Jul 09


FT + Popular110 comments • 14,549 views

#531, 28th January 1984, video

In the beginning was the ban. Oh, there’d been a Frankie before, and a “Relax” before, but the ban was the B of BANG!, that Paul Morley-driven hyperconcept which when completed would lead to….. well, something. (A computer game, as it turned out.)

The ban, of course, was consensual. Relax, in its flesh-and-leather sleeve, ached for punishment – as public and official as possible. Mike Read duly doled some out. The record became an instant legend and soon had the sales to match the publicity. Classic McLaren playbook, as many a veteran must have pointed out. And the really clever thing was, when you played it it was hardly obscene at all: its filth was all in the aura and the rumour.

Or almost. “Relax” had Holly Johnson, after all. Holly wasn’t a sexy performer – he sang like he looked, mocking and pinched. But he had a seediness to him that was perfect for the material. He turns the hi-NRG workout of “Relax” into pornography by the simple trick of sounding like a pornographer: there’s a grubbiness to every grunt, gasp and sneer. Every time he gasps “when you wanna come” he’s part master of ceremonies, part voyeur, part swept-away joyous victim.

He’s also the only thing in Frankie you can grab onto. Years later there was a minor scandal as it transpired none of the band played on the track – but surely nobody was shocked? There’s not a band on this record – there’s barely a song, just a collection of gorgeous Fairlight fragments posing and wheeling to the unending catwalk beat. And thanks to Trevor Horn it all sounds immense. Or almost all: a couple of the keyboard runs are a bit BBC wildlife show, and the sampled splash effect that accompanies a cataract of Caligulan piss in the insta-banned video just sounds on record like something’s broken. He could – and would – push and polish the machinery further.

But that wasn’t the point of “Relax”: the point was to provoke and delight and suggest, and make people dance. And “Relax” was an absolute, enormous success on those terms. The queer and BDSM imagery Morley and the band built “Relax” around dropped a little into the background – leathers switched for tight, slogan-dense T-Shirts – and Frankie became a bona fide event. The Sex Pistols restaged as burlesque? Sure, but oh how it worked.



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  1. 61
    peter goodlaws on 28 Jul 2009 #

    Re Septics think all English blokes are gay – No less a ravashing dish than Chris Evert famously commented to John Lloyd, with whom she had fallen in lurrvve at the end of the seventies : “I thought all English guys were gay until I met you. In fact, you’re the first limey I’ve come across who appears not to be.”

    APPEARS not to be? Christ. What did she mean? All I can add is that Chrissie subsequently married Lloydy and then divorced him. You do the maths, pop-pickers.

  2. 62
    SteveM on 28 Jul 2009 #

    Billy asked ‘but is this the first number one which works better as a 12″?’

    Hmm, ‘I Feel Love’ maybe.

  3. 63
    SteveM on 28 Jul 2009 #

    And not necess ‘works better’ but ‘Tainted Love’ for the extra dimension revealed by use of ‘Where Did Our Love Go’

    #59 good point well made re substance. i rather jacked.

  4. 64
    wichita lineman on 28 Jul 2009 #

    Re 61: I remember Chrissie telling this story on the BBC. She was recalling how she saw John Lloyd across the room and thought ‘who is that hot guy?’? She shimmied over, introduced herself, and he said ‘I’m delighted to meet you’…

    “And I thought, ‘Oh no! He’s a fag!'”

    Can’t have been during a rain break, surely?

    Re 59: You’ve nailed it.

  5. 65
    LondonLee on 28 Jul 2009 #

    There was a sitcom in the States a few years ago called Just Shoot Me and in one episode a character was dating this English magician who was very flamboyant and theatrical and everyone is convinced he’s gay and is trying to think of a way to tell this girl. It ends with the magician declaring “I’m not gay! I’M BRITISH!”

    I still use that line sometimes.

  6. 66
    peter goodlaws on 28 Jul 2009 #

    I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the episode of “Frasier” featuring Yorkshireman Patrick Stewart (not remotely gay even in American eyes) who plays Alistair, the uber-pink director of the Seattle Opera, who commences a lustful pursuit of Frasier, who for reasons of a raising of his social status remains in denial of Alistair’s motives. The episode is one of the highlights of the entire collection, with Frasier and Niles ducking into a gay bar, Frasier adorning hilarious tight shorts. The best performance, though, is undeniably from Stewart, who does indeed go someway to proving “Evert’s Law”, which, I fear, will never be expunged from the American psyche.


  7. 67
    Alan on 28 Jul 2009 #

    worth a passing mention is that this is the trigger song for Derek Zoolander to kill that guy

  8. 68
    Matthew K on 29 Jul 2009 #

    The Claymation dude?

  9. 69
    Glue Factory on 29 Jul 2009 #

    I could be wrong, but this is the first number 1 that I recall having multiple, named mixes (‘Sex Mix’, ‘US Mix’ rather than just ‘Extended version’ or ‘Dance Mix’), a trend that would reach it’s zenith in the 90s with record execs desperate to claw a few sales from each dance-micro-genre, no matter how dance-unfriendly the original. I’m sure Trevor Horn’s intentions were honourable (and give me one of his Frankie remixes over most 90s major-act mixes, anyday) but I guess it started here.

  10. 70
    Erithian on 29 Jul 2009 #

    #64 – presumably she never made that mistake with Greg Norman!

  11. 71
    Tom on 29 Jul 2009 #

    #69 Certainly by the time of their next #1 their intentions were far from honourable – remix talk planned then :)

  12. 72
    pink champale on 29 Jul 2009 #

    billy #47 – cor, i probably know the unfortunate boy (being something small there) – clues please!

    #55 – i think that’s spot on about holly being a commentator- his ‘…look what’s happened now…” bit at the beggining is almost like a fairground barker telling everyone they’re not gonna believe their eyes. in the video too, he’s like a reporter cum (sorry!) ringmaster presiding over this cavelcade of filth. i suppose redman does much the same in the (also genuinely filthy) ‘dirrty’ song and vid.

    i certainly didn’t get it at the time. being quite literal about this sort of thing i decided that the song must have been banned because it contained a rude word. as i couldn’t find one i pestered my older brother for ages until he finally gave in and told me that the rude word was “come”. i nodded sagely and duly reported this to my peers, but i don’t think any of us were much the wiser.

  13. 73
    Billy Smart on 29 Jul 2009 #

    #72 Aha – just looked him up. He’s now a director of something or other at the Department of Business and Enterprise, but until 2007 he was at the Treasury doing something in tax. I can remember him at eleven telling me that he wanted to become chairman of the World Bank!

  14. 74
    pink champale on 29 Jul 2009 #

    ha ha – every schoolboy’s fantasy. think i know who you mean but our paths never crossed (probably because he’s all high powered and i spend my days thinking about frankie goes to hollywood).

  15. 75
    Lex on 29 Jul 2009 #

    Not a fan of this at all – I find it a bit overblown and bombastic, and I hate that style of singing whereby EVERY! WORD! IS! SO! OVER-THE-TOP! AND! EXCLAMATORY! Kind of deadens the overall impact completely. From a retrospective vantage point, he sounds a bit like Robbie Williams. Brr. And that’s before you get into how horribly overplayed it is. Sums up everything naff and unwanted about the ’80s for me.

    I hated it before I knew it was a gay anthem, if anything this increases my hostility b/c I take its crapness as a personal offence, much like a lot of pop currently aimed explicitly or indirectly at a gay audience.

  16. 76
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 29 Jul 2009 #

    I don’t think it *was* aimed at a gay audience in an anthemic way though — it’s more like an “in-yr-face battlecry”, aimed at the innocent non-gay world at large, intended to rub ppl the wrong way, so its uneasiness and its brute ugliness are job-well-done rather than flaws: “We’re here, we’re leathermen, get used to it laYm0rz”

  17. 77
    lex on 29 Jul 2009 #

    I guess I just feel vaguely alienated by it then!

  18. 78
    LondonLee on 29 Jul 2009 #

    I never thought of it as an explicitly “gay” song. I mean, straight people come too and it doesn’t mention any, um, particular way of doing it.

  19. 79
    Izzy on 29 Jul 2009 #

    I’m interested in how Frankie managed to achieve such popularity with that particular brand of gayness, the S&M and Rutherford’s look and so on. Surely it can’t have passed over people’s heads? I can see Boy George being a phenomenon partly as the continuation of the popular tradition of cattiness, drag and charming old ladies. But not ‘Relax!’, which seems of a particular time image-wise (though it’s never seemed dated sonically in the slightest, which is amazing given the elements it contains). That said, I know nothing of Frankie qua public personae and would imagine that Holly could be quite cutting, but if he was it’s not in the record.

    I think the ‘New York Mix’ has become my preferred version of this, it’s great.

  20. 80
    ace inhibitor on 29 Jul 2009 #

    Its undoubtedly thanks to Trevor Horn, like Tom says, that Relax sounds immense, but I’d also like to think of it as being a version of Scouse Epic; a younger brother to Cope, Wylie and McCullough – that Liverpool postpunk tradition of making everything BIG, loud and theatrical; piling on the textures; leaving subtlety to the southerners, and laconic understatement to the Mancs. (Holly J a veteran of that scene,as a Big in Japan member)

    In this context, worth mentioning the cultural profile of Liverpool in the early 80s, not matched since – Boys from the Blackstuff, Brookside as C4’s flagship soap in ‘edgy’ contrast to Coronation St, Letter to Brezhnev, Liverpool dominating football the way Man Utd started to the following decade… and politically (for leftists still reeling from the 83 election, at least), Liverpool council – whatever you thought of Militant – seemed to be the leading edge of a younger, radicalised local politics, challenging Thatcherism the way no one else was (at least until the miner’s strike started later this year). Liverpool mattered… some of this was the old story of a working class collective identity, battered by the recession but still resilient, still there (the ‘story of the blues’ from Wah! Heats improbable No.3 from the previous year). But another strand to it was a sense of northern glamour/hedonism/flash that probably had to do with Liverpool being a port, which FGTH and Relax would tie in with. But the two strands seemed like flipsides to the coin at the time. (I don’t know whether this explains what I’m getting at any better, but I was at university at this time with someone from the Cantril Farm estate in Liverpool who was not particularly radical or politically active, but she wouldn’t hear a word against Derek Hatton – the much-slagged ‘face’ of the local council – for 2 main reasons, a) because they got on with building loads of council houses instead of just talking about it, and b) because he refused to apologise for wearing sharp suits and looking flash. No-nonsense but glam,see.)

    er, I think originally the point of all that was… when t-shirts came out saying frankie says arm the unemployed, yes it was perhaps a silly cash-in, but there was another context as well

  21. 81
    Rory on 30 Jul 2009 #

    The performance on The Tube, which is knocking around The YouTube, is an eye-opener; it all sounds rather pedestrian and dated, and Holly Johnson’s look is in-your-face leather rather than the grey suit of the banned video. One particular camera-shot up his red leather shorts is very Brüno.

    I had to double-check to make sure my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me, so now feel compelled to mention: the original T-shirts said FRANKIE SAY, not SAYS (Frankie referring to the collective band rather than the individual), leading to hours of playground cognitive dissonance.

  22. 82
    Izzy on 30 Jul 2009 #

    Ha, thanks, I was certain that was right too – so much so that I got the cognitive dissonance from the ‘FRANKIE SAYS’ one I saw at #21. The shirts seem to have had a pretty big impact in the US, going by how they keep turning up on various TV shows as a signpost of 80sdom.

  23. 83
    intothefireuk on 7 Aug 2009 #

    Less of a song more of a chant set to Fairlight samples – but what samples ! Big & brash with a funked up bassline and meaty synth brass stabs it was hard to ignore. Johnson’s smutty sneer was obv too much for Mike Read and his outrage catapulted it into the stratosphere. Doesn’t sound anywhere near as powerful now as it did then probably due to the over reliance on technology and the fact that the king was in the alltogether.

  24. 84
    Billy Smart on 31 Aug 2009 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Mostly music shows, but a few Wogan appearances, too;

    THE (NOEL EDMONDS) LATE LATE BREAKFAST SHOW: with Mike Smith (Reporter), Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1984)

    1 ON THE ROAD: with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Thompson Twins, Nik Kershaw (1984)

    THE MONTREUX ROCK FESTIVAL: with Bronski Beat, Bryan Ferry, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Kool And The Gang, The Pointer Sisters, Chris Rea, REO Speedwagon, Sting, Tears For Fears (1985)

    THE MONTREUX ROCK FESTIVAL: with Sting, Bryan Ferry, Agnetha, Bronski Beat, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Huey Lewis and the News, Men At Work, Billy Ocean, The Pointer Sisters, REO Speedwagon (1985)

    THE MONTREUX ROCK FESTIVAL: with Eighth Wonder, Elvis Costello, Paul Hardcastle, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Art Of Noise, Belouis Some, Bronski Beat, E.L.O., Marilyn Martin, Ready For The World (1986)

    THE MONTREUX ROCK FESTIVAL: with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Art Of Noise, Belouis Some, Bronski Beat, Eighth Wonder, E.L.O., Paul Hardcastle, Marilyn Martin, Ready For The World, Bonnie Tyler (1986)

    NAKED CITY: with Caitlin Moran, Johnny Vaughan, Jamiroquai, Moby, Ice T, Shakin’ Stevens, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Paul O’Grady, Paul Morley, Therapy ? (1993)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Leslie Ash, Mark Midwurdz, Paul McCartney, Echo and the Bunnymen, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Inspirational Choir, Killing Joke, Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1983)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, Immaculate Fools, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Alarm (1985)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, Spandau Ballet, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Wendy May, Nick Kamen, Felix Howard, Jermaine Stewart, Gwen Guthrie, Gregg Parker (1986)

    WOGAN: with Miriam Stoppard, Charles Dance, Marti Caine, Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1984)

    WOGAN: with Princess Anne, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Mark Tully (1985)

    WOGAN: with Steven Berkoff, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Tom T. Hall, Duncan Norvelle, Christopher Timothy (1986)

  25. 85
    punctum on 8 Sep 2009 #

    “I put on my clothes again, behind the screen. My hands are shaking. Why am I frightened? I’ve crossed no boundaries, I’ve given no trust, taken no risk, all is safe. It’s the choice that terrifies me. A way out, a salvation.”
    (Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, Chapter Eleven)

    1. Necessity
    In all ways, it had to come. 18 months after New Pop had peaked, and there was scant evidence of any triumph. The Top 40 had retreated into what John Peel contemptuously dubbed “a Radio 2 chart” full of soothing platitudes, safe novelties and the decaying colours and ribbons which was all New Pop seemed to mean to a lot of people (Peel again, on TOTP, December 1983: “Isn’t it great that Billy Joel has two singles in the top ten?” he snarled to camera through teeth never more earthily gritted). Against this, there was the indie tugboat of resistance – New Order, the Cocteaus, the Fall and of course the Smiths – but still there was the urge for a more pronounced reaction.

    2. Newness
    It was only too fitting that the eleventh hour cavalry charge of New Pop – or its last explicit stand – should be led by its principal sonic architect and chief critical cheerleader. Morley had locked horns with Horn in the NME back in 1980, at the time of “Video Killed The Radio Star”; he was none too impressed and deemed Buggles “the dustbinmen of pop.” But two years later Dollar and ABC had come to pass, and suddenly the two men, again in the NME, found themselves to be on the same side. With New Pop in freefall, as fully and carelessly as George Michael’s spilled drink into the swimming pool in the video for “Club Tropicana,” it was natural that the two should go into battle.

    3. Mercy
    Unless you were there and sympathetic at the time, it is difficult to convey how devastatingly important that first Art Of Noise EP was. As the autumn of 1983 approached it genuinely did feel that pop music was finished; all that remained were ageing MoR matinee idols from a spent previous era (Bowie, Rod, Billy Joel, Lionel Richie), lapsed prog-rockers pretending to be New Popists (Jones, Kershaw) and the dying embers of the few real New Popists still slugging it out. A letter in the NME of the period complained that the Top 40 was “physically painful to listen to” with only three good records (two of which were by New Order). I am aware that if you looked long and hard enough there was plenty of great music, pop or otherwise, to be found in 1983 but retrospect can be a luxury.

    So Into Battle appeared as a modest laser beam of deliverance. Although the genesis was Horn’s team faffing about experimenting with samples and outtakes from the Duck Rock sessions, those Zulu voices can be heard as far back as the summer of 1982, buried within the glittering mausoleum of Dollar’s “Videotheque.” And yet the found sounds, somewhere in a teasing triangle between Morton Subotnick, Raymond Scott and Joe Meek (do you Hear A New World in “Beat Box”?), were stretchy and playful as pop hadn’t been for some time; the moves were unpredictable, the tactics (both musically and philosophically) were alluring, and in “Moments In Love” something considerably more.

    4. Advent
    At the “climax” of the latter we can hear 16 rpm moans from a vaguely hoarse voice. That was the slowed-down voice of Holly Johnson…and Frankie Goes To Hollywood were ZTT’s next move. When the first ZTT promotional ads appeared in the music press it was impossible not to be instantly thrilled, not to want to go and buy all these promising new horizons of music and art (even though Propaganda and Anne Pigalle were as yet unrecorded). Frankie Goes To Hollywood were a curious choice for a launch, though, I felt at the time; I had heard them in session on Janice Long’s Radio 1 show without paying much attention – sticky-backed Scouse punk-funk not quite startling enough to emerge out of studium, though it was a reasonably logical, if not outrageously illogical (which was really what was needed), development from Johnson’s previous band Big In Japan (which also harboured two further number one artists of future importance) – and couldn’t quite see what, if anything, Horn could get out of them. As unpromising a project as taking on a fast-fading MoR teenpop duo in 1981…

    5. Quiet Dawn
    “Relax” was released on Hallowe’en 1983; I bought it on the Wednesday, in both 7” and 12” editions (already I was collecting, already I wanted not to miss a second of this second Futurism of Zang Tuum Tumb). I noted immediately that the 12” had almost nothing to do with the song as it stood on the 7”; instead it manipulated and modified the underlying rhythm through a fascinating if marathon thirty-one minutes of stealth funk which could have emerged straight from Cabaret Voltaire’s 2 x 45 – no doubt that was the intention. Value for money. The root 7” sounded good too, colourful and surprising, big without being smugly suffocating – but even then I knew that whatever real power the record possessed was unlikely to reveal itself unless or until it became a big hit. Out in the fields of Left it would become lost.

    6. Slow Burn Necessitating Accelerator
    For the first couple of months of its existence, “Relax” heeded its own advice and took its time selling; it was getting plenty of radio play and selling solidly and consistently but was feeling its way up the chart by only one or two places per week. Despite the numerous plaudits Into Battle was likewise proving a stubborn seller, and there was a very real worry that not only would “Relax” be swallowed up in the Christmas market but that the entire ZTT project might capsize as a result.

    Some favours were called in, and the band appeared on Channel 4’s The Tube just before Christmas in full flourish, complete with girls, bondage and a total absence of ambiguity about what “when you wanna come” and “when you wanna suck it to it” might mean. Compared to the stolidity of Paul Young or the Thompson Twins it was remarkably strong stuff for a teatime audience, but it generated enough interest in the group and the single – in combination with the traditionally low level of post-Christmas record sales – to propel “Relax” to number 35 in the first chart of 1984; into the Top 40 and therefore eligible for the racks of Woolworths and TOTP.

    7. Cant Come
    And then there was the slow realisation and the less-than-slow reactionism. In those days the Top 40 was issued on Tuesday lunchtime, and Radio 1, keen to exploit the chart’s centrality to the station’s existence, ran it thrice; live on the Tuesday lunchtime show, then again on Tuesday teatime (Peter Powell casting a more critical eye on the list) and lastly on Mike Read’s breakfast show on Wednesday morning. Despite having played it regularly and enthusiastically for the best part of two months, while counting down the Top 40 on the morning of Wednesday 4 January, Read suddenly experienced a Damascean revelation, realised what “Relax” was actually about (as though the single cover alone couldn’t have given it away), spluttered some disgusted outrage and refused to play it. Initially Read went it alone in this regard, but over the next few days Radio 1 opted to ban it from the station altogether. However, their TOTP performance had already been recorded, and it went out on that Thursday’s programme – there were no girls or bondage, but the impact remained murderously explosive and revelatory. Whipped up (so to speak) by the inevitable press brouhaha, “Relax” was suddenly on a roll; in the following week’s chart it had leapt to number six (I note incidentally that Channel 4 were at the time running the first properly networked rerun of The Prisoner on British television). The next week it was at number two behind “Pipes Of Peace,” and there was a repeat of the “God Save The Queen” frisson – would The Powers That Were conspire to keep it off the top? But that was not to be; on the day before my twentieth birthday “Relax” became an unqualified number one, reportedly outselling the rest of that week’s Top 20 combined. The silence on the various Top 40 shows and on TOTP was deafening and profound.

    8. Radio One Cant…Or Could They?
    By the beginning of 1984 Radio 1 were in an embarrassing position; explicitly set up in 1967 to cater for the teenage fans of the then newly-outlawed pirate radio, they had now settled into a junior cardigan version of Radio 2, and their controller of the time, Derek Chinnery, was keen to push Radio 1 to an even more upmarket – and more middle-aged, and certainly richer – audience. In an interview conducted with the Slow Dazzle fanzine in 1984, Peel complained bitterly about having his four weekly evening shows cut to three, and quoted Chinnery as saying that Peel’s show was fit only for hoodlums and undesirables. It’s a wonder that he stayed with Radio 1, but he did; meanwhile, as the new wave of pirate radio began to explode in London, highlighting the soul, rap and electro music which mainstream radio was still strenuously avoiding – the young Tim Westwood being among the broadcasters in question – the BBC’s hat continued to look progressively older and shabbier. In that same interview, Peel also cited Chinnery’s desire to cater for “young professionals in the car on their way home from the theatre or to the restaurant who want to listen to something familiar like…Kenny Rogers.” Thus, to a degree, the preponderance of dreary, nullifying MoR in the charts of the period. It seemed that everything was being neutralised.

    9. Come Cant
    Of course the BBC were also hoist by their own hypocritical petard with the “Relax” debacle. Nearly all of their daytime DJs indulged in ooh-ing and aah-ing and cor-ing at Page Three models and nudity and comeliness in general; the noxious Steve Wright in particular revelled in “makes you feel like…making love” sub-Barry Whiteisms when spinning the latest Lionel Richie or Al Jarreau hot, hip platter for the valium-stricken housewives who were his core audience. And, as with The Sun, having frothed at the collective mouth, they then proceeded to mock open mouths of outrage when presented with the real thing. Their embarrassment and stupidity were made all the more profound by the fact that commercial radio gleefully continued to play “Relax” – and that was reflected in their relative ratings.

    10. Real Thing
    Because “Relax” was unavoidably and inevitably the Real Thing; an explicit and gleeful celebration of gay sex. At last, after the decades of coded messages in “Secret Love” or “Have I The Right?” or “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” after an era of New Pop where even Boy George and Marc Almond were obliged to be all coy and ambiguous about their sexuality, here it was, out in the open, unashamed and loud, with its hardcore on-the-beat beat, its pauses and liquid explosions placed for deliberate maximum impact. It took the emerging hi-NRG boom (taking the recent innovations of Bobby “O” and others into account) and made it pop, and nearly every important hi-NRG record to emerge in the Britain of 1984 had to acknowledge either “Relax” and/or “Blue Monday” (even as the dancefloors of such places as Fire Island in Edinburgh were already that summer mutating the hi-NRG template in tandem with this strange new electronic music that was beginning to emerge from Chicago).

    11. Glad
    Tom Robinson had made the Top 20 in 1978 with “Glad To Be Gay” but a typically timid EMI hid it away as part of an EP and another track, the straightforward rocker “Don’t Take No For An Answer,” was promoted to and played on radio as the assumed lead track. But, as I said, after “Relax” there could be no more hiding. By the summer of 1984 leading hi-NRG divas such as Hazell Dean and Evelyn Thomas had crossed over to become chart regulars – and more vitally, the likes of Bronski Beat (politically) and Divine (hardcore-ly) were now getting major hits and opening things up in a way that would have been unthinkable even six months previously.

    12. Mess Aesthetics
    From its opening Olympian call to arms (in both senses) via its relentlessly doubling drumming to its crucial final pause before the two explosions – the first the loudest Horn had ever sounded, and then the second to soundtrack the actual coming with its quadrupling drumbeat (Holly’s murmur, Rutherford’s “HEY!” and then BANG!!), closed by Holly’s satisfied, triumphant, echoing purr of “COME!” “Relax” sounded and still sounds magnificent and magisterial, especially when you couldn’t hear it on the chart rundown; excluded perhaps less on account of scandal than for fear of shaming its rightly-humbled contemporaries, including “Doctor, Doctor,” “Radio Ga-Ga,” “Wouldn’t It Be Good?,” “That’s Livin’ Alright (Theme From Auf Wiedersehn Pet),” “What Is Love?” (Jones famously rhyming “anyway” with “anyway”), “Break My Stride” and too many others – its only worthy competition was “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” in its way of cheerful garish even more subversive than “Relax” (it should be noted that both Cyndi Lauper and Madonna made their UK chart debuts in the same week of January 1984). It is clear that Horn pulled out that extra ounce of forthright power with a purposive view to making “Relax” the unanswerable answer to the New Pop crisis. This was the record everybody had to beat…including, eventually, Horn and Frankie themselves…and, as Morley later commented in one of his innumerable Frankie ad campaigns, they made the rest of pop appear small and petty (“Makes Big Country look like a back garden in St Helens”).

    13. The Killing, Or Rebirthing, Of Pop
    And yet, if “Relax” was the saviour of pop, it also dealt the notion of the pop single its fatal blow. Rarely satisfied with final mixes, and taking a direct lead from Brian Wilson in this respect, Horn endlessly tinkered with the mix of “Relax” so that the version which appears on Now That’s What I Call Music Vol 2 is different from that which eventually appeared on Welcome To The Pleasuredome is different from the version which appears on the cassette single is different from the endless remixes which now seeped out from Sarm West Studios. Above even the controversy – and how exactly did ZTT manage to set up and publish a “BANNED” advert in the music press less than a week after Read’s ban, in those pre-computer days? – it was the remixes which helped “Relax” towards its record-breaking unbroken 37-week run on the Top 40 (in the Top 75 it managed the full 52 weeks of its year, and even then, just like “Blue Monday,” it, as it would be, came back for more); every time it seemed on the verge of slipping out of the chart, BANG! would come a new mix, and it would guiltily, or proudly, slope its way upwards again. This eventually meant that no one has really been able to agree on the “definitive” version of “Relax” and thus the abandonment of the concept of the self-contained, three-minute “definitive” single was set in motion. This had of course been on the cards since “Good Vibrations” and “Strawberry Fields,” but the advent of the 12-inch single in the ‘70s had accelerated evolution, and thus did begin to supersede the need for the “single” as people had known it. Some were quick to dismiss the quick-change “Relax” remixes as cynical cashing-in, but in the long term it heralded the slow passing of something hitherto considered vital to pop; now everything was in floatation, amenable to amendments and, ultimately, whatever shape its individual listeners wanted it to assume. Thus, perhaps, did New Pop go on to win at least part of the war. How other parts of it were fought – and to what effect – well, I’ll get onto that (ooer) presently.

  26. 86
    LondonLee on 8 Sep 2009 #

    I was on a photo shoot with a photographer (English bloke living in NYC) recently and we got talking about music and he told me he used to be in Anne Pigalle’s band back in the 80s. If I’d remembered she was on ZTT I’d have pumped him for some gossip on Horn and Morley.

    Excellent post MC.

  27. 87
    Erithian on 8 Sep 2009 #

    Marcello #85 – great stuff as always, but both Will and I upthread remembered it as being the following week, which would have been 11 January, when Mike Read took the needle off the record – i.e. the week it went from 35 to 6. It’s an important point (insofar as any of this is important!) in the question of whether it was heading for number one anyway. I’m pretty sure the furore blew up while I was at RHC, and term wouldn’t have started as early as the 4th. Can you verify the date you quote in section 7?

  28. 88
    Conrad on 8 Sep 2009 #

    In a way when Read banned the record wouldn’t have made a huge difference, because if it was indeed 4 Jan, it was only the day before the transmission of their (already recorded*) TOTP performance, and I imagine it was that performance that propelled the record from 35-6.

    At this point, TOTP performances – particularly debut performances from striking acts (Musical Youth, Culture Club, etc) – still retained the ability to dramatically impact a record’s sales.

    For most of the watching public on 5 Jan, this would have been their first exposure to FGTH

    * Actually, I always thought TOTP performances were recorded on the day before tx, i.e. the Wednesday (so Frankie would have been arriving to record their debut TOTP about an hour after Read pulled the plug on the record, if that was the timeline)

  29. 89
    LondonLee on 8 Sep 2009 #

    You thought right, TOTP was recorded on the Wednesday.

  30. 90
    punctum on 9 Sep 2009 #

    #87 – as I recall it was definitely the first chart after the hols and “Relax” was the highest new entry within the 40 at 35 and that’s when he spluttered; I was in the bathroom showering and listening to him on my old-school transistor and I too spluttered. The TOTP performance went ahead because a blanket ban hadn’t yet been imposed (and also probably because it was too late to change the programme’s schedule/get in a substitute act) but by the time it leapt to #6 the following week no one on the station was playing it. Admittedly we are now talking over a quarter of a century ago but the memory has stuck with me.

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