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.