Stuntman And Lover Of Cheese

by Dan Bostonweeks

Relax, It's Just Transformative

The UK band Frankie Goes To Hollywood (FGTH) released their debut single “Relax” in 1983, more than 30 years ago. I remember seeing the video for “Relax” on MTV. I would have been about ten years old around that time. What I didn’t know until my friend CM Harrington1: mentioned recently that there was an original video for “Relax” that was banned by MTV. Thankfully it’s not hard to find, but let me show it to you now (the squeamish should not watch).

I will admit that for 1983 or 1984 that video was out there. Compare it with the version that I remember that was aired on MTV.

That’s quite a different take on the song. My wife has describe the original as deliciously raunchy and I’d tend to agree. It’s very apparent lead vocalist Holly Johnson is more staid in the second version. One can’t know if Johnson’s performance is that way because of being forced to shoot a second video that might compromise artistic vision and admit defeat or if the directing duo of Godley & Creme had something to do with it.

I’m not under any assumptions that adults at the time didn’t know what the song was about. It’s pop music but apparently it had quite a bit of scandal about it. So much so that it was banned from the BBC in FGTH’s native Britain. It’s not a surprise that the original video was banned and it might even be banned were it new today, but likely as not it’d be on the internet first and out of the reach of corporate sensors.

When I start to think about the messages the original video was sending and the walls that were yet to be broken down I imagine a crazy transformative moment from the “Relax” video. Had it been allowed to air it likely would have been a touchstone of controversy and debate, sure, but it also would have opened up avenues of exploration for more people. I’m not going to claim to remember the important stuff from the 80s as I was just growing up. I know more about the latter half of the century, but I do remember some of the issues around culture from that time.

In my teens Jane’s Addiction released “Been Caught Stealing” and the video pissed people off. It’s tame compared to the original “Relax” and it came out a mere six years later.

I figure it wouldn’t have been seen as nearly as racy and even tepid had the original “Relax” been released. I spoke with my brother-in-law who is about four years older than me. He remembers seeing the original “Relax” and said it felt like viewing a secret world. In part it was viewing a secret world. A world that grew in secret but was literally screaming to be known.

I find it delicious that nearly 20 years after “Relax” was popular the United States erupted in a furor over the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show, otherwise known as Nipplegate. The people screaming about a momentary flash of a nipple probably would have had their heads explode had they seen the original “Relax”. That probably wouldn’t have been such a bad thing.

All these transformative moments build on each other. It’s sad that FGTH’s contribution was more from the song than the video. Regardless I’m glad the Internet provides for us to be able to see these bits of history. The original “Relax” undoubtedly had impact on some people but it’s reach was quite muted. Yes, there are some segments of society that are impressionable and need guidance. Guide them. Parent them. Teach them. Don’t censor, you only retard cultural development.

Edited 2015-07-30: Removed embedded YouTube media to prevent unintended tracking by Google.

  1. See also @octothorpe’s podcast, Ruining It For Everyone which yours truly has appeared on.