Written by the group's lead singer Holly Johnson, bassist Mark O'Toole and drummer Peter Gill, "Relax" was the first Frankie Goes to Hollywood single, and by far their biggest American hit (they had two other chart-toppers in their native UK: "Two Tribes" and "The Power Of Love").
The basic idea of "relax, don't do it" came to Johnson one day in winter 1982 when he was late for rehearsals "walking very quickly along the central reservation of Princes Avenue in Toxteth." At that point, the band only consisted of Johnson, O'Toole and Gill.
The lyrics are relatively ambiguous, although the line "When you want to come" is clearly a reference to orgasm. The song is essentially a guide to delaying ejaculation.
To throw censors off the scent, when "Relax" first came out the band claimed publicly that it was written about "motivation." Later they confessed it was actually about "shagging."
In America, any sexual innuendo contained in this song got little attention, but it caused plenty of controversy in England. On January 11, 1984, BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read announced on air that he refused to air "Relax" because of the single's controversial artwork and lyrics. Read was unaware of it at the time, but Radio 1 was already planning to ban the single, and did so shortly afterward. However, the ban was only temporary. A parody of Read's on-air rant was included on some of the releases of the band's third single "The Power Of Love."
The song had already reached #6 on the UK singles chart before the rant and ensuing kerfuffle, which helped propel the song to the top spot (commercial radio stations in the UK played the song more after the ban, boasting that they were playing "the song that BBC banned"). An appearance on the television show Top Of The Pops had moved the song up to #6 from its previous position of #35.
The BBC lifted its ban at the end of 1984 to allow the band to perform the song on the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops.
Originally when questioned on the matter, the press was told that the line that sounds something like "When you want to suck to it" was really "When you want to sock it to it." Later, once the song was successful, Holly Johnson confessed the line is "When you wanna suck it, chew it."
In 1984, "Relax" initially spent 48 weeks on the UK Singles Chart with five of those weeks consecutively in the #1 spot. When the band's second single, "Two Tribes," was released in the summer of 1984, that song climbed to #1 while simultaneously "Relax" rose back up to #2. This was a feat only previously accomplished by Elvis Presley, The Beatles and John Lennon.
After 48 weeks, "Relax" fell off of the chart, but re-appeared soon after for four more weeks, giving it a total of 52 weeks on the chart.
Three music videos were made for this song. The first depicted the band in a Roman Empire bondage fantasy featuring simulated sodomy, Paul Rutherford's bare bottom and a group of bondage fetishists chained to scaffolding. It was banned by both MTV and the BBC.
The second video, shown primarily in the UK, featured the band (pretending to) perform the song while standing in front of green laserlight.
The third video, shown primarily in the US, featured the band in a live performance setting (performing along to the studio track) while being kissed and hugged by adoring concertgoers.
This was produced by Trevor Horn, a former member of the bands Yes, The Buggles and Art Of Noise. When this song hit #1 in the UK the week of January 28, 1984, "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" by Yes was at #1 in the United States. Horn produced that song as well, making him the only producer to score simultaneous #1s in the UK and US with songs by different artists. Other acts Horn produced include ABC, Godley & Creme, Paul McCartney, Seal, Simple Minds, Lisa Stansfield, Rod Stewart and Tatu.
When "Relax" was first released in the US in the spring of 1984, it peaked at #67 on the Billboard Hot 100. The band came to America in October 1984, already with three UK singles to their credit. They pushed the song "Two Tribes," performing it on Saturday Night Live in November, but couldn't come anywhere near their homeland success; that song stalled at #43.
The group fared better in early 1985 when a re-released "Relax" got attention on radio and MTV, climbing to #10 in March. In America, it is by far their most popular song.
The release of "Relax" was promoted by a variety of widely distributed T-shirts bearing the legendary "Frankie Say..." quotes, such as "Frankie Say RELAX Don't Do It."
This shirt gets a cameo in a Season 3 episode of the TV series Friends during a scene where Ross (David Schwimmer) is taking back his stuff from Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) after the breakup. Knowing she likes to sleep in the shirt, he asks for it back, even though it hasn't fit him since was 15. He puts on the way-too-tight T-shirt and declares, "I'm going to take the rest of my stuff and relax in my favorite shirt." He later returns the shirt in a sign of reconciliation.
Trevor Horn discovered Frankie Goes To Hollywood shortly after creating his record company ZTT when he saw the band performing "Relax" and "Two Tribes" on a Channel 4 show called The Tube. Chris Squire (of the band Yes) commented, "This band looks really interesting. Why don't you sign them up?" Horn didn't think much about them until months later when he heard them again on BBC Radio 1 DJ David Jensen's radio show. When Horn contacted them to sign them, he was unaware that the band was on the brink of breaking up because they felt unsuccessful.
Producer Trevor Horn recorded Frankie Goes To Hollywood performing this song in his studio but was dissatisfied with the outcome. He recorded a second version of the song using musicians from Ian Dury's backing band The Blockheads, but didn't like that recording either. He recorded a third version with producer/engineer Steve Lipson, keyboard player Andy Richards and Fairlight synthesizer programmer JJ Jeczalik, then informed a surprised Holly Johnson and Steve Lipson that he wanted to start from scratch a fourth time, using a beat he had once made on a LM-2 drum machine. He added a programmed bass line, Lipson on guitar, Richards on keyboard and Jeczalik making "funny noises" on the Fairlight synthesizer to create what would become the fourth and official recording. Richards and Lipson added sound effects with a few different Roland synthesizers. Johnson and Rutherford added vocals to complete the track.
Trevor Horn used an array of electronic devices to form the backing track. He explained to Sound On Sound: "It was a combination of Page R and the Conductor and locking it to a Linn drum machine. So the basic track was eights running in a Fairlight ('eh eh eh eh eh eh eh eh'), fours on a bass ('ee ee ee ee') and a set of LinnDrum machine patterns locked to Page R played on top of each other. It was an amazing feel."
A little translation: Page R is a sequencer included with the Fairlight synthesizer. The Linn was one of the first programable drum machines that sampled real instruments - he used the LM-2 model. The Conductor is a unit that allowed Horn to connect the Page R sequencer to the Linn. It's something he also did on the Yes album 90125.
The record company's ad campaign for this song started with a quarter-page ad in the British music press featuring an image of backup singer/dancer Paul Rutherford in a sailor cap, accompanied by the phrase "ALL THE NICE BOYS LOVE SEA MEN" and declaring "Frankie Goes to Hollywood are coming ... making Duran Duran lick the s--t off their shoes."
It described the 7" and 12" vinyl singles of "Relax" as "Nineteen inches that must be taken always."
The band's first-ever studio venture resulted in a 1982 demo of "Relax" and "Two Tribes" for Arista Records, but the company chose not to go further with the band. "Relax" was also rejected by Phonogram Records, leaving them free to sign with Trevor Horn's ZTT.
Fellow New Wave artist Gary Numan once said of the song: "When I heard this it plunged me into a pit of despair. The production was so good, the sounds so classy that it seemed to move the entire recording business up a gear - we were all left floundering, trying to catch up."
"Relax" was the only song on the album that was recorded on analog tape. The rest was recorded on a Sony F1 digital tape machine.
Holly Johnson once shared that Top Of The Pops presenter Paul Gambaccini "was amazed the record was being played. He said no one had got away with such obvious sexual innuendo since Lou Reed's 'Walk On The Wild Side'"
BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read once explained, "I didn't ban 'Relax.' I didn't have the power to ban it because I'm just an individual. What happened was that my producer went home one day to find his two young children messing around with the video recorder, rewinding and watching over and over again a clip from the 'Relax' video in which two men simulate buggery [a British term for anal sex]. And, not surprisingly, he was very upset."
This was used in the film Body Double, a 1984 suspense movie in which Holly Johnson, while lip-synching to the song, leads a man into a sex bar. The man eventually performs a sex scene as the song plays. This scene of the film virtually serves as a music video within the film. Backup singer/dancer Paul Rutherford also appears as a patron at the bar.
"Relax" was also featured in the 2001 Ben Stiller movie Zoolander.
In 1999, a man named R.D. Turner copyrighted the name Frankie Goes To Hollywood in the US and formed a band called The New Frankie Goes To Hollywood, which began playing shows in the US and abroad. Turner falsely claimed to be Davey Johnson, a brother of lead singer Holly Johnson. The band also sold new versions of the band's signature "Frankie Say" shirts for $20 each online.
George Rustles from Maine, AlYou are all wrong. This song is actually about going to the zoo. A lion gets out and kills a kid. They then have to put the lion down with a tranquilizer hence them saying "But shoot it in the right direction." They are referring shooting the lion. "Relax don't do it" is actually PETA telling the shooter not to put the lion down.
Pj from Dublin, IrelandWhat a total fool the bbc s Mike Read was then..........Actualy come to think of it he still is a gobs--te.........ban a song because someone is gay" total madness"....then and now....
Esskayess from Dallas, TxThat spurting synch sound near the end, followed by "hwhaaa!" was pretty indicative of what the song was about.
Jon from Scotland, United KingdomSome facts about the song: 1) The original version of "Relax" by the then-unsigned FGTH was more of a rock song and NOTHING like the up-tempo, pop/synth anthem Trevor Horn would later produce. 2) It's a fallacy that Mike Read got the song banned from BBC Radio One. He refused to play it on his show because of the song's sexual content, but most of all, he objected to the single's artwork which depicted a near-naked man and woman wearing sadomasochistic outfits. Other DJ's, including the legendary John Peel, praised the song's edginess. The BBC decided to ban it when there was a public outcry following Channel Four's decision to air the unedited promo video for it on their music TV show "The Tube". Only BBC radio banned the song. The UK's commercial stations continued to play it, labelling the song "the one the BBC refuses to play!". 3) The song is primarily about sex (both heterosexual and homosexual), but it's more about orgasms than anything else (as is explained on the Welcome To The Pleasuredome album). 4) Apart from the classic "Blue Monday" by New Order, "Relax!" was the biggest selling 12inch vinyl single of the early-mid 80s. 5) FGTH parodied BBC Radio One DJ Mike Read on the 12 inch version of The Power Of Love by recreating his "on-air rant" about "Relax!". 5) The group caused further controversy on the Welcome To The Pleasuredome album by having an impersonator mimic Prince Charles talking about orgasms! 6) The song features on the soundtrack of the Police Academy movie (it was still in the US chart at the time the movie came out). 7) The song has been re-released twice (1994/2000) in remix form. Trevor Horn claims he has collected over 200 different remixes of "Relax!". 8) The compilation album, "Now That's What I Call Music Volume 2" became a best seller in 1984 as it featured the song in it's entirety (this was before FGTH released their debut album). 9) FGTH were the biggest selling group signed to Island Records subsidiary arm ZTT Records. 10) It's believed that when FGTH finally appeared on the BBC music programme Top Of The Pops to perform the song on the Christmas edition of the show, they intentionally sang the lyrics "Cum! Cum! Cum!" louder than everything else to infuriate the corporation. It was also the first time the word "cum" was heard on BBC TV.
Cyberpope from Richmond, Canada"Relax; Go to it; When you want to suck, just do it" is the key refrain that led to the al the controversy (in UK -- N.America wasn't nearly as uptight)
Thegripester from Wellington, New ZealandTrevor Horn was a masterful producer - he basically created FGTH just like New Kids on the Block or the Jackson 5. But the speed of their success nearly destroyed the band. Just look at their SNL performances. Once people realized that they could barely keep it together on stage, their cred plummeted. It's a good lesson on paying one's dues as an artist.
Mike from Matawan, NjThis is, in fact, the gay National Anthem.
Mike from Matawan, NjI always thought it was about Buddhist prayer. Huh. And Fiona from NZ? I wanna party with YOU cowgirl!!!
Stuart from Baughurst, United KingdomThe Radio 4 comedy series "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue", in their "One song to the tune of another" section, had Graeme Garden sing "Relax" to the tune of "Danny Boy".
Karen from Manchester, NhLyrics or no lyrics...the INSTRUMENTATION just about screams sex. This is easily one of the sexiest songs ever.
Daniel from Winchester, OhThat person is wrong. This song is about the danger of homosexual sex, and the AIDS epidemic, and about being careful not to get the illness.
Eric from Beaverton, OrNobody listens to 80s music anymore? I've seen the opposite - 80s music seems to have gained popularity in the last 5-6 years or so. I enjoy 80s music. It might be partially nostalgic, as I was a child in the 80s, and I listened to the radio quite a bit then. I also enjoy 80s songs that I've never heard before. I've even talked to people younger than me who say they enjoy 80s music.
Marissa from Akron, OhI bought a shirt at Target, it's bright pink and on the front it says "Frankie Says Relax" and on the back it says "Don't Do It." No one gets it because no one listens to 80's music anymore :(
Cynthia from Scranton, Pai love this song not only because of zoolander but because of the wedding singer. it is referenced in that movie by a caterer at a wedding wearing the frankie says relax shirt and quoting the lyrics! that movie rocks! i love the 80s, even though i was born in the early 90s! ha ha
Landon from Winchester, OhThe Bloodhound Gang ripped this song's entire chorus for their song "Mope".
Vin from London, United Statesi thought it was about safe albeit gay sex
Ben from Hillsborough, Njthis is the best song. i love the lyrics and even though they may be about gay sex, they are still awsome. this has to be one of the best song of the 80's.
Stu from Fife, ScotlandAs ever, the record company insisted that an alternative story was spun in order to keep prudish people buying the record. It worked and Relax became one of THE records of the 1980s. The hypocrisy of the time is evident when one considers that a mainstream singer called Sade was singing "I'm coming! You're making me dance inside" around the same time, but her track wasn't banned from radio. Tragically, Holly Johnson discovered he'd contracted HIV in 1993.
T. Michels from Venlo, NetherlandsNo comment. If you say 'Relax' or just sing the verse, people think: 'Orgasms', because it's so obvious. And that the lead singer gay was/is makes it indeed a bit of a gay song. Not really a interesting song, but it's funny howmuch youngsters know the song, wich clearly shows that it defenatly reached SOMETHING.
Tom from Newark, DeHeroin was about Toaster Pastries? Man, I was way off, lol (don't worry, I get the joke Ash was making). As someone who once owned a "Frankie says....Relax" shirt, I have some empathy for those who STILL are missing the obvious (I missed it back in 1984), but wake up people! There are countless on the record interviews in which Holly Johnson says that yes, the song really is about what the lyrics so blatantly say it is about. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
Pete from Nowra, Australiaget in the cue Ash,
Hi Fiona Pete from Australia again, i'm a Pisces, and i love slow walks alonf the beach and a cuddle on a cold winters night in front of the roaring fire
Rob from Vancouver, CanadaGerry Marsden (from Gerry and the Pacemakers fame), is a big fan of this tune. FGTH put "Ferry Across the Mersey" on the B-side and made Gerry a ton of money.
Nathan from L-burg, KyThis Song is fun to dance to who cares if it is about sex . Rutherford was the only gay member of the group. and it is not about homosexuallity .
Carrie from Roanoke, VaThis song is so full of sexual references that there's nothing else it could be about. My roommate, however, tried to convince me that it was about trying to reign in aggressive impulses. She said that "Relax, don't do it, when you want to come" meant "don't come to the fight." Eventually, after hearing the song a few more times, she finally got it.
Nathan from Defiance, OhThis song was banned by the BBC in the UK and was very controversal, however in the US the gay aspect was downplyed or ignored, and it was largely seen as just another New Wave song.
Ash from Charleston, WvHey!!! Fiona in New Zealand - My name is Ash, I'm a Virgo, I really enjoy sunsets and long, engaging conversations. Please come to Charleston, WV, USA. NOW!!!
Ash from Charleston, WvSteph in Ottawa: Good one! And you're right. This song isn't about sex. And "Heroin" from the Velvet Underground is actually about toaster pastries!
Pete from Nowra, Australiai agree with you Fiona ......easy does it
Dee from Indianapolis, InAnother song of controversy. Anyone with a brain would see it's sexual overtones. Lyrics can be takin' in so many context throughout many a song out there, but this song had great music and was fun back in it's day. I still like to listen to it, but don't conjur up images of gay sex by any means.
Amy from Billericay, Englandits in the sweetest thing!!
Leon from Waterbury, CtYeah, Holly Johnson was kind of a pr*ck in the 80's.
Mike from Wash Dc, United StatesOne of the more amazing interviews i ever saw was an MTV guy (Mark goodman) interviewing the 2 gay guys of FGTH. They were total a@$holes, smirking & uncooperative. Finally, he just blew up at them. Not the kind of thing you see everyday.
Fiona from Napier, New ZealandI've always understood it to be about anal sex... which can be very uncomfortable if one doesn't relax.
Martin from London, England2/5ths of FGTH were gay.
"Relax" is so obviously a song about gay sex, that it seems absurd for someone to assert that "gay sex...was the furthest thing from the mind of the writer..."! Here's some evidence to suggest that it might just be about gay sex:
1. One of the two homosexuals in the group was frontman, Holly Johnson. Holly was the group's main lyricist. He was/is also allegedly sexually insatiable!
2. lyrics include: "Relax, don't do it; When you wanna suck it do it. Relax, don't do it, when you wanna cum". It is clearly about sex of some kind[!]
3. Early Frankie publicity at the time of the release of "Relax" [winter 1983] stated: "All the nice boys love semen..."
4. The group's guiarist, Brian Nash said [quote]: "Frankie is all about sex...".
5. The very homoerotic cover for the 12" (which featured a guy in leather briefs on the front and a guy (possibly Paul Rutherford) on the back with exposed hairy chest and pierced nipple). There weren't too many straight guys with pierced nipples in 1983!
5. The (main) accompanying (and very excellent)video was shot inside a gay club with some very erotic images.
The record was banned in the UK on the national station BBC Radio 1 after they had played it 71 times. FGTH had also performed the track on BBC's "Top Of The Pops" before they banned it too. All this did was send the record to No. 1 where it stayed for 5 weeks. Later in the year, FGTH relaesed its follow-up, "Two Tribes", which entered at No. 1 and stayed there for 9 weeks. "Relax", having drifted down the charts, nestled up behind "Two Tribes" during July 1984 at No. 2. They were, at the time, the 4th and 11th best-selling singles of all-time in the UK. A 3rd No. 1 ("The Power Of Love" - nothing to do with Huey Lewis or Jennifer Rush!) just before Christmas confirmed their position as the top-selling act in the UK in 1984.
"Relax" had a 10th anniversary re-mix which reached No. 5 in the UK.
Bob from Boca Raton, FlFrankie Goes to Hollywood was gay?
Dan from Olathe, KsThe Bloodhound Gang sampled it in "Mope".
Anonymousactually, this song wasn't written about gay sex . that was the furthest thing form the mind of the writer. also there were four versions of it made before they settled on the one they eventually released.
Travis from Blicksburg, Vait was covered by powerman 5000 for the zoolander movie