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Why the BBC banned Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 'Relax' which celebrated homosexual love

The BBC has banned many songs over the years for being of a controversial nature, but none have been done more infamously than the blacklisting of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’.

The track was a celebration of hedonism and living life on the edge. There was no filter on ‘Relax’, which didn’t sit right with the powers that be in 1984. Broadcasters were disgusted by the unapologetic attitude that Frankie Goes To Hollywood proudly showed off on the track. The fact the group featured two homosexual men amplified the furore tenfold. However, no one got angrier with the song than BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read, who had no reservations about telling the nation his issues with ‘Relax’ in a bizarre on-air rant.

The track is full of sexual innuendo, and in America, they were either oblivious or didn’t care. However, in Britain, ‘Relax’ caused a minefield of problems, which, of course, Frankie Goes To Hollywood had targeted — but nothing on the scale of what took place. They created an ad campaign in the British music press, which played into homosexual stereotypes and contained puns that left little to the imagination.

The first ad featured images of the band’s Paul Rutherford wearing just a sailor cap and a leather vest. Meanwhile, Holly Johnson donned a pair of rubber gloves. The images also featured the phrase, “ALL THE NICE BOYS LOVE SEA MEN”, and stated, “Frankie Goes to Hollywood are coming … making Duran Duran lick the shit off their shoes … Nineteen inches that must be taken always.” The second ad promised “theories of bliss, a history of Liverpool from 1963 to 1983, a guide to Amsterdam bars”.

Sexually promiscuous lines such as, “Relax, don’t do it When you want to go to it, Relax, don’t do it, When you want to come, Relax, don’t do it, When you want to suck it, chew it.” As the track was the band’s debut single, they decided to be as audacious as possible to grab people’s attention. However, a ban was the last thing they wanted, and it could have had a cataclysmic impact on their career.

It was number three in the charts when Mike Read suddenly lifted the needle, denounced ‘Relax’ as “obscene”, and refused to play it again. Unbeknown to Read, the BBC was already planning on blacklisting the track for the same reasons.

If the group didn’t feature two openly gay men talking about sex in this way, and instead, they were straight, it’s hard to imagine that the BBC would have acted in such a strong manner. The fact that they weren’t ashamed of their sexuality shocked those in power, who tried their hardest to pour scorn on the track.

In those days, radio held the keys to the music kingdom and Frankie Goes To Hollywood could have found themselves in deep trouble. Yet the uproar around the track only heightened demand, record stores all around the country sold out of copies, and it eventually rose to the top spot in the charts.

While the public clamoured for the track, Holly Johnson even appeared on TV alongside an executive from Radio 1 who explained to the singer he thought the lyrics were “objectionable” and “felt it could offend the majority of our listening audience.”

A composed Johnson then replies, “only someone with a mind of a sewer could find them obscene”. Johnson was upset by his band’s coverage, and he was genuinely fearful that Frankie Goes To Hollywood would never recover from the adverse publicity.

The fact that the track still managed to rise to the top of the charts is a testament to the strength of ‘Relax’ and shows that most people didn’t find it “objectionable” after all. Frankie Goes To Hollywood stuck to their guns with the track, and they ended up reaping the rewards for staying true to themselves.

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