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Home » Franke and the Knockouts’s “Sweetheart” – A Perfect Slice of ’80s Pop

Franke and the Knockouts’s “Sweetheart” – A Perfect Slice of ’80s Pop

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Everyone loves gourmet meals. But sometimes all you want is a burger and fries — good comfort food that may not be fancy, but still satisfies. Music often works the same way, particularly when it comes to pop. A particular tune may be unsophisticated and a guilty pleasure, but you never fail to turn it up whenever it plays on your iPod. Like comfort food, it just makes you feel good. I had this experience recently when stumbling upon a one-hit wonder from the ’80s: "Sweetheart" by Franke and the Knockouts.

When I heard this upbeat song, I was instantly transported back to 1981. During that time I listened to WLS AM in Chicago, when the legendary team of Larry Lujack and Tommy Edwards ruled the radio. Established bands like Styx, REO Speedwagon, and Journey scored big hits, but among these acts was an obscure band named Franke and the Knockouts. Their one top ten single, "Sweetheart," still ranks as one of my favorite pop singles of the ’80s.

Written by lead singer Franke Previte and guitarist Billy Elworthy, the song sports a catchy chorus, rocking piano, a smooth synthesizer solo and, of course, Previte's soaring vocals. Critics often compare the song to Toto's "Hold the Line," which it resembles in terms of tempo and the piano's dominance in the tune. The lyrics hardly contain poetry, referring to Kojak's line "who loves you baby" and assuring that the singer will be around to "help you dry your eyes." The chorus contains these simple lines: "Sweetheart/Who loved you from the start/Who treats you like a star/Sweetheart." Sure, the "I'll be there to pick up the pieces" theme is nothing new or profound, but the overall groove of the song rescues it from complete banality.

After hearing "Sweetheart," I decided to research Franke and the Knockouts's history. Unfortunately little information exists on the Internet; Allmusic, Wikipedia, other music blogs, and even the band's own website (it's unclear who maintains that page, the band or a fan) contain the most perfunctory of entries about the group. Their albums are even hard to find — an Amazon search turned up a few long out-of-print greatest hits collections and vinyl. Independent sellers were asking for $85 and up per album! Still, Franke and the Knockouts has an interesting history, even though the group was short-lived.

Based in New Jersey, the original group consisted of five members: Previte, Elworthy, Blake Levinsohn (keyboards), Leigh Foxx (bass), and Claude LeHenaff (drums). Previte toiled in various local rock and metal acts before meeting Elworthy; shortly thereafter they were signed to Millennium Records. In 1981, the band released their self-titled debut, bursting out of the gate with the surprise success of "Sweetheart." Franke and the Knockouts played various shows, most notably ABC's infamous Fridays program. A second single, "You're My Girl," cracked the top 40, but did not experience the popularity of the first song.

When Franke and the Knockouts hit the studio to record their followup, they did so with two new band members: keyboardist Tommy Ayers and drummer Tico Torres. Yes, Tico Torres, the drummer who later joined the phenomenally successful band Bon Jovi. Their next album, Below the Belt, spawned a minor hit, "Without You (Not Another Lonely Night)." However, Millennium Records failed, forcing the band to sign with MCA. Their label debut, 1984's Makin' The Point, barely made a dent on the music charts and ultimately led to the band's dissolution. The story seems to end there, with Franke and the Knockouts fading into obscurity, only to be remembered for "Sweetheart" and for Torres's brief stint with the band. But Previte experienced a rare second act.

Franke and the KnockoutsAccording to Popdose, Previte was approached by Jimmy Ienner, former chairman of Millennium Records, in the mid-’80s. Ienner was producing the soundtrack for a small film called Dirty Dancing, and needed a distinctive theme song. Not satisfied with any submissions he'd received, Ienner phoned friend Previte and asked him to contribute tunes to the film. Along with cowriters John DeNicola and Donald Markowitz, Previte submitted his track: "I've Had the Time of My Life." Later recorded by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, the song became a massive hit, earning an Oscar for Best Original Song from A Motion Picture. In addition the songwriting team penned the soundtrack tune "Hungry Eyes," which ex-Raspberry singer Eric Carmen performed. That song's subsequent success led to Carmen's career resurgence. Unfortunately Previte seems to fall off the radar after his 1987 triumphs.

While Franke and the Knockouts may have experienced a short stint on the charts, the infectious "Sweetheart" hardly leaves a shameful legacy. For years to come, fans will hear the tune and instantly remember where they were back in 1981. Just like a chocolate milkshake, "Sweetheart" goes down smoothly and easily, ultimately leading to contentment. Those qualities are the marks of a great pop song.

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About Kit O'Toole

  • http://raginggail.wordpress.com/ Jim Ryan

    “…fans will hear the tune and instantly remember where they were back in 1981.”

    Let’s see: Reagan gets shot by Hinckley, John Paul II gets shot by Agca, Bobby Sands starves himself to death in Maze Prison, major league baseball goes on strike for a few weeks, Jaruzelski cracks down on Solidarity in Poland…

    Funny, this milkshake isn’t going down as well as it did the first time…

  • http://www.marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    i saw them open for The Tubes (Completion Backward Principle tour) in cleveland. the crowd wasn’t too nice to them.

  • http://www.kitotoole.com Kit O’Toole

    Thanks for commenting!

    Mark–Interesting that they would open for the Tubes. Was this pre-“She’s a Beauty?”

    Jim–Well, when you’re 9 years old, still playing with Barbies and reading Dynamite magazine, major news events just don’t register as much (I do remember Reagan’s attempted assassination, though). In any case, you’re more concerned with who you’ll sit next to on the bus for the next field trip than anything else. ;)

  • http://www.marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    yep, Outside Inside came out a couple of years later.

  • John

    Kit,

    Perfect timing! I had my Sirius tuned to the 80’s station today and heard “Sweetheart” for the first time in decades. I have a vast collection of 80’s music so when I hear a song that suprises me it is pure bliss! This was one of those songs. I quickly did a wiki search and was shocked to see there was no entry for this group. I tried again tonight via google and found your article–yes! Thanks for satisfying my curiosity. Now I have to see if there is somewhere I can download this sublime pop gem. Thanks so much!

    John

  • http://www.kitotoole.com Kit O’Toole

    Thanks for commenting, John! It was pretty hard to find information about Franke & the Knockouts, so I understand your difficulty in finding any wikis. As for downloading the song, I wish I could tell you where to get it–their albums seem to be out of print, and only a few 80s compilations include it. It’s just one of those lost gems!

  • jen

    how do i buy this song? i’ve looked for it for years and itunes doesn’t have it

  • RD

    I love this song. It is very very hard to find. After looking all over the internet I found a clue. Amazon.com in the past sold a CD called Rock ‘n Roll memories of the 70’s and 80’s, this CD contained the song sweetheart. To my horror the CD was discontinued by the manufacturer. I did not give up and I found it on Walmart.com. The CD cost 5.88 with shipping and tax little over eight bucks. Besides sweetheart the CD contains the following songs:
    Everytime You Go Away- Paul Young
    Missing You- John Waite
    Angel Of The Morning- Juice Newton
    Lady-Little River Band
    Promises,Promises-Naked Eyes
    Only The Lonely-The Motels
    You Can Do Magic-America
    I’ve Been In Love Before-Cutting Crew
    Waiting For A Star To Fall-Boy Meets Girl.

    You may not like all the songs above I do not like all of them but sweetheart was worth it.

    Jen and anyone else who wants to own the song sweetheart I hope this helps.

  • John Dennis

    Been a huge fan ever since Radio Station WSUS in Franklin, N.J.first aired “Sweeheart” in the early 80’s. They played it several times daily for weeks on end. Also went to school with Tommy Ayers and he became a super keyboard player. I’ve never heard sounds like he puts out; he has a unique style. Awesome group and still listening. John in N.J.

  • Kit O’Toole

    Thanks for commenting, John!

  • Robert

    Hey, I was in college in ’81 and that was one of the best times of my life. In fact, I really miss those days (’80 and ’81, my last two years in college) sometimes. Oh well, you can’t go back again. But we will always have the music. Thanks for this tribute to a group and song I remember well from that wonderful summer of my youth.

  • Kit O’Toole

    Thanks for commenting, Robert–yes, the 80s definitely weren’t all bad. :)