IN RECALLING the first album you bought, the nostalgia involved is directly proportional to the format. If it was an LP, you win. You’re a cool bastard and probably have grey ear hair. If it was a CD, like mine, then you’re a child of the eighties and probably also owned red slip-on shoes, which you wore with white socks and a jacket with the sleeves rolled up. You thought you were Don Johnson in Miami Vice, basically. Although when I say “you”, what I mean is “me”. That outfit did not go down well on the mean streets of Belfast, let me tell you. If your first album was an mp3 download, well, go fuck yourself.
My first CD was Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s seminal album Welcome to the Pleasuredome. I was so excited to get it as the single ‘Relax’ had been banned by the BBC because the arbiters of taste felt both the lyrics and the cover were obscene.
In case you’re too young to remember, the chorus contained the refrain, “Relax, don’t do it, when you want to suck to it, relax, don’t do it, when you want to come.” Later on, singer Holly Johnson talks about hitting people with laser beams and shooting in the right direction but interpret that how you will.
What offended the Beeb was the idea the song promoted – gasp! – sexual activity, which no red-blooded patriotic BBC listener would ever engage in, certainly not, matron.
The cover featured brilliant artwork by illustrator Yvonne Gilbert, depicting a redheaded woman wearing only a leather jacket, black tights and high heels, canoodling with a dude in leather underpants. Pretty standard Saturday night for me, but I guess it’s not for everyone. Gilbert went on to do fantasy book covers and a series of stamps for the Royal Mail.
"When will the censors realise that this always backfires?"
The story goes that Radio 1 DJ Mike Read whipped the 45 right off the turntable in the middle of a live broadcast when he got a boner after checking out the cover and realising the song was “overtly sexual”. He later denied this, claiming the BBC had already decided to ban the song before he labelled it obscene. This is the same guy who released a pro-Brexit song called UKIP Calypso in 2014, sung in a fake Jamaican accent, prompting accusations of racism, which he eventually copped to and pulled the song from release.
Oh, when will censors learn that this always backfires? ‘Relax’ hadn’t been doing all that well up to that point. The single was
floundering in the charts after three months on release. Immediately after the ban, it shot to number one and stayed there for five weeks. An awkward situation for the BBC, since the band now couldn’t appear on Top of the Pops. Teenagers across the UK went nuts for Frankie Goes to Hollywood as a result.
Everyone was singing about sucking and coming, and their iconic Frankie Say (insert message here) T-shirts were ubiquitous.
The result? ‘Relax’ became the sixth bestselling UK single of all time. Welcome to the Pleasuredome had advance sales of over a million copies. The follow up single, ‘Two Tribes’ spent nine weeks at number one. Track the video to ‘Relax’ down on YouTube.
Directed by Bernard Rose, who made Candyman, it was banned by MTV. In it, Holly Johnson enters an S&M club, wearing a suit and looking all uptight. He then proceeds to tell everyone not to have sex. People spit in each other’s faces. The DJ flashes her tits. A man dressed as a Roman emperor drops his daks and shows his cock. Johnson winds up wrestling an actual tiger on stage.
Ah, the eighties, how we miss thee!
Grab your copy of the latest issue of Penthouse here.