Thursday, January 13, 2011

relax, it's January

hi everyone

well, usually around this time of year you'd expect me to rattle on once again about January 10, 1987, which was the date of the only instance of me being fortunate enough to see Frankie Goes To Hollywood live, so to speak. this year, for a change, i thought i'd give it something of a miss.

that's not to say, however, that Frankie Goes To Hollywood will be free of celebration here. it was in this week in 1984 that this man did more than anyone outside of the band themselves or their record label to make Frankie the huge selling, popular big act they became.

a very healthy percentage of Frankie Fans owe being made aware of the band, or rather the band being so well known, to celebrated Radio 1 DJ Mike Read. now, many will know the story of Mike Read and the first Frankie single, Relax. however, for those unaware or wishing to relive it, here we go!

after Trevor Horn "discovered" Frankie via the innovative, influential and sadly missed Channel 4 TV show The Tube, he snapped them up for his new record label, ZTT, and commenced turning their most popular tune amongst their cult following, Relax (In Heaven Everything Is Fine), into the version of Relax that we all know (and love) today. it was released as a single in late 1983, garnered favourable reviews and made a steady, sure climb up the charts. it also got regular airplay, until Mike Read happened to pay more attention to the lyrics and cover than he had done before.

the band nor the label, ZTT, made any effort to hide exactly what Relax was all about - in particular, they certainly didn't shy away from it in respect of the video made to promote the song (more on that later). however, somehow the content of the song flew by most, at least until January of 1984. the legend has it that Mike Read clocked what was going on and immediately pulled the record off mid-play, followed soon by a general ban across the BBC.

although clearly testing the boundaries of acceptability (at the time) with the song, no one in either the band nor the record label actively sought to get the record banned as some sort of publicity stunt. whereas acts that followed Frankie did try and get a similar ban due to the widespread media coverage which followed the decision to take Relax off the airwaves, at the time not having your record on Radio 1 seemed akin to commercial suicide.

the reverse of what was expected happened, of course, and Relax went on to become one of the biggest selling singles of not only the 80s but of all time. the oddity of the world at large - if it had been banned for being violent it probably would have sunk without a trace. however, as it was banned because of being of a sexual nature, the curiosity of many was, as it were, aroused.

if the song itself and record cover were not overt but not shy in what it was all about, the video for Relax certainly didn't pull any punches. although freely played today, the video received an "even bigger" ban than the song did, if such a thing is possible.

whereas music videos had been around since the 60s (sorry, those of you who for some obscure reason believe Queen invented it with Bohemian Rhapsody), it really was in the 80s that the form took off, mostly via the advent of MTV. a pioneer from this time was Duran Duran who made videos full of glitz, glamour and attractive models which helped sell their impressive records in even larger volumes.

Frankie kind of followed suit, delivering a video for Relax which showed a world somewhat more realistic to aspire to and attain than, say, Rio did, and made it quite clear that any and all forms of pleasure were exceptionally welcome in their world.

it was a trip into the dark and seedy underworld where adults and teenagers alike wished to go, where every and all fantasy was there, available for the taking. as a consequence, it was and remains one of the most brilliant music promo videos ever made!

in retrospect, i do wonder if instead of just banning Relax the BBC wished they had rather quietly dropped it, instead playing an alternate track, such as the magnificent cover of Ferry 'Cross The Mersey from the b-side of the 12". playing a b-side was something of a standard practice back then, and i dare say no one would have noticed the subtle change; at least not as much as the world noticed the very blatant ban!

so, would Frankie have been as big a hit as they were if it were not for the ban? there's a case to say it's unlikely. whereas Relax was posting reasonable sales pre-ban, it's the juggernaught of cash which flooded in after the ban that allowed for a huge promotion drive for their next single, Two Tribes, and the debut album Welcome To The Pleasuredome. and by promotion drive, i mean Two Tribes remained at Number 1 for 9 weeks (with Relax re-charting and joining it at Number 2 for a chunk of those weeks), and one in four households was estimated to have a copy of the album in it by the end of '84. the genuine talent of Frankie, mixed with the excellent skills of Trevor Horn, was always going to be a success, but it's the radio ban and the attention which followed that lifted the group to the status they still enjoy today.

well, what are you waiting for? go and play the song!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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