Jesus of Cool: Jon’s Singles File — Franke Goes Dirty Dancing

By now it’s a cliché, though often a useful one, to allow a particular song to remind you of a certain time or place – that summer fling at the beach, that interminable drive to your grandmother’s, that drug-addled suicide attempt…

Usually in those situations, you can actually remember both the time and the song. The other day, however, with iTunes on shuffle and my thoughts distracted by some dude I never heard of trying to “friend” me on Facebook, I was suddenly transported back to 1981 and a long bus ride to a basketball playoff game with a gaggle of cheerleaders. (Such was frequently my fate in high school, as anyone who read my sadsack entry in Popdose’s “Songs for the Dumped” series might recall.) The trouble was, while the memory was crystal clear in an instant, I had no clue what the song was for a full minute, until the chorus at long last kicked in.

Thus was I re-introduced to Franke & the Knockouts’ “Sweetheart” (download), a Top 10 hit from that spring of ’81. A few notes of that overly bright keyboard intro, a line or two of Franke Previte’s vocals straining to break free of the song’s vice-like MOR grip, and an entire pop-radio playlist springs instantly to mind: “Morning Train,” “Kiss on My List,” “Keep on Loving You,” “Woman,” “Being With You,” “The Best of Times,” Stanley Clarke & George Duke’s “Sweet Baby,” the Alan Parsons Project’s “Time” … “The One That You Love” (I didn’t say it was a great playlist). The sound is somehow indelible, lodged in that time when disco was dead (except for Kool & the Gang), so was John Lennon, the charts were unbelievably tame, and the Next Cool Thing was hiding somewhere in England, in Minneapolis, or in Athens, Georgia.

Franke & the KnockoutsWhy did I buy a copy of “Sweetheart”? I don’t remember, but it probably had something to do with that bus ride and whichever cheerleader I was pointlessly obsessing over at the time. Nevertheless, my hard-earned $1.19 (the sticker’s still on the sleeve) contributed to the rapid rise of Mr. Previte, who — after knocking around for a decade with two different bands, to no great artistic or financial end — formed a third one, got signed and scored three Top 40 hits within 15 months. (Those other two bands? The Boston-based Oxford Watch Band — hello, late ’60s! — and a heavy-metal act called Bull Angus. Who knew Franke & the Knockouts were actually Spinal Tap?)

“Sweetheart” was the first of them; like the others, it was co-written by Previte and Knockouts guitarist Billy Elworthy. Its lyric was rather sticky, with some deliciously stupid bits (my favorite being the verse that starts with a Telly Savalas “Who loves you, baby?” and goes on to proclaim that “You’re the funk in my life/Yeah, day and night.” As a bonus, it was accompanied by one of those early videos that were too obvious by half — see if you can spot the allusion to the band’s name — and fairly screamed “We don’t know what the hell to do with this new medium!”

“Sweetheart” scraped the Top 10 in early June of ’81, as “Bette Davis Eyes” and the “Stars on 45” medley traded places at No. 1. When the Knockouts’ label, Millennium Records, released their second single, it was (IMHO) better than the first. “You’re My Girl” (download) had a punchier rock edge, a nice combination of guitars and keys … and, sadly, an utterly lame chorus that nearly deflates the whole enterprise. That chorus probably limited the single’s chart prospects (it stalled at #27); it surely couldn’t have been the guitars, which fit nicely on the radio beside the other pop-rockin’ hits of that summer of ’81, like Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams” and Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” (Stay tuned to Popdose for more on Mr. Springfield, coming soon.)

Franke & the Knockouts followed these hits quickly with a second album, Below the Belt, that is remembered best these days (if at all) for its cheese-tastic cover art. It also featured the band’s last hit, the ballad “Without You (Not Another Lonely Night),” which peaked at #24 on the Hot 100 in the spring of ’82. (Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres has a better memory of the album; he joined the Knockouts in time to play on it.) Franke’s success wasn’t enough to save the Millennium label, which went under within the year; switching to the notorious career-killers at MCA, the band released a third album in 1984, but Makin’ the Point didn’t make much of an impact and the band dissolved soon after.

Though the Knockouts had abandoned the sinking Millennium ship, Previte’s financial security was assured a few years later when he re-teamed with that label’s chairman, Jimmy Ienner. In 1986 Ienner was executive-producing the music for a little period film that was shooting at a mountain resort near my hometown in Virginia, and he couldn’t come up with an appropriate song for the finale despite having heard nearly 150 submissions. He phoned Previte and asked for a contribution; after some hesitation, Previte and songwriting partners John DeNicola and Donald Markowitz cooked up “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”

Is Franke Previte compensating for something?Patrick Swayze loved Previte’s demo, Baby stuck the lift (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, what’s wrong with you?), and the rest was history. “The Time of My Life” went on to win a Golden Globe as well as the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Another song Previte had submitted to Ienner was a number the Knockouts had recorded, but hadn’t included on their last album. Ienner, who had risen to fame as a producer working with the Raspberries, matched Previte’s song with a certain Raspberries vocalist then in need of a career revival; Eric Carmen took “Hungry Eyes” to #4.

Neither Previte nor Carmen’s comebacks lasted too long, unfortunately. These days Previte is back in Jersey; he never found the “i” that should have completed his first name, but most likely he consoles himself by counting his money and remembering the good old days before Jon Bon Jovi stole his drummer. As for me, while I remember that bus ride, I’ve largely forgotten the cheerleaders. Maybe now I’ll forget “Sweetheart” all over again, too.

Sacrifice your first-born child and buy Franke & the Knockouts’ Sweetheart Collection at Amazon Marketplace.




  • Malchus

    I never owned the single to “Sweetheart,” but I owned the K-Tel record, “High Voltage,” which contained the Knockouts hit and also included these pop gems: “Living Inside Myself,” “Precious To Me” by Phil Seymour, “Games People Play,” “Kiss On My List” “Dreaming” by Cliff Richard and “I Love A Rainy Night.”

    Who needs a stinkin 45 when you can have all of those gems on one album!

  • Broad

    It took me a sec, but I TOTALLY remember this song. Hilarious.

    Malchus: I'm pretty sure I might've had that one, too. Did it have “Whip It” and “Hot Rod Hearts” on it, too. Also, I LOVE YOU, MALCHUS!

  • JonCummings

    “Precious to Me” is a great song! I still love, cherish, and occasionally nurture my old K-Tels. I did hate it when they would shorten the songs, though, in order to cram 20 songs onto an LP–I think Ronco did that more than K-Tel, but they were both guilty.

  • Malchus

    Of all the songs on “High Voltage,” “Precious to Me” was my favorite, I don't know why. I had only heard it once when Seymour appeared on “Solid Gold.” Other than that, I never heard it on the radio. I wish I had a copy of it now.

  • Malchus

    Uh, heh, I, uh, love you, too, Broad

  • Rich

    Good timing; I put this song on a mix last Friday!

  • JonCummings

    Get a cbat room, you two.

  • http://dukewisdom.livejournal.com tvh

    Wow. I think I have this kicking around on the popular 7″ 45 RPM vinyl format myself.

    Prog-metal footnote? I believe Charlie Dominici – Dream Theater's original vocalist, of all people – was a Knockout.

    Now if someone will post “Falling” by LeBlanc & Carr my regression to childhood will be complete.

    (Oh, who am I kidding – it's already complete …)

  • Jefferson

    God I love this site. Where else could I go to learn that I am NOT, in fact, the only person alive with “Sweetheart” (and “Without You” for that matter) on my iPod??

  • JonCummings

    Oh, I've got “Falling.” That may be a subject of the next edition in this series, actually…

    Revisiting Malchus' thread below, we need somebody to provide us with a copy of “Precious to Me.” I can't find it anywhere online, except on too-pricey copies of Seymour's album on Amazon. Maybe I'll seek it out on vinyl this week.

  • Eric S.

    Holy S**t, almost $100 for a Franke & the Knockouts complilation. I have all three of the Franke releases on CD as imports from Escape Music in 1998. I didn't realize they were now collectors items.

    As for Phil Seymour, I actually have 3 copies of “Precious To Me” on CD. One's a 1996 Phil Seymour compilation from Capitol. The second is a Collectors' Choice Music 2005 reissue of the “Phil Seymour” album (with bonus tracks). The third is “Barry Scott presents the Lost 45s of the 70s & 80s Volume Two”. Along with “Precious To Me”, you also get Diesel's “Sausalito Summernight” and Silver's “Wham Bam Shang-a-lang” among other gems. I'll try sending you an mp3.

  • JonCummings

    Wow, you have that Barry Scott CD? I always imagined picking it up, but I could never bring myself to pull the trigger. (It's currently $65 on Amazon–heck, you may as well buy a Franke & the Knockouts CD!) I've made MP3s off 45s of stuff like “Sausalito Summernight,” “I Couldn't Say No,” etc. I still find myself salivating pathetically at the concept of having “Nobody Said It Was Easy” by Leroux.

    Thanks, by the way, for the other thing…

  • LuRew

    Thank you thank you thank you!! I've looked everywhere for this song – yes, due to the memories I have from spring of my 9th grade year and all the high school drama that went with it. I can always count on this site for pleasant flashbacks.

  • Anonymous

    You have “I Couldn’t Say No”?! You must share…

  • LuRew

    You have “I Couldn't Say No”?! You must share…

  • JonCummings

    I did that already, months ago, in a piece about Carlene Carter that's here (http://popdose.com/jesus-of-cool-carlene-carter…). The links are long gone, but if you check back I'll try to re-post that one in the next day or two.

  • JonCummings

    OK, the link is back up. Hurry, before I change my mind…

  • Eric S.

    No problem. Check your e-mail again…

  • LuRew

    Bless you, my dear man. I had it on cassette(!) but how nice to finally have it digitally. Love her voice.

  • Michael Kay

    Thanks for this. I have searched everywhere for this cd and mp3 but cannot find it at a reasonable price. Amazon has it for about $100! Would you be able to do a stranger a favor and tell me how I can get the “Sweetheart” mp3 file from you?
    This is one of my all-time radio favorites from my youth.

  • DavidM

    Any chance you can re-up the links on Sweetheart? My wife loves, I mean REALLY LOVES this song and I am trying to track down a copy.

    Thanks!!!
    D

  • Chirs

    HI, I've desperately been searching for Frankie & the Knockouts – “You're My Girl” without any luck.
    Your link no longer works. can you by chance repost it or email it to me??? PLEASE ???

  • Chirs

    DavidM,

    I have this song and will gladly email it to you. Please provide an email address. Mine is mom243.

    I'm looking for You're my girl by Frankie & The Knockouts.

  • Chirs

    HI, I've desperately been searching for Frankie & the Knockouts – “You're My Girl” without any luck.
    Your link no longer works. can you by chance repost it or email it to me??? PLEASE ???

  • Chirs

    DavidM,

    I have this song and will gladly email it to you. Please provide an email address. Mine is mom243.

    I'm looking for You're my girl by Frankie & The Knockouts.

  • Chirs

    HI, I've desperately been searching for Frankie & the Knockouts – “You're My Girl” without any luck.
    Your link no longer works. can you by chance repost it or email it to me??? PLEASE ???

  • Chirs

    DavidM,

    I have this song and will gladly email it to you. Please provide an email address. Mine is mom243.

    I'm looking for You're my girl by Frankie & The Knockouts.

  • Trailblazinglollie

    Whoever wrote the above is hilarious. I laughed out loud and its night time. Love it. Thank you.