Why the Firm Faded Away With ‘Mean Business’
The Firm hit pay dirt with their self-titled debut in 1985, and that momentum seemed to still be going strong when they returned with the follow-up, Mean Business, a year later.
But behind the scenes, the group's days were decidedly numbered. In fact, barely 12 months stood between the two albums but a number of things had changed for the members of the Firm since they'd released their debut. The band had been conceived partly as a way of helping singer Paul Rodgers and guitarist Jimmy Page move forward after their respective departures from Bad Company and Led Zeppelin — but when Zeppelin reunited for a set at Live Aid in 1985, rumors of a full-on Zep reunion shadowed the Firm for the rest of the year.
Those rumors ended up being false, but when the Firm returned to the recording studio later in 1985, they faced a problem more serious than the specter of Page's old band — namely, a lack of new material. As they worked on the tracks that would eventually form Mean Business, Rodgers and Page both turned to older projects, with Rodgers leading the band through a re-recording of his 1983 solo cut "Live in Peace" and Page dredging up "Fortune Hunter," a song originally written for XYZ, his short-lived early '80s project with Yes vets Chris Squire and Alan White.
The end result was an eight-song set that wasn't without its moments yet still lacked a certain creative spark — and didn't do much to build on the template the Firm established with their debut. Leadoff single "All the King's Horses" gave the group a No. 1 rock hit, but the single failed to break the Top 40, and Mean Business rose no higher than No. 22 after its arrival in record stores on Feb. 3, 1986. The band's tour in support of the album lasted only a couple of months, and after follow-up single "Live in Peace" topped out at No. 21 on Billboard's rock chart, the album's brief promotional life came to an end.
"Musically I think the second album was more interesting. But there was a special vibe on the first album, a chemistry that was somehow lacking on the second album," admitted bassist Tony Franklin. "The intention was to make two albums and then assess it from there. If it had been hugely successful, then we may have continued to make further albums." Sadly for Firm fans, it was not to be.
Listen to the Firm Perform 'All the King's Horses'
By the fall of 1986, Page had decided two records was enough, and he issued a press release announcing his intention to pursue a solo career. He'd make his official solo debut with Outrider in 1988, while Rodgers teamed up with former Who drummer Kenney Jones for another short-lived supergroup, the Law. Franklin went on to become a highly sought-after session player, and drummer Chris Slade joined AC/DC.
Following the Firm's dissolution, the members of the band usually maintained that they'd never intended to continue beyond a pair of albums, but it was clear that those plans could have changed if Page and Rodgers' creative chemistry had continued to hold. "It just wasn't the way I wanted to continue," said Page in 1990. "Paul Rodgers is a difficult guy to get close to […] It wasn't the most comfortable band to be in, particularly towards the end."
Without addressing that quote specifically, Rodgers admitted to Ultimate Classic Rock that the Firm came together during a time when he felt his particular brand of music had fallen out of favor. "I didn’t really like the ’80s, to be honest with you," he reflected. "There was some good music that came out, but it went a bit disco for me."
Mean Business remains the Firm's final effort, but Slade revealed in 2014 that they'd entertained the idea of a reunion on at least one occasion. He also hinted that the possibility was still there for more music if the stars aligned properly.
"We were going to put it together again. There were talks between their people, our people, people and other people and it was going to be put back together," Slade said. "Then this tiny, lesser-known band called Led Zeppelin got back together and did their reunion, which knocked it on the head. Who knows what will happen? Never say never. It might happen."