On this day – January 11 in 1984, BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read announces on air that he will not play the single “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood because of its suggestive lyrics. The BBC places a total ban on the record at about the same time.
Oh oh Wee-ell-Now! Here are 10 fun facts about what is now the 7th best-selling UK single of all time.
1. Lead singer Holly Johnson explained that the group’s name derived from a page from The New Yorker magazine, featuring the headline “Frankie Goes to Hollywood” and a picture of Frank Sinatra, although the magazine page Johnson referred to was actually a pop art poster by Guy Peellaert.
2. ZTT co-founder Paul Morley mapped out the marketing campaign after signing the band, fashioned as a “strategic assault on pop.” Morley wanted to tackle the biggest possible themes in the band’s singles (“sex, war, religion”), of which “Relax” would be the first, and really went after the UK media for the shock impact of Frankie members Holly Johnson’s and Paul Rutherford’s open homosexuality in the packaging and music videos.
3. Producer Trevor Horn never used any members of Frankie Goes To Hollywood on the single. Horn hired former Ian Dury backing band the Blockheads for the sessions, with Norman Watt-Roy providing the original bass line, but those were eventually scrapped. Trevor next went to session musician Andy Richards for the keyboard and with rhythm programming assistance from J. J. Jeczalik of Art of Noise, and completed the song himself. Holly was the only band member to perform on the record; the only contribution by the other members was a sample crafted from the sound of the rest of the band jumping into a swimming pool.
4. Trevor spent £70,000 in studio time, around $140,000 in American, just for the recording of the single.
5. “Relax” was released by ZTT in October 1983 and got a little bit of airplay, allowing it steady progress into the UK Top 40. Following a debut on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops on January 5th 1984 while at #35, the single rose to #6 in the charts the following week.
6. It wasn’t just the lyrics that caused controversy. ZTT’s ad campaign for “Relax” started with 2 quarter-page ads in the British music press. All ok so far, right? The first ad featured images of backup singer/dancer Paul Rutherford in a sailor cap and a leather vest, and Holly 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.” Oh, ok, then.
7. Following the release of the group’s second single, “Two Tribes”, “Relax” rallied from a declining UK chart position during June 1984 to climb back up the UK charts and re-attain #2 spot behind “Two Tribes” at #1, representing simultaneous chart success by a single act rarely seen since the early 1960s.
8. The BBC lifted its ban on “Relax” at the end of 1984 to allow the band to perform it on the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops (it had been, aside from Band Aid of which Holly Johnson was a participant, the biggest-selling single of the year).
Everything I say is complete lies. Like, when people ask you what ‘Relax’ was about, when it first came out we used to pretend it was about motivation, and really it was about shagging.
—Mark O’Toole, Welcome to the Pleasuredome album liner notes
9. The irony of it all? Mike announced his refusal to play the record on the BBC, not knowing that the BBC had just decided that the song was not to be played on the station anyway.
10. The song won Best British Single at the 1985 Brit Awards.