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Sep 09

SISTER SLEDGE – “Frankie”

FT + Popular61 comments • 3,995 views

#552, 29th June 1985, video

As I mentioned when we talked about “I’m Still Waiting”, most pop songs about lost childhood loves take them far too seriously – the magnifying power of pop turns some tweenage crush into a life’s great lost opportunity. An adult listener is more likely to feel pity than sympathy.

I had “Frankie” in mind in that discussion – I’d disliked it more than any other record of the time, and not revisited it since: I remembered it as pleading and cloying at the same time. I was quite unfair: if anything this is pop’s most accurate recollection of a lost early sweetheart – rose-tinted memories tumbling back with surprise, slight regret but no great pain.

Since the lyrics allow plenty of room for misplaced anguish, this lightness is down to the well-judged vocals – soft, full and with a chuckling warmth. They get the mood just right – what the singer and Frankie had was real, might even have worked out, but life went on and there we are. The music reflects this, of course – a song about remembered emotion bouncing along on a pastiche of girl-group soul from Nile Rodgers, all jumping saxes and sweet group vocals.

So I’ve come to appreciate “Frankie”, as craft, performance and feeling. But I still don’t actually like it: maybe the nausea it induced when I was 12 is just sunk too deep, or maybe the committed perkiness of the thing makes it end up simply too flimsy to get much from. “Frankie” is pop’s healthiest lost-love record, but sadly also its most boring.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    TomLane on 29 Sep 2009 #

    A 60’s Girl Group pastiche that peaked at #75 in the States. Usually, I like retro-sounding records but this seems too much a trifle to be remembered.

  2. 32
    swanstep on 29 Sep 2009 #

    This one’s new to me, whereas, with #16 LonePilgrim above, ‘Thinking of You’ is a personal top-20 all-timer… Unfortunately perhaps, at least from this remove, ‘Frankie’ mainly just reminds me of lots of better things both older (Lesley Gore greats, the Grease soundtrack hits, Marshall Crenshaw’s ‘Someday Someway’) and more recent (Madonna’s ‘True Blue’ – hope that’s not bunnyable). Tom does a good job in his essay of bringing out the supposed specifics of the song, but at least listening now all that *really* registers for me is an all too familiar by this point generic retro-ness (compare with ‘Uptown Girl’ and Phil Collins’s motown covers etc.). Imagine someone doing ’80s pop charts as a weather forecast: it would have to include a line about ‘scattered retro-ness throughout the afternoon…’

  3. 33
    MikeMCSG on 29 Sep 2009 #

    #29 Maybe the penultimate no 1 of 86 ? The nearest thing to a C86 chart topper.

  4. 34
    The Leveller on 29 Sep 2009 #

    Hated this when it came out – all that horrible almost pre-pubescent cutesiness , and looking back not a patch on thinking of you or lost in music. I’d obliterated it from my memory until this morning…

  5. 35
    MichaelH on 29 Sep 2009 #

    At the height of my indie purism when this came out – I despised more or less everything that was not approved by John Peel. But I always found this pretty well irresistible: sweet without being cloying, charming without being importuning. It’s perhaps not coincidental that I was a C86 loyalist.

    I could cheerfully accept this on a pub jukebox, though I can no longer tolerate the big 79 hits (presumably because this hasn’t suffered their overexposure).

  6. 36
    Billy Smart on 29 Sep 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Sister Sledge twice performed ‘Frankie’ on Top Of The Pops;

    13 June 1985. Also in the studio that week were; Scritti Politti, Billy Ocean and Marillion. Mike Read and the little-remembered Dixie Peach were the hosts.

    27 June 1985. Also in the studio that week were; Paul Young, The Commentators and Marti Webb. Mike Smith and Peter Powell were the hosts.

  7. 37
    mike on 29 Sep 2009 #

    “Frankie” also marked the end point of a curious Sister Sledge revival, that had begun with the success of “Thinking Of You”, just over 12 months earlier. “Thinking Of You” was a 1979 album track that hadn’t been released as a single before, and I presume its delayed success was something to do with the Essex soul mafia and the weekender circuit – perhaps Andy or Lee could confirm or deny? Anyhow, this led to remixed re-releases of “Lost In Music” – an under-performer from 1979 that fared much better in 1984 – and, less successfully, “We Are Family”. (Oh, and for what it’s worth: Weller’s protege Tracie Young used to open her live set with a cover of “Mama Never Told Me”.) So there must have been a general appetite for fresh Sledge product – which made the selection of a wholly unrepresentative track such as “Frankie” all the more baffling/brave/daft/whatever!

  8. 38
    Billy Smart on 29 Sep 2009 #

    Light entertainment watch: Most of Sister Sledge’s UK TV performances have been comebacks to promote various rereleases and remixes of their 4 peerless 1979 singles;

    THE (NOEL EDMONDS) LATE LATE BREAKFAST SHOW: with Mike Smith (Reporter), Sister Sledge (1984)

    CANNON AND BALL: with Guy Mitchell, Sister Sledge, Big Country (1984)

    THE GIRLIE SHOW: with Clare Gorham, Sister Sledge (1996)

    THE LITTLE AND LARGE SHOW: with Sister Sledge (1980)

    THE O ZONE: with East 17, Jesus Jones, Sister Sledge (1993)

    THE OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST: with Bob Harris, Sister Sledge, Detroit Spinners (1975)

    WOGAN: with Marielle & Katia Labeque, Marilyn Luscombe, Esther Rantzen, William Shawcross, Sister Sledge, Pete Townsend (1985)

    THE WORD: with Zsa Zsa Gabor, Russell Crauc, Sunscreem, Sister Sledge (1993)

  9. 39
    MichaelH on 29 Sep 2009 #

    re: 38
    Wow! at the idea of someone like William Shawcross appearing on a chat show now.
    And wow! at Guy Mitchell, Big Country and Sister Sledge together on Cannon & Ball. That’s your proto Later With … line up right there.

  10. 40
    Pete Baran on 29 Sep 2009 #

    I think I would prefer Later….with Cannon & Ball over Jools now. Instead of boogie woogie piano over this weeks landfill indie, we could get Bobby Ball twanging his braces and singing “Rock On Tommy”. (I was trying to construct a complex Who joke here, but its not worth it really).

    But then I am of the opinion that Later is the worst thing that happened to British music in the last twenty years so anything would be an improvement.

  11. 41
    wichita lineman on 29 Sep 2009 #

    Of course this would entail a “jam” between Guy Mitchell, Sister Sledge and Big Country. I can hear the bagpipe guitars applied to She Wears Red Feathers without straining too hard.

    I wish Later with Jools Holland would go away. The idea that on its own it fulfils the music remit for license payers (along with festival coverage – pffft – and one song at the end of Jonathan Ross) is baffling. Maybe it could be C86-ised: Later with Trevor & Simon.

  12. 42
    MikeMCSG on 29 Sep 2009 #

    I have great affection for Jools as early Squeeze were my favourite band for a time but he is over-indulged on that show.

  13. 43
    Steve Mannion on 29 Sep 2009 #

    I keep defending Later/Jools at every turn! I tend to watch with no real expectations and usually really enjoy at least one performance, usually from an artist I hadn’t heard much if anything about before. As much as I couldn’t care less about the likes of Mika or Noah & The Whale I think it’s been doing its job well enough for years and years. Obviously you’re right that it shouldn’t prevent other music programming on the BBC, certainly not that which may provide a platform for artists that don’t fit Jools/producers ideas of who fits the Later bill tho it has been reasonably diverse.

  14. 44
    Steve Mannion on 29 Sep 2009 #

    There’s a Canon & Ball disco pastiche out there somewhere…not sure what it’s called and I’ve misplaced my mp3 since a friend sent it years ago but worth a hunt.

  15. 45
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 29 Sep 2009 #

    *strong urge to claim and defend “cannon and ball disco pastiche” as a radical artistic triumph of some kind*
    *resists urge manfully*

  16. 46
    CarsmileSteve on 29 Sep 2009 #

    it was called “rock on, tommy” wasn’t it? i have vague very dim memories of it, but am in no way going to sully them by doing anything as sordid as a google…

    or maybe i just can’t help myself…

    http://www.comedykings.co.uk/index.php/music/rock-on-tommy-single

  17. 47
    mike on 29 Sep 2009 #

    Bobby Ball also sang the theme tune to a kids’ TV show called Juniper Jungle. The tune was comped, arred and prodded by the composer of the UK’s best selling single of 2000 – of which more in due course. It all connects, if you look hard enough!

  18. 48
    Steve Mannion on 29 Sep 2009 #

    SPILLER composed ‘Juniper Jungle’?! arf

  19. 49
    Martin Skidmore on 29 Sep 2009 #

    It’s worth mentioning how Sister Sledge became stars. When Chic first found success, Rodgers and Edwards apparently went to the record label boss and boasted they could make anyone into stars, and asked who their biggest flops were. The lowest sellers were Sister Sledge, which is how Chic got tied up with them.

    I am depressed to realise there are no real Chic #1s for us to discuss. I never cared for this at all.

  20. 50
    Kat but logged out innit on 29 Sep 2009 #

    #47 – he also did Budgie The Little Helicopter.

  21. 51
    Steve Mannion on 29 Sep 2009 #

    ‘I am depressed to realise there are no real Chic #1s for us to discuss. I never cared for this at all’

    altho they have been sampled on at least one #1 – small consolation?

  22. 52
    wichita lineman on 29 Sep 2009 #

    Re 49: Wasn’t Spacer given to Sheila (B Devotion) for similar reasons of justifiable high confidence? Possibly the French 60s gal with the least charisma and international appeal, but the only one to have the cheek to contact Chic.

    Where the heck is the unreleased Johnny Mathis/Chic album? I heard clips from an imminent re-issue about 3 years ago and it sounded gorgeous.

  23. 53
    Snif on 30 Sep 2009 #

    Sister Sledge was also the name of a character in one of the 1983 Rogue Trooper stories in 1983’s run of 2000AD.

  24. 54
    Mark M on 30 Sep 2009 #

    Sister Sledge, then ten years younger than by the time of Frankie, are rather good in the Soul Power movie, which I think Lord Sukrat mentioned in the We Are The World discussion.

  25. 55

    They are! Though if memory serves we don’t see them perform on-stage, it’s more like an impromptu thing in the dressing room? They are hardly more than kids…

  26. 56
    crag on 30 Sep 2009 #

    i saw Sister Sledge live in about 1995- i remember being a smartarse beforehand and saying sarcastically “oh i wonder if they’ll do We Are Family or Lost in Music?”I soon felt a bit daft since for some reason they didnt do Lost in Music at all!They did do Frankie though unfortunately as well as a lengthy gospel medley. Bit of an odd night all told really…

  27. 57
    Kat but logged out innit on 1 Oct 2009 #

    They were excellent at Glasto 2004 (or was it 2003?) despite one of them having a sore throat.

  28. 58
    Andy Pandy on 14 Oct 2009 #

    This was vaguely notable at the time for its ommission from the “Blues and Soul” UK chart at the time as up to this all kinds of completely unsuitable (ie not an earthly of being played in the clubs or appealing to the ‘Blues and Soul’ demographic had been included in the chart merely by virtue of them being black ie Prince’s rockier stuff and Tina Turner’s 80s stuff, )had featured in the chart but this went too far and despite Sister Sledge having being responsible for definte classics it was announced that this track would be omitted from the chart…due to it being the worst kind of pop rubbish.

    Slightly different from ‘Thinking of You’ the previous hit from Sister Sledge which had only ever been released as a single (4 years after it appearing on their Chic produced album) due to its club plays by London/South East soul/funk mafia djs in 1983 and which therefore featured heavily in the Blues and Soul Club charts before release as a single.

  29. 59
    DV on 28 Dec 2009 #

    This song cancels out all the Chic Organisation produced stuff. Sigh.

  30. 60
    Brooksie on 16 Mar 2010 #

    The chorus of this song is so simple and instantly memorable that there was never any doubt it would be a big hit. It appeals to the twelve year-old girls skipping in the playground mentality. It’s light and frothy and about love. Worth noting that in a year dominated by ‘high’ intentioned music and ‘adult’ (read: ‘turgid’) ballads, this song was a perfect counterweight. Seriously; Elaine Paige / Jennifer Rush? ‘Frankie’ was a necessary hit.

    I like it just fine. But I’m not crazy about it because it sounds like candyfloss.

  31. 61
    jimmyjames19 on 15 Jul 2018 #

    Kat Moon on ‘Frankie’ in EastEnders: “I used to do a routine to this with me sisters but Lynne always used to get the steps wrong. She was useless”.

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