This week’s Old School Friday theme is “sophomore year,” which for me is 1984-85. Back in high school, I was all about the second British Invasion: New Wave, New Romantics, synthesizers and boys in makeup. Of course I loved Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” from their album, “Welcome to the Pleasuredome.” I even had the requisite “Frankie Says…” white t-shirt, with big, black, block lettering, which I wore tied at the hip over some black-and-white patterned leggings.
For a sheltered, suburban teen in Northwestern Indiana, “Relax” was just a hot song with a banging beat. I didn’t “get” the lyrics until experiencing them again and an adult. And little did I know then, but the song that spawned a fashion craze among Anglophile teens, also sparked a shit-ton of controversy:
Morley intentionally courted scandal with the promotion of "Relax". ZTT initiated the ad campaign for "Relax" with two quarter-page ads in the British music press. The first ad featured images of Rutherford in a sailor cap and a leather vest, and Johnson with a shaved head and rubber gloves. The images were accompanied by the phrase "ALL THE NICE BOYS LOVE SEA MEN" and declared "Frankie Goes to Hollywood are coming . . . making Duran Duran lick the shit off their shoes . . . Nineteen inches that must be taken always." The second ad promised "theories of bliss, a history of Liverpool from 1963 to 1983, a guide to Amsterdam bars".More on music in the year that was 1985.
On Thursday 5 January, Frankie Goes to Hollywood performed "Relax" on the BBC flagship TV chart show, Top Of The Pops, and in less than a week, the song had risen to number 6 in the UK singles chart. On 11 January 1984, Radio 1 disc jockey Mike Read expressed on air his distaste for both the record's suggestive sleeve (designed by Anne Yvonne Gilbert) and its lyrics. Perhaps Read's decision was based on his
interpretation of the song's lyrics as being sexually explicit: "Relax, don't do it, when you want to sock it to it, Relax don't do it, when you want to come." He announced his refusal to play the record, not knowing that the BBC had just decided that the song was not to be played on the BBC anyway.
In support of their DJ, BBC Radio banned the single from its shows a reported two days later (although certain prominent night-time BBC shows - including those of Kid Jensen and John Peel - continued to play the record, as they saw fit, throughout 1984).. The now-banned "Relax" rose to number 2 in the charts by 17 January, and hit the number one spot on 24 January. By this time, the BBC Radio ban had extended to Top of the Pops as well, which displayed a still picture of the group during its climactic Number One announcement, before airing a performance by a non-Number One artist.
This went on for the five weeks that "Relax" was at number one. The single remained on the charts for a record consecutive forty-two weeks. It would rise up from a declining chart position to number two during the UK summer of 1984 whilst Frankie's follow-up single "Two Tribes" held the UK number one spot.
The ban became an embarrassment for the BBC, especially given that UK commercial radio stations were still playing the song. Later in 1984 the ban was lifted and "Relax" featured on both the Christmas Day edition of Top of the Pops and Radio 1's rundown of the best-selling singles of the year.
The track was re-issued in 1993, first of a string of Frankie Goes to Hollywood singles to be re-issued in this year. It debuted at a high number six on the UK singles chart and peaked at number five the next week. Read more...