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RELAX: A STRATEGIC ASSAULT ON POP

Frankie Goes to Hollywood started a five-week run at no. 1 on the UK singles chart with “Relax!”
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Frankie Goes to Hollywood in 1984 | Pic: The Guardian

On this date in 1984 Frankie Goes to Hollywood started a five-week run at no. 1 on the UK singles chart with “Relax!” Two weeks earlier, on 11 January, DJ Mike Read was playing “Relax” on his BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show when he noticed the front cover design by Anne Yvonne Gilbert. Read apparently became outraged by the “overtly sexual” nature of both the record sleeve and the printed lyrics, which prompted him to remove the disc from the turntable live on air, branding it “obscene”—its lyrics centred on the oft-repeated “Relax, don’t do it/When you wanna suck it, chew it/Relax, don’t do it/When you want to come.”

Two days later—almost three months after the single’s initial release, and just eight days after the group’s Top of the Pop appearance—the BBC banned the record from all its TV and radio outlets.

ZTT Records signed Frankie Goes to Hollywood after producer-turned-ZTT co-founder Trevor Horn saw the band play on the television show, The Tube. Once the band was signed, ZTT co-founder Paul Morley mapped out the marketing campaign fashioned as a “strategic assault on pop”. Morley opted to tackle the biggest possible themes in the band’s singles (“sex, war, religion”), of which “Relax” would be the first, and emphasised the shock impact of Frankie members Holly Johnson’s and Paul Rutherford’s open homosexuality in the packaging and music videos.

ZTT initiated the ad campaign for “Relax” with two quarter-page ads in the British music press. The 1st ad featured images of Rutherford in a sailor cap & 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”, a pun on the music hall song “Ship Ahoy! (All the Nice Girls Love a Sailor)”. It declared “Frankie Goes to Hollywood are coming … making Duran Duran lick the shit off their shoes … Nineteen inches that must be taken always.” The 2nd ad promised “theories of bliss, a history of Liverpool from 1963 to 1983, a guide to Amsterdam bars”.

Below, the first one is the official video and the second is from a TV show in 1984—featuring Lemmy (Motorhead).

• Read also SEX PISTOLS VS EMI.

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Featured image via laut.de.

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Rudolf Dethu

Rudolf Dethu

Music journalist, writer, radio DJ, socio-political activist, creative industry leader, and a qualified librarian, Rudolf Dethu is heavily under the influence of the punk rock philosophy. Often tagged as this country’s version of Malcolm McLaren—or as Rolling Stone Indonesia put it ‘the grand master of music propaganda’—a name based on his successes when managing Bali’s two favourite bands, Superman Is Dead and Navicula, both who have become two of the nation’s biggest rock bands.
Rudolf Dethu

Rudolf Dethu

Music journalist, writer, radio DJ, socio-political activist, creative industry leader, and a qualified librarian, Rudolf Dethu is heavily under the influence of the punk rock philosophy. Often tagged as this country’s version of Malcolm McLaren—or as Rolling Stone Indonesia put it ‘the grand master of music propaganda’—a name based on his successes when managing Bali’s two favourite bands, Superman Is Dead and Navicula, both who have become two of the nation’s biggest rock bands.

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RUDOLF DETHU

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