellowy, spring into summer ’82, ABC, Haircut, Dollar/Horn, Simple Minds, Associates et al …and of course Paul Morley’s NME Singles reviews.

    So, yes there’s a clear lineage to Frankie via Horn and Morley, but not remotely the same feel. I appreciate ‘feel’ is pretty nebulous. I just think part of the fun of NP was its transience and its summery-ness – perhaps it can’t be subjected to too much in-depth critical analysis in the way more weighty matters such as punk or hip hop can.

  26. 56
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Aug 2009 #

    it occurred to when stevem brought up SAW that in the end the problem w/the FGTH project — and actually the whole ztt project — was that it needed (like SAW) to be churning out a ton of flimsy in-between stuff to get its pop antenna right: it was too small working on too few BI-I-IG projects

  27. 57
    TomLane on 14 Aug 2009 #

    Here in the U.S. “Two Tribes” peaked at #43. “Relax” was re-released after “Two Tribes” and went Top 10. The video for “Two Tribes” , however, was an MTV staple. An easy 8 for the song and a 10 for the video.

  28. 58
    Steve Mannion on 14 Aug 2009 #

    Well they sort of “made up” for that in the 90s and beyond with a pretty lousy roster (808 State and a few Seal and SOR songs aside) from Honky to Raging Speedhorn to David Jordan. A big part of why ZTT’s early years seem so great to me is just how controlled (freakily) it is by just a handful of people, seemingly a lot more organised (and consequently successful) than Factory (tho big similarities in how much both struggled after dizzy Thatcher year heights). It’s a shame they couldn’t keep that going. I should read whatever stories there are about their rise and fall. Tom’s pfork review of the recent box set summed it all up well.
    http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/12519-zang-tumb-tuum-the-ztt-box-set/

    I’m really annoyed that nothing from the label is on Spotify and it seems like there are many licensing probs and legal issues with the catalogue.

  29. 59
    Steve Mannion on 14 Aug 2009 #

    #52 if you want to relive the nightmares of nuclear attack further I suggest watching the video for Ultravox’s ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’. Stirring stuff or wot?!

  30. 60
    Snif on 14 Aug 2009 #

    >>I always thought it was “a point is all that you can score.”

    I always thought it was “money’s all that you can score,” which kind of added to the relentless bleakness of it.

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