Sunday, November 20, 2016

"Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Song#:  1856
Date:  04/07/1984
Debut:  84
Peak:  67
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Never underestimate the promotional power of being "banned by the BBC." Case in point, this single from the UK band Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The group started to generate some buzz after a few performances, but a couple of labels didn't really know what to do with them and they remained unsigned. That is until producer Trevor Horn saw them on a TV program and signed them to his ZTT label. Horn saw potential in their song "Relax" and reformed it into something he thought would be a hit. Released in October of '83, the single was slowly making its way up the UK chart. After the band was featured on the Top of the Pops show, the song bounded into the Top 10. It might have remained just a popular Top 10 hit, but then a BBC Radio 1 DJ focused on the single's cover image and lyrics and began to rant on how offensive it all was. Although the BBC was also taking notice and making plans to band the song, the DJ's reaction certainly help make it clear that the tune should never be played on BBC radio or TV. Of course, the ban then put a spotlight on the lyrics and quickly after the controversy brewed, the single shot to #1 where it remained for five weeks. It would end up spending a year on the chart and become one of the UK's best-selling singles of all-time. The BBC would lift their ban late in '84. In the US, the song and controversy were initially met with yawns and shrugs. When first released, the single sputtered out in the lower third of the Pop chart. It just didn't catch on. Of course we all know that would change, but it would take nearly nine months before the US paid attention to Frankie and "Relax."

ReduxReview:  Probably like a lot of folks, this song didn't hit my radar until it got reissued early in '85. I loved it right off the bat. I think what attracted me to it more than anything was the production by Trevor Horn. It just sounded so damn good cranked to eleven! A lot of synth-driven songs at the time sounded so one-dimensional and flat whereas this song was cinematic. The sex-driven lyrics that made my young college-age ears perk up were actually crucial to the success of the song as well. Actually, I still can't believe this got such major airplay on US stations. In general, I consider the States a bit more prudish than the Brits or Europe in general, so the fact it ended up banned in the UK yet the US was just "eh, whatever..." was quite interesting. To help smooth over the controversy, the band initially stated that the song was not about sex, but about motivation. Everyone knew that was a bullshit lie. Just one listen to lead singer Holly Johnson saying "come" followed by him going "huah!" and then a big shooting splash sound was all it took to know what the song meant. It was all pretty awesome and the song became a classic of the day.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  So what's with the name? Apparently it stems from a painting by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert that appeared in The New Yorker magazine. The pop-art painting resembled a section of a newspaper that featured a photo of Frank Sinatra being mobbed by fans. The headline above the photo said "Frankie Goes Hollywood." The band spotted the image, added a word to the headline, and became Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Peellaert was already a famous artist in the music world having created cover art for artist like The Rolling Stones and, most famously, for David Bowie's Diamond Dogs album. He also did poster art for movies such as Taxi Driver and Wings of Desire.


1 comment:

  1. I'm kind of a low-energy person, so I like a song like this that has so much energy. Plus, the song and Holly were in Body Double, one of my favorite movies.