Friday, 1 May 2009

1984 Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Relax

By 1984, with punk and it's following new wave movement a distant memory, the UK charts had become a safe and conservative landscape. It would probably have been pushing it by expecting to see Whitehouse or SPK on Top Of The Pops, but the endless procession of AOR ballads and identikit fops in make up seemed a far cry from the prophecies of Orwell's year of doom and the charts were in dire need of someone to shake things up by throwing a spanner of danger into the corporate machine.

Opening with an ominous bass drum thump of intent that hits like a repeated punch to the chest, 'Relax' explodes into an unstoppable chorus that breaks the butterflies in its path as surely and completely as a millstone grinds corn. And 'Relax' genuinely is virtually all chorus, a refrain repeated throughout that should wear before the song ends, but it's next to impossible not to get caught up in Trevor Horn's all encompassing violent carpet bomb of sound that sweeps all before it like the waters that cleansed the Aegean stables, making the title somewhat ironic.

What delivers the track from total bombast of music by production is the puck-like figure of Holly Johnson and his gleeful vocal. The highly suggestive packaging and S&M themed video weren't needed to court controversy - though no longer as sleazy as it once appeared, 'Relax' is still far removed from the good time camp of the Village People and the openly gay Johnson delivers the suggestive lyrics with the smirking cockiness of the troublemaking kid at the back of the school bus flicking Vs at the cars behind.

"Relax don't do it when you want to go to it
Relax don't do it when you want to come"

So in hindsight, does this contain the 'overtly sexual' inferences that upset Mike Read enough to refuse to play it? Probably. But it doesn't matter, because even if the writers in their naivety meant 'come' as in arriving from somewhere, Johnson's enunciation bends it to the meaning he wants in a way not seen in the charts since Johnny Rotten made it only too obvious that his 'vacant' didn't refer to an empty space.

By the time this left the charts in 1984, FGTH were everywhere. 'Relax' pounded out of every pub jukebox, every nightclub and every clothes shop on the High Street, while every other T shirt worn seemed to proclaim what Frankie were saying; FGTH and 'Relax' were to the eighties what a turkey is to Christmas. It wasn't pretty, but it was, and remains, big and clever and its primal energy and euphoria remain undimmed over two decades on.

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