Sep 09


FT + Popular55 comments • 8,642 views

#542, 8th December 1984, video

This was our first dance at my wedding, so certainly you can hear it, and use it, as sincere – but I’d be hard pressed to claim it’s meant to be taken that way. Or rather, sincerity is there in “The Power Of Love” if you want it, but the band aren’t using it the way you might expect.

I remember fierce anticipation for this song, and watching the slow, reverent video, and being weirdly unsettled and baffled: where was the confrontation? What were Frankie trying to do? I didn’t know anything about camp, and certainly there’s elements of camp in the supersaturated images and drenched production, but my original reaction was the right one: there’s something wilfully contrarian about the year’s most tabloid-ready band producing such a stately, solemn record. Their sincerity is a weapon: say you’re going to follow your records about sex and war with a record about religion, and you wrong-foot people into expecting the Pope wrestling Mohammed in a jelly bath.

If you disliked Frankie this all must seem an absurd stretch – they just made a pompous third single, that’s all. And fair enough: but “The Power Of Love” sounds like religion, or religion as experienced by the non-religious Brit, an osmosis of hymnal tempos and Hollywood technicolor devotion, simultaneously bogus and grand. Holly Johnson does what he needs to, leading you through the song without cracking a smile: Trevor Horn’s orchestration has an aloof, marbled beauty. God is not mocked. But perhaps He is trolled.



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  1. 31
    enitharmon on 2 Sep 2009 #

    This is an entry for completeness, really, as unlike Frankie’s other two number ones, this one sailed right over my head.

    Two reasons for this, I think. One, the lease on my flat in St Neots had expired which meant that I was living in Notting Hill permanently now and reverse commuting while I looked for a job in London. This meant getting up at 6.30 to the sound of Farming Today on Radio 4, and returning at about 7.30 pm to relax in the jukebox-free Sun in Splendour in Portobello Road (which used to be a really good pub in those days, with an excellent pint of draught Bass). So no opportunity to hear any pop.

    The other, I suspect, is that this one hasn’t endured in the non-pop-enthusiast canon.

    Knicker-flash: By this time the pub quiz team at the Wheatsheaf was so far ahead in the league that we’d already won it by the beginning of December, so I was able to tell the guv’nor that I’d fulfilled my promise and would now retire from the side. The champion-of-champions knockout the following spring was another story – I came out of retirement to lead the team to the championship of East Anglia!

  2. 32
    tim davidge on 2 Sep 2009 #

    #11: And to Titian for the cover art! I remember being intrigued enough by this at the time to find out what it was. It’s called Assumption of the Virgin and was painted for a church in Venice (early c17). The record’s not bad either-7 seems about right.

  3. 33
    Mark M on 2 Sep 2009 #

    For me, this is one of those records you like for unfathomable reasons. Never liked Frankie, don’t like power ballads, don’t like long songs… For me the bit that makes it work is the “I’ll protect you from the hooded claw…” part.

  4. 34
    lonepilgrim on 2 Sep 2009 #

    The orchestration and (to some extent the tune) remind me of a Bond theme for some reason – Frankie could have done a great Bond song

  5. 35
    tim davidge on 3 Sep 2009 #

    #32: sorry, that should be early c16…

  6. 36
    epicharmus on 3 Sep 2009 #

    This one’s OK, maybe more of a drag than I’d like. What makes this song intelligibly Frankie–and thus nicely off-putting in spite of the surface conventionality–isn’t the band’s history or even the lyrics so much as Holly Johnson’s hypervivid and horny vocals: when he sings “love is danger, love is pleasure,” it sounds like he’s gagging for Jesus.

  7. 37
    Erithian on 3 Sep 2009 #

    What took it up to another level for me was the sudden outburst at “my undying, DEATH-DEFYING love for you!” The phrase “death-defying”, sounding straight out of Marvel Comics, was so of a piece with the “Flame On” and “Hooded Claw” references I alluded to above, that, bizarrely, it’s only just occurred to me: gay love must have seemed almost literally death-defying in the 80s. “Love is danger” indeed – in that context the song becomes a bold and brave statement.

  8. 38
    mike on 3 Sep 2009 #

    Good observation, Erithian. At the time, this felt to me like a fractional step down from “Relax” and “Two Tribes” – a 9 rather than a 10 – but I’d now rank this as my favourite FGTH single.

    The song also took on another dimension when I saw Holly Johnson perform it at London Gay Pride in 1997. It was the last performance of the day (following three-song sets from Erasure and Pet Shop Boys), and halfway through it, the end-of-day fireworks display started up at the other end of Clapham Common. This all seemed to trigger off a mass hugging and smooching session amongst the crowd: everywhere I looked, pairs of men and women were locked in embraces. We’d just had a change of government, many promises had been made, and optimism was in the air as we sensed a sea change in public attitudes. It felt like a vindication, after years of struggle. With all this in mind, the song took on a newly anthemic quality – a perfect soundtrack for that particular moment, of that particular month, in that particular year. I duly bawled my eyes out – not for the first time, since the Erasure and PSB songs had been equally well-picked: A Little Respect, It’s A Sin/I Will Survive (medley), Go West and Somewhere (from West Side Story).

    So when I hear “The Power Of Love” now, I link it to the new dawn of 1997 rather than the bleak chill of 1984. Yes, the lyrics are somewhat stylised and overblown, but they suit Holly Johnson’s performance style down to the ground. He delivers the song like some sort of benevolent deity, blending Olympian detachment with more touchingly earthbound qualities, and for me the strategy pays dividends. It’s the one Frankie song which lets you in emotionally, and as such it’s the perfect conclusion to the trilogy. Sex, death and love: where on earth do you go after that?

    (Answer: the dumper. And yes, the album was a total damp squib. But you can’t have everything…)

  9. 39
    swanstep on 3 Sep 2009 #

    @Erithian 37. I’ll see your ‘death-defying’, and raise you an ‘envy will hurt itself’. That’s a really surprising, odd line I think, and a strangely moving one. It allows ‘let yourself be beautiful’ to not sound soppy immediately after it. Good stuff I reckon.

  10. 40
    Billy Smart on 3 Sep 2009 #

    #36/37 – It’s only just occured to me, the similarities between this and New Order’s contemporaneous ‘Thieves Like Us’, in their – alarmingly and thrillingly – committed testimonies of felicity to the idea of love; “It’s called LOVE! and its so uncool”… “Love is the air that supports the eagle”, etc

  11. 41
    Glue Factory on 3 Sep 2009 #

    #38. Ha, ha – I was one of those smooching couples, and it was indeed a beautiful moment. Although, as a straight man smooching a (I think) straight girl at a celebration of being gay, the beauty was tempered by the thought that maybe I was treading on cultural toes.

  12. 42
    Dan R on 8 Sep 2009 #

    I’m sharing in the sense of mature embarassment at my adolescent inability to get this song. I’d bought various 12″ mixes of Relax and Two Tribes and was hoping for similar energy for the third song of the trilogy. And was duly disappointed, indeed baffled by what seemed to me then an unmistakeable stumble for this very sure-footed outfit.

    And now it seems swooning and rich and full of sincerity, even if decked out in tragic camp grandeur. The hooded claw, as has been said above, makes this a fantasy world/utopian song that equates love with saving the world; and if that isn’t a gay trope, I don’t know what is. It’s all about mythical creatures, ‘dreams’, ‘angels’, before its rush into the purely metaphysical towards the end (‘sublime/divine divine’).

    In particular the song came out as the AIDS crisis was really beginning to hit. There would have been around 100 diagnoses in Britain at this time and the tabloids regularly used the phrase ‘gay plague’, adding to the sense of fear and stigma. I guess there was an aspect of that at work here; the privations of this world requiring a projection into another, better world.

  13. 43
    punctum on 11 Sep 2009 #

    It remains the greatest triptych of pop singles, one of the most ravishing of all pop schematas; after tackling sex and war there was only religion left – only religion? – and so the video for this particular “Power Of Love” depicted Holly Johnson as an avenging angel. Chris Barrie returned for the 12-inch to recreate Mike Read’s “Relax” ban (much to the chagrin of Read, who had in the meantime done the voiceover for the TV adverts for Welcome To The Pleasuredome and would have been more than happy to come in and redo it himself) and then Reagan again, musing on faith and the passing of beliefs and people.

    And yet, as befitted what surely and knowingly was intended as the last will and testament of this thing called New Pop, faith and belief were finally all that mattered. Just as the Martin Fry of “All Of My Heart” finally faced the fear and looked himself in his postmodern mirror, realising that, yes, although love can be analysed, disseminated and deconstructed, it cannot necessarily be put together again, and that the only way to stay meaningfully alive is to surrender to it and embrace it, there is no apparent irony in the Holly Johnson who sings on “The Power Of Love,” cajoled by Horn to sing better than he’d ever sung before. There is a glimpse of his impish grin in the opening pledge of “I’ll protect you from the Hooded Claw/Keep the vampires from your door” but this doesn’t even begin to mask the real and warm smile of reassurance which lies beneath.

    Johnson has never been as astute and deft a wordsmith as Fry, but this works to “The Power Of Love”‘s advantage; the lyric is largely composed of slogans and homilies – “Love is the light,” “When the chips are down,” “Let yourself be beautiful,” “Make love your goal” – but Johnson’s blunt candour pulls the song through; on the verge of tears in the line “Sparkling love and flowers and pearls and pretty girls,” his double octave-leading emphasis of “death defying” to reinforce “undying,” the comforting arm around the shoulder of “This time we go sublime.”

    What it all conveys is a desire for the revelation that sex can be beautiful and not tacky, that war and death can perhaps both be defeated. And Horn’s production and Anne Dudley’s string arrangement rise with an urgency especial even for them; for both “The Power Of Love” may be their finest hour. Listen to how the strings cushion the suddenly ajar door of Johnson’s first “Make love,” coming in to the solitary acoustic guitar, how the track crescendoes after the second verse, following which there is an unsettling moment as a Fairlight-manipulated Johnson vibrato is echoed by sinister low fuzz guitar as if he’s about to be atomised – but no, we return to the piano of “Moments In Love,” the guitar now high and yearning, the final pause before Johnson, Horn and Dudley (and Morley) summon up everything they know for the rapturously cathartic climax; as everything rises on Johnson’s “dove” one feels the Earth’s axis momentarily disturbed. That having been achieved, Johnson walks off into the long, echoing distance, Dudley’s strings engendering a near-unbearable sadness of sustenato (but isn’t this supposed to be a happy ending?) before Johnson repeats his opening promise and the dream fades into warm unreality.

    For the dream was over, and everybody involved in “The Power Of Love” knew it; for those fortunate enough to have experienced the miraculous magic of New Pop it is almost impossible not to become tearful when listening to this record, for it carries within its generous arteries the portents of its own end – it is saying goodbye to New Pop, reluctantly relinquishing all its unfulfilled dreams; and yet the Frankie Goes To Hollywood trilogy ended up being as close to perfection as New Pop could possibly get.

    Once you’ve reached the top, of course, the only way to go is down. But, to paraphrase Larkin on the Beatles, what if New Pop couldn’t get down? Instead, it proceeded to spread itself over the landscape in ways unexpected yet inevitable.

  14. 44
    Billy Smart on 11 Sep 2009 #

    You could make a case that ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ was the climax of, and farewell to, New Pop. Lessons have been learned – to “Never stop believing” and entrust yourself to the rhythm – a combination of awe, sex and dancing. It seems to point towards a way ahead to me, even if the 1985 listener couldn’t yet tell what would be on that horizon.

  15. 45
    punctum on 11 Sep 2009 #

    Extremely good point, and that journey in Popular terms will culminate (and find its true progeny) in entry #956 (phone the advance ticket hotline now!).

  16. 46
    mike on 11 Sep 2009 #

    #44 Perhaps we could settle for “coda”…?

  17. 47
    Stevie on 29 Sep 2009 #

    This was also played at our wedding and “I’ll protect you from the hooded claw” became our phrase to the extent that our kids (not born until years’ later) recognise it even today.

  18. 48
    garax on 11 Feb 2010 #

    I’d just like to add, somewhat late, that this is a maddeningly beautiful song. FGTH was the moment I found my own musical identity from my older brother (who hated them) – and the sheer shock and awe of the first two singles was a wonder to behold. But I never for a moment felt let down by the 3rd – it always seemed to me to fit – it was as swooning and consuming as the previous two, but in this case the sonic payload shared equal billing with the sentiment – and Holly Johnson on this really earned his place as a great pop vocalist. This will be being played in another 50 years.

  19. 49
    Tom on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Don’t worry about late comments garax – always welcome, they’re displayed on the site’s front page so they might revive the thread!

  20. 50
    Brooksie on 5 Mar 2010 #

    A perfect hat-trick for Frankie. A change of style, but I never found it a let-down. I prefer this to the repeated thump of ‘Relax’. If they’d left it here things would have been fine, but they chose to release yet another single the following year which stalled at # 2. So we had three # 1 singles from a # 1 album in ’84, but a # 2 to round off the deal in ’85. I think the biggest surprise was that this didn’t go in at # 1 (# 3). If it hadn’t been for ‘Band Aid’ and ‘Wham!’ (pesky kids?) this may have wound up the Christmas # 1 (which feels like the target they were shooting for).

  21. 51
    GuiltyFeat on 11 Aug 2010 #

    A sublime single release. This was the year of Frankie and they didn’t let us down once. I know most people don’t like the album, but I hold the treasonous opinion that FGTH’s cover of Born To Run is better than the original. Frankie Say Sue Me.

  22. 52
    George on 7 Oct 2010 #

    Just heard the extended version of this on youtube and it’s wonderful. A ’12 buying spree may be in store.

    This is their best song although that generally seems to be an unpopular view amongst many on here. Understandable given what imposing monoliths Relax and Two Tribes became.

  23. 53
    punctum on 31 May 2014 #

    Finally, the album

  24. 54
    hectorthebat on 19 Dec 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    New Musical Express (UK) – Classic Singles (magazine feature 2006-2007)
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Musikexpress (Germany) – The 700 Best Songs of All Time (2014) 305

  25. 55
    Gareth Parker on 2 Jun 2021 #

    Lovely stuff from FGTH in my opinion. 8/10.

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