This month in 1983… Frankie say relax!
HAILED AS Liverpool’s nastiest new property, Frankie Goes To Hollywood were hell-bent for leather bondage gear. They travelled in the company of The Leatherpets, a couple of kinky females who were always around whenever the band needed to be whipped into shape—
The first headline of sorts had appeared a few months earlier when NME emblazoned a feature Hollywood Comes To Liverpool and interviewed Frankie frontmen Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford in the British Museum. Sounds was less impressed; after a gig at Camden Palace, it renamed them Bert Goes To Clacton.
A three-piece line-up—
Horn was curious to know how Relax would sound if a professional band recorded it. He wheeled in Ian Dury’s Blockheads, whose version was scrapped—
In his autobiography, Johnson recalls the night Horn emerged with a new, machine-like electronic version of tile backing track. “Very stoned, I was very excited by the new groove that Relax had and finally I sang my heart out—
“Basically a chant over the very latest rhythm of the very latest kitchen sinks,” began NME’s Charles Shaar Murray. “It’s the subject of an ad campaign that suggests one requires 19 inches in order to comprehend the music fully. Having been issued with seven, I eventually made do with about three.”
On November 12, the single reached Number 77.
“The morning after Top Of The Pops, we sold 54,000 records and a week later we were banned,” said Horn. “I was surprised that it wasn’t banned the first minute they heard it.”
The BBC blacklisted Relax on January 10, 1984, after Radio 1 DJ Mike Read declared it “disgusting” live on air. But ban or no ban, Relax always had the potential to be a hit. It stayed at the top of the charts for five weeks, eventually selling over a million copies.
Meanwhile, Morley manipulated the media. Early ads declared the song would “Make Wham! seem like Pinky And Perky and Big Country seem like a back garden in St Helens”, and soon he hit on the idea of baggy white T-shirts bearing the words “Frankie Says… Relax”. Not that Holly was impressed by Morley: “Some people are arseholes and he was the biggest I ever met,” he said later. Which never appeared on a shirt.