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The Power of Love: a magical hit in which the secular and the spiritual entwine

Many have used the same song title, but Frankie Goes to Hollywoods take is a true Christmas classic

The lights are strung out along Regent Street, golden holly and scarlet berries heralding the official commencement of the festive season, and the signal to prepare ourselves for the glittering traditions of the modern Advent: the X Factor No 1, the ice-rink photoshoot, the feathery bludgeoning of the Christmas advertising campaign song.

Last year it was Slow Moving Millies doleful rendition of the Smiths Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, employed by John Lewis for their promotional clip of a young boy anxiously counting down the days.

This year, the department store has plumped for another cover — Gabrielle Alpins piano-led take on Frankie Goes to Hollywoods 1984 hit The Power of Love. Its pretty enough, of course, but there is something a little bleached, a little bloodless about Alpins version; a Twilight rendering of the song, its focus seeming to fall on atmosphere rather than lyrical content.

This is strange, since it has always been this songs lyrics that have drawn me. I remember watching Frankie Goes to Hollywood perform it on Top of the Pops, when Holly Johnson sat, centre stage, wearing a coat that seemed halfway between a boxers dressing gown and a set of pastoral robes — the perfect attire for a song that pitched loves power as lying somewhere between the boxing ring and the pulpit.

It was an audacious song, with its references to the Hooded Claw from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, and — courting the scandal that already surrounded the band — its artwork, featuring The Assumption of the Virgin by Titian. Though it reached the top of the charts in early December that year, it was inevitable, though faintly disappointing, that it was pipped to the Christmas No 1 spot by Band Aid.

What stuck with me then, as now, was the peculiar mystery of those lyrics. I had just turned seven when it was first released, and love then was an unknown quantity. “Love is danger/ Love is pleasure,” Johnson sang. “Love is pure, the only treasure.” I was intrigued. “The power of love,” Johnson continued, “A force from above/ Cleaning my soul.” Love was, he insisted, a sky-scraping dove, a fire-tongued vampire-slayer, an energy “rushin, rushin inside of me”.

The following year came two more ruminations on the power of love — first, Jennifer Rushs immense power-ballad, painting a silk-sheeted bedroom scene of besotted lovers. “Sometimes I am frightened but Im ready to learn/ About the power of love,” she declared, volubly — though made little effort to actually define that power.

Shortly afterwards sprang the Back to the Future-endorsed hit by Huey Lewis and the News, offering further enlightenment as to what exactly the power of love might be. It was, Lewis explained, “a curious thing” capable of making “one man weep” and “another man sing”.

Lewis, Rush and Frankie Goes to Hollywood are not the only artists to have attempted to distill the power of love in song — Luther Vandross tried it in 1991, Martha Reeves covered Joe Simons song in 1972, and in 1966 the Everly Brothers recorded (You Got) The Power of Love. Written by Bonnie Bramlett and Joey Cooper, this last song speculated on the joy and happiness to be found in a kiss and the way that love can chase out loneliness.

It was only later that I began to view “the power of love” as one of those magical points in music where the sacred and the secular entwine. Where once a gospel choir might have sung of how God wields an almighty power from on high — a power that is transformational, at times terrifying, but always purifying, redemptive — secular artists attribute these same qualities to romantic love.

“I always felt like The Power of Love was the record that would save me in this life,” Holly Johnson once said. “There is a Biblical aspect to its spirituality and passion; the fact that love is the only thing that matters in the end.” Something to contemplate as we slip into the Christmas shopping frenzy.