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Every once in a while, I’ll stumble across a CD I’ve had for years that I just didn’t care for, only to give it another shot and discover it’s really not all that bad. That’s the case with this week’s selection, Frankie Goes to Hollywood lead singer Holly Johnson’s first solo album, Blast.

Blast

Being a huge FGTH fan (the whys of which you’ll learn more about tomorrow), I was eagerly awaiting Johnson’s first solo release, which came after a two-year court battle between Johnson and his former label, ZTT, to wrest himself free from Frankie’s old, supposedly draconian contract. Imagine my horror when instead of a sex-fueled, sleazy proto-disco romp in the Frankie vein, I heard the album’s first single, “Love Train,” a straight-ahead dance-pop froth with about as much danger as an Erasure song (the closest it came to the raunch of Frankie was the almost-innuendo of the repeated “stoke it up”). This was not my Frankie. It featured a Brian May guitar solo, for heaven’s sake! This was Top 40, pure and simple, which it achieved in the U.K., leaping into the Top 5. Much less so stateside, with the exception of the clubs, which took to it quickly, especially when another Frankie, DJ and remixer Frankie Knuckles, worked his magic on a second round of mixes after the first 12″ for “Love Train” did so well. Knuckles took an okay pop song and turned it into a gospel-fueled House party. What did not help the single was its overly cutesy Pee Wee’s Playhouse-inspired promo clip, a far cry from the leather bar in the original “Relax” video:

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Hoping the single was just an anomaly, I went ahead and sprung for the whole enchilada the day Blast was released. I was sorely disappointed. Where I was expecting Frankie 2.0, the next phase of Frankie, instead I got exactly what was advertised: Holly Johnson, mainstream pop star. Where once there was Trevor Horn-produced grandeur and spectacle, Blast was more about the no-frills synthpop of producers Dan “Instant Replay/I Can Dream About You” Hartman and Stephen Hague. Two or three spins later, Blast went on the shelf, collecting dust for nearly 20 years until I happened to give it a random spin while searching for new things to write about.

A pair of fresh ears, 19 years and no preconceived expectations later, Blast really isn’t that bad – in fact, parts of it are quite good. “Love Train” is undeniably catchy, while the second single, “Americanos,” a sarcastic skewering of both America and the overly hopeful people who wish to immigrate there, is a lyrical wolf in pop clothing.

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“Americanos” duplicated “Love Train’s” Top 5 success in the U.K., but did no more than gather some light club play here. “Atomic City” was worked as a third single overseas to more chart action, so “Heaven’s Here” became the album’s fourth single, a fine choice. A mid-tempo ballad that recalled the best of Frankie’s mellow moments like “The Power of Love,” “Heaven’s Here” by all rights should have scored Holly a fourth hit, but limped out in the mid-60s in the U.K. That doesn’t prevent it from being the best song on Blast.

Sadly, Holly faced an uphill battle after that, squabbling with his new label over promotion for his second solo record, then being diagnosed as HIV positive in 1991. Johnson retreated from music, got healthy (which he remains today, despite persistent rumors to the contrary) and became an accomplished painter, exhibiting his works at the Tate Liverpool and Royal Academy. He began recording again in the late ’90s and continues to release music here and there on his own Pleasuredome label.

As a bonus, here are the Frankie Knuckles remixes of “Love Train” – Holly Goes To Frankie!

“Love Train (Americana 12″ Version)”
“Love Train (Americana Big Beat Version)”
“Love Train (Americana Pop Version)”
“Love Train (Bonus Big Beat Radio Version)”

and a rare DMC remix of “Americanos”.

Tomorrow: Why You Should Like… Frankie Goes to Hollywood

“Love Train” peaked at #65 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989.
“Americanos” peaked at #36 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play Chart that same year.
“Heaven’s Here” did not chart.

Get “Blast” for a measly penny at Amazon and more Holly Johnson music on Holly Johnson