Considered to be one of the most controversial and most commercially successful records of the 1980’s, “Relax” from British new wave male band: Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The track has featured in many different forms of media throughout the years; from appearing on a fictional radio station in the video game Grand Theft Auto, as well as the iconic film T2: “Trainspotting”, and not forgetting it becoming the theme tune to Netflix’s one-of-kind interactive film, “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”. Frankie Goes to Hollywood was formed in 1980’s in Liverpool and consisted of Holly Johnson (vocals), Paul Rutherford (vocals), Peter Gill (drums, percussion), Mark O’Toole (bass guitar) and Brian Nash (guitar).
Holly Johnson had expressed in various interviews that he came up with the idea for “Relax” while walking down Princess Avenue in Liverpool: “…I mean they were just, you know, words that floated into my head one day when I was walking down Princess Avenue (in Liverpool) with no bus fare, trying to get to rehearsals – I mean there was no great sort of calculated, ‘Oh I’ll sing these words and this record’ll be banned’.” ZTT Records signed Frankie Goes to Hollywood after producer-turned-ZTT cofounder Trevor Horn saw the band play on the television show The Tube, on which the group played an early version of “Relax”. Horn described the original version of “Relax” as “More a jingle than a song”, but he preferred to work with songs that were not professionally finished because he could then “fix them up” in his own style. Not satisfied with the original version, Horn decided to record a second version with Ian Dury’s backing band “The Blockheads”. However, Horn was still not happy with the track, so the third version was recorded by Horn, producer/engineer Steve Lipson, keyboard player Andy Richards, and Fairlight synthesizer programmer JJ Jeczalik. However, it was the fourth version featuring a beat Horn had previously made on a LM-2 drum machine, with funny noises from Jeczalik on the synthesizer. Horn has recalled the memory of finally perfecting the track: “They heard it, (Holly) and Paul immediately started to dance, and so did the rest of us, just dancing around the control room. By the time Holly sang the vocal at 4 am, he was so totally hyped up, he was crazy, like a Doberman with a rabbit in its teeth”. The single was also banned from BBC Radio, and the controversial adverts for the track only fuelled the controversy: it featured Paul Rutherford in a sailor cap and a leather vest, as well as Holly Johnson with a shaved head and rubber gloves, accompanied by the phrase: “ALL THE NICE BOYS LOVE SEA MEN”.
The first official music video for the track was directed by Bernard Rose and was set in a S&M themed gay nightclub, featuring the bandmembers, leathermen, a drag queen and an admirer dressed as a Roman emperor. This video has allegedly been banned by the BBC and MTV. The second version was directed by Godley and Crème, and features the group performing the track surrounded by lazers. The second version was uploaded to ZTT Records’ YouTube channel in January 2014. As of October 2019, the video has over 5.1 million views.
Release Date: 24th October 1983
Songwriter/s: Peter Gill, Holly Johnson, Brian Nash & Mark O’Toole
Producer/s: Trevor Horn
Music Video Director/s: Bernard Rose / Godley and Crème
Chart Rankings, Certifications & Awards: Soon after its release, “Relax” hit #1 in the charts in the following countries: Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand and the UK. It also ranked in the charts in the US, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia. “Relax” is certified Gold in Canada and the US, and Platinum in the UK. At the 1985 Brit Awards, the track won “Best British Single”.