Inside the Pleasuredome. The Frankie box set. The one that’s stuffed with vinyl in unusual formats, is limited to just 2,000 copies, cost close to $200 and sold out via PledgeMusic before you could say “the world is my oyster.”
A pretty little thing, isn’t it.
We will, for the sake of sanity, overlook the reason why the box set appears here and now. To celebrate, it is alleged, the thirtieth anniversary of the original album. A happenstance that is sufficient to induce a violent bout of the Violet Elizabeth Botts in anyone who actually remembers the event as though it were yesterday.
If you do not do a recount, I will thcream and thcream an thcream until I’m thick.
It was back in January 1984 when an English radio disc jockey first declared that “Relax,” the debut single by Liverpudlians Frankie Goes To Hollywood, was “overtly obscene” and would not, henceforth, be polluting the ether while he was on the air.
The song was already riding high in the British top 10, was already being tipped for the top. It had already had close to a hundred airings on national Radio One. The ban – which took just two days to spread from Mike Read’s show alone, to the entire BBC network – could not hope to change any of that. But neither did anybody expect the resulting furor to explode in quite the way it did.
Read himself is still making headlines himself. Indeed, as if to celebrate this particular moment of cultural infamy, he just release, and then personally banned, a single of his own – a calypso sung in mock-Caribbean tones, extolling the political convictions of the far right UK Independence Party.
Frankie, on the other hand, haven’t really bothered us since they broke up after their second album sunk. Because they did all they needed to with the first. And with the three still-superlative, still utterly awe-inspiring, singles that spun away from it.
Within a week of the ban, “Relax” was #1; within two, Frankie T-shirts were up there with it, ripping and rewrapping everybody’s dreams of that year’s favorite fashion and catapulting an entire country into a recherche world where the slogans were slick and Frankie dictated the lot of them. By the end of the year, Frankie had not only been to Hollywood, he’d sold around 15 million records worldwide. And all because Mike Read said he didn’t like them saying “suck” on his radio show. The fact, as it was later admitted, that the ban was all part of the hype as well, would be immaterial. For a few months in the saggy trough of the mid-1980s, what Frankie said, the world obeyed. It really was their oyster.
In truth, Frankie would have done it no matter who banned them. If ever a band was in the right place at the right time, it was them. From the moment Frankie forced their way into the nation’s consciousness, imploring us to relax from a couple of million TV screens via Channel 4’s The Tube, you knew that something was going on.
The band was already a couple of years old at that point, one more dynastic convolution in the family tree of post-punk Liverpool. Paul Rutherford was ex-Spitfire Boys and the Opium Eaters, alongside future Siouxsie & the Banshees drummer Budgie. Holly Johnson was one-time Big In Japan. Peter “Ped” Gill and Brian “Nasher” Nash played with Johnson in the Sons of Egypt, Mark O’Toole followe him and, adapting a band name from an old Deaf School number, when Frankie Goes To Hollywood walked on stage for their first ever gig, supporting Hambi And The Dance at Pickwick’s, in Liverpool, the soundtrack for 1984 was already on their set list: “Relax,” “Two Tribes” and “Love’s Got A Gun.” Paul Rutherford was singing backing vocals with Hambi at the time… he caught one glimpse of Frankie, and promptly defected.
In October, 1982, Arista Records pulled Frankie out of the sporadic campaign of gigs which had occupied them throughout the summer, and paid £1,500 for the band to record “Two Tribes” and “Relax.” It was a deal fixed up by Bob Johnson, manager of Ruts DC, who Frankie supported at the Liverpool Warehouse. The band were hot that night – literally as well as figuratively. Under the guidance of Rutherford, and the influence of Mad Max II, Frankie had finally discarded their jeans and T-shirts in favor of hard core leather’n’studs, butch bikers with an axe to grind.
It was a harsh, uncompromising look, but from the moment Bob Johnson saw it he knew Frankie had something the world was going to want.
The band had been managing themselves up to this point; Johnson offered to take over that side of things, and immediately set about proving his worth with a further string of gigs and the Arista offer.
Although Frankie, individually, were all musicians, Frankie collectively was essentially a visual experience, and one which it was essential to understand if you were ever to appreciate what the group stood for. At least, that was how the band saw things. Arista, however, had taken them on sight unseen – it was only fair, therefore, to give the bigwigs a glimpse of what they were getting involved with. Down to the subterranean sweatbox that was London’s Hope And Anchor trooped the Frankies, prepared to run through their entire stage performance for the benefit of the hand_held video camera which Arista’s cash had allowed them to hire.
Arista, from all accounts, were horrified by what they saw and heard. So, too, were Phonogram, who replaced them as Frankie’s latest suitors. The company willingly handed over enough money for the band to record a second demo, but never could have expected what they received – “Get Out Of My Way Arsehole (Junk Funk)” and “Love’s Got A Gun.” That company, too, backed off.
Even after Radio One DJ Steve Blackwell gave the band a live interview, then played the Arista demos over the air; even after John Peel aired a four track studio session from the band, still the invitation to see the band conquering the London gay club, Cha_Chas, received no takers from the record companies of the world.
In December, 1982, Frankie were given their biggest break yet, when they were filmed for The Tube. Summing up their performance, a stomping version of “Relax” played out to a procession of S&M fantasies, Johnson explained, “our main purpose is pleasure, to communicate a good feeling. Sex is part of it, sex is enjoyable, isn’t it?
“It’s about not being hung up, or feeling guilty about any particular so_called deviation you’d like to get into. It’s quite normal. The gay angle is regarded as taboo, but it’s just people getting down, getting into enjoyment, because it’s not long that we are here.”
The response to the Frankie’s appearance was instant, but fleeting. John Peel repeated the session the band had recorded for him six months earlier; Radio One colleague Kid Jensen gave them another opportunity to seize the airwaves a couple of weeks later. And with another push for record company interest firmly in mind, Bob Johnson booked Frankie into their first major London venue, a night at the Camden Palace.
Every music paper was there, every record company executive, every TV and radio producer… and it was terrible. The band simply didn’t click that night; after all the build-up, the TV and radio exposure, the way their name was being bandied around knowing circles as the next big thing, Frankie went to Lapland. They froze, and the reviews the following week pounced upon their failings with a vengeance. Sounds even called them “a massive piece of bullshit,” and suggested Frankie’s “dishwater disco rock” be “cremated without a wreath.”
Just one record company approached them after the Camden gig, the independent Beggars Banquet, who offered £500 for a one-off single. The rest of the industry ran the other way. All except for producer Trevor Horn, his wife Jill Sinclair and ex-journalist Paul Morley, recently linked in the birth of a new record label, Zang Tuum Tumb. Or Tumb Tuum. Either works.
Horn and Morley both saw Frankie on The Tube; Horn was immediately impressed, Morley less so. He saw no real purpose behind the group’s cavorting, and remained unconvinced until he heard the band’s Kid Jensen session in February, 1983, a triple pronged attack which kicked into gear instantaneously with “Welcome To The Pleasure Dome,” rocketed through an exuberant “Only Star In Heaven,” then went out with all cylinders blazing on “Relax.” Suddenly it all made sense, and two days later, Frankie were sitting around Trevor Horn’s office, listening to him expound the theories behind ZTT. And when they liked what they heard, the marriage was made; now they just had to wait for it to be consummated.
The early days of the relationship were frustrating. Nothing was going to be done with Frankie, at least in musical terms, until Trevor Horn had finished work on the latest Yes album. In the meantime, they couldn’t even play any live shows; instead, they were to sit tight while Morley set to work softening up the marketplace in readiness for the band’s launch, later in the year.
Horn’s first impression of Frankie had been of youth and excitement, but with little of the technical know-how which he prized so much in his own visions. They were competent musicians, but that was about it – only Johnson and Rutherford really stood out as indispensable, and in a move which under any other circumstances might have ended the relationship once and for all, Horn opted to employ session men – Ian Dury’s ever faithful Blockheads – to record the backing track to “Relax.” But something was missing, the energy, the youthful exuberance which had attracted Horn to the band in the first place. He scrapped the Blockheads’ tape, and decided to begin again, this time with Frankie themselves. And while the end result was not half as technically impressive as the earlier prototype, it did recapture everything Horn required from the band.
In Frankie’s hands, “Relax” was already a pounding anthem, a modern dance which possessed most of the ingredients necessary for a hit. But it took Trevor Horn to stir the mixture to the right consistency, to put it in the oven and then take it out at exactly the right time. From a short, but effective slab of noise, Horn created a throbbing monster, a masterpiece which offered everything to everybody and still left them begging for more. Though it devoured some £70,000 in studio time, the sound he created was not unique, but it was special, and when the doubters said it was hard to tell where the band ended and the machines took over, Horn simply said, “all of this equipment means you can do anything with sound and you don’t even need musicians. But without musicians, you’d lose the performance, you’d lose the feeling. You’d lose the only thing that has any magic to it.”
“Relax” was launched on Halloween, and crept into the lowest possible reaches of the chart, #77 – not bad for any band’s first time out, but hardly ample reward for all the work and money which had gone into its execution. From there, it climbed to #67, then #55… and just as it looked like it was all going to be alright after all, it stopped moving.
Number 54 the next week, back to 55 the week after. The band scraped a few good reviews from a 15 minute performance at the gay club Heaven, but they knew that their next public airing, on The Tube‘s Christmas special, was literally make or break time – so much so that Trevor Horn himself was taking no chances.
The group needed the exposure. But what would they be exposing? A painful inability to recreate the glory of “Relax” on stage? Maybe, maybe not, but when Frankie took the stage to a tumultuous roar, only the pedants really noticed that their instruments weren’t plugged in. While Rutherford and Johnson sang, the band simply mimed to a pre-recorded tape. And did it matter? No. A few folk grumbled, but the rest just went out to buy the record. When the music industry reconvened after its Christmas break, “Relax” was standing proud at number 35, and Frankie were set to appear on Top Of The Pops. The following week, “Relax” had jumped to #6… and within that very same week, it had been banned outright from the single most influential radio and TV network in the land.
The ban was prompted by just two words in the lyric. “Suck” and “come,” Radio One program controller Derek Chinnery told The Guardian newspaper, were apparently confirmed by the group “as referring to fellatio and ejaculation…. We could have said there is a dual meaning to this song, that it was a kind of nonsense song about relaxing, but when the performers themselves confirmed that it was referring to these sexual aberrations, then it didn’t seem to me appropriate that we should play it at all.”
Frankie were in the sin bin, and if there was anybody out there who hadn’t heard “Relax” beforehand, the moment they knew it had been banned they made sure they bought it regardless. For five weeks, “Relax” sat at the top of the chart, without a single Radio One play to help then.
But it wasn’t only the song’s naughty nature which sold it. In Germany, where “Relax” wasn’t banned, it was #1 for six weeks, and France, Greece, Holland, Spain and Switzerland weren’t slow to take it to their hearts either. It had taken a long time, it had been uphill all the way, but at last Frankie had done it. Now all they needed do was ensure that they continued doing it.
Looking back, Frankie’s story has a lot in common with that of the Sex Pistols. An immediate impact, a stage-setting controversy, a clutch of three singles that told the whole story. “Relax” was followed by “Two Tribes” and “The Power of Love,” just as “Anarchy in the UK” was succeeded by “God Save the Queen” and “Pretty Vacant.” A fourth single spun from the first album… and that was all she wrote. The Pistols split, but lived on as a ghost; Frankie didn’t, but they might as well have. That second album, Liverpool, really isn’t so bad. But when you’re trying to follow up Welcome to the Pleasure Dome, that ain’t good enough. Nothing would be.
Through 1984, Frankie were everywhere. In the record stores, remixes of “Relax” were appearing in such prodigious quantities that you still can’t buy them all on CD. A similar deluge of “Two Tribes” variations followed. There’s a ZTT discography just become available as a pdf download – dig in and try to recapture every single twist on the two singles. It would take you longer than 1984 just to listen to them.
On October 19, Welcome To The Pleasuredome hit the streets, a double set dominated by the only sound that mattered. In addition to “Relax” and “Two Tribes,” and their respective b-sides, “Ferry Across The Mersey” (a hit first time around for the last band to hit the UK number one with their first two singles, fellow Liverpudlians Gerry & The Pacemakers) and Edwin Starr’s “War,” a dozen further numbers were recorded, ten group compositions and two more cover versions – an outrageous “Do You Know The Way To San Jose,” and an unbelievable “Born To Run.” Advance sales of almost a million and a half copies were simply the icing on the cake.
The legend remains potent, all these years on. A host of reissues and compilations have bound the best of the remixes and album tracks, with 2012’s two CD Sexmix, deluxe editions of the two original LPs and the Return to the Pleasuredome box set standing as a hydra-headed horror that so utterly epitomizes the 1980s that, even if you loathed and despised every musical moment of the decade, you cannot, should not and, Goddamit, will not escape…
“Rage Hard (The Young Person’s Guide into the Twelve Inch Mix).” “Relax” – the seventeen minute Sex Mix. “Power of Love” – the extended Singlette version, nine minutes strong. “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” – the more or less side long LP title track. The Carnage Mix of “Two Tribes.” “The Ballad of Thirty-Two.” “(Don’t Lose What’s Left) Of Your Little Mind.” The German 12-inch mix of “Beobachtungen Im Wilden Leben (Die Letzten Tage Der Menschheit)” – translate it yourself, lazybones. And a “Roadhouse Blues” that is as dirty, throbbing bluesy as it ought to be.
And now, Inside the Pleasuredome, a so-called ultra-deluxe box set containing a 180g repressing of the album, packaged in a unique die-cut sleeve designed to frame one of three accompanying prints by original sleeve artist, Lo Cole. A set of three 10″ singles compiling previously unreleased mixes of “Relax,” “Two Tribes,” “The Power of Love” and sundry album tracks. A 48-page hardback book celebrating the album’s artwork, a DVD rounding up the singles and a 5.1 mix. A flipbook, a cassette tape (!) anthology of “Relax” remixes; and, finally, a download card to access hi res flac files of the audio content.
All of which sounds silly. A bit like overkill, a little like lunacy.
But you know what?
You want it.
You need it.
You’re going on e-Bay now, in search of it.
I’ll see you there….
(But if you have seven hours or so to spare, here’s fifty… which is some, but certainly not all… of the otherwise-available “Relax”-es…
- Relax ’93 (Digital Mix)
- Relax ‘From Soft To Hard’ (Instrumental)
- Relax (“Acid Remix” By Michael Marshall & Steve Smith)
- Relax (Chicane Full Mix)
- Relax (Chicane Radio Edit)
- Relax (Club 69 Future Anthem Part 1)
- Relax (Cold Cut Remix)
- Relax (come fighting)
- Relax (Den Broden, Cox, Cantrelle Radio Edit)
- Relax (Dream Time Mix 1.0)
- Relax (Frankie Goes To Swansea) [DMC013, 1983]
- Relax (From Soft to Hard, From Dry to Moist) [Cassingle Mix]
- Relax (greatest bits)
- Relax (Greek disco mix)
- Relax (Hot Tracks Version) [remix by Robert Farell]
- Relax (Instrumental)
- Relax (International)
- Relax (Jam & Spoon Hi N-R-G Mix)
- Relax (Jam & Spoon Trip-O-Matic Fairy Tale Mix)
- Relax (Jody Den Broden Club Mix)
- Relax (Jody Den Broden Dub Mix)
- Relax (Jody Den Broden Radio Mix)
- Relax (Live Video Mix)
- Relax (LMC Remix)
- Relax (Lockout’s London Mix)
- Relax (Long Promo Mix)
- Relax (Marc Et Claude’s Respect Remix)
- Relax (MCMXCIII)
- Relax (MegaLonger Sex & New York UltraTraxx Mix)
- Relax (Mindwarp Remix) [DMC129, Oct 1993]
- Relax (New York Mix – The Original 12”)
- Relax (Ollie J Mix)
- Relax (Original 7 Inch)
- Relax (Original Radio Mix)
- Relax (Peter Rauhofer’s Doomsday Club Mix)
- Relax (Peter Rauhofer’s Doomsday Dub)
- Relax (Peter Rauhofer’s Doomsday Radio Mix)
- Relax (remix by Craig David)
- Relax (Richard Grey Bootleg)
- Relax (Saeed & Palash Addictive Journey)
- Relax (Scott Storch Mix)
- Relax (Sex Mix)
- Relax (Spencer & Hill Remix)
- Relax (Super Rix Mix)
- Relax (The Dream Time Mix 2.0)
- Relax (The Last Seven Inches / Warp Mix) ZTAS 1
- Relax (The Mega-Mix ) [DMC063, Apr 1988]
- Relax (Trance Mix)
- Relax (Trip-Ship Edit)
- Relax (Ultimix Version) [remix by Mike Smith]