The Wexfordian Magazine

Issue 10 January 2013

The Wexfordian is an online Entertainment, Lifestyle and Information magazine in Co. Wexford, Ireland. Bringing you news review and information on local and national events

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them again several months later on David Jensen's radio show, doing a BBC session for 'Relax'." Two days after the Jensen session, in May of '83, Horn arranged to meet the band, and offered them a contract. The terms were tough: £1,000 for their entire publishing rights and a £250 advance on a single with a option on a second. FGTH held their ground and managed to raise the advance to £5,000, the deal was signed, the money split between the band and Frankie Goes To Hollywood were finally a signed act. Horn's focus was on "Relax" being the first single from the outset, with a curious choice of Jerry and the Pacemakers "Ferry Across The Mersey" as b-side, and recording was to start in September of 1983. The original "Relax" featured a middle-eight that really bore no relation to the rest of the song. By the time FGTH got to the studio, however, they had simplified it back to a Mersey Beatesque four-to-the-floor funkfest. Early recording sessions did not go well. Horn was notoriously pedantic, even to the point of being credited as such on a later Pet Shop Boys compilation. As Horn explained years later, "Look, 'Relax' had to be a hit." And it did. It was ZTT's first outing, and as the weeks of recording went by, costs began to escalate. Horns comments on those initial recordings are varied; in some interviews he states that the band were simply inexperienced in the studio, in others he says that the band were too busy to be in the studio constantly, and in one documentary he simply states that they were "shit". Whatever the reason, within weeks of the initial recordings taking place, FGTH were back in Liverpool. With a bunch of takes that he thought he could possibly improve on (including one recording of the entire band jumping into a swimming pool) Horn hired Ian Dury's backing band, the Blockheads, to inject some "professionalism" into the proceedings. As Johnson would later state "Trevor discovered that the band really couldn't play along with the machine sequences he'd devised. We were great live, but very raw, so Trevor wanted professional musicians who could play to a metronomic beat." Thankfully for FGTH, the Blockheads version was not radically different or markedly better than theirs, but it did provide one new hook, the infamous three note descending bass line. But it just didn't sound new enough for Horn, "It sounded like 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick' part two" as Johnson would later quip. Five weeks were spent honing the various recordings that Horn had collected, with many contemporary sources stating that the Frankies returned to the studio for a second go at producing the song. This, the third version of the song, was going to be it. And with that in mind, Holly and Paul were asked to come to London to finalise the vocal tracks. But it wasn't going to be. As Horn would later recall "About 11 pm, Holly and Paul arrived at reception and I went to down to meet them at the door. I told them the track had changed again. 'How much?' asked Holly. 'A lot', I said. 'A lot?' 'Almost completely'. 'Oh God', said Holly, 'Not again'. Horn sent Johnson and Rutherford off, much to their delight as there was a nightclub they had wanted to go to anyway. What had happened was that Horn had earlier received a bit of "inspiration". As he later recalled "I had the Linn 2 (drum machine) and some pet patterns, that sort of hoedown pattern, it was a pattern that I had. It was one Tuesday afternoon, I went over the limit a little bit, got a bit crazy due to something somebody gave me and suddenly saw the light. I realised we'd been wasting our time and we had to start again. I tried to get the guys to wipe the tape. I said: "We've got to wipe it, I never want to hear this version again." As engineer and "Relax" guitar player Steve Lipson later recalled "I couldn't believe it. This 'start again' thing was new to me. I'd always thought that you started and then you finished, and that was the record. Starting again was alien. "The rhythm track is what did it. We flipped out. It didn't exist, and then suddenly it did. The three patterns consisted of one that was the entire thing — hi-hat, bass drum, possibly a snare, and a little conga pattern — plus another without the congas, and then there was the fill: the 16's part where it goes mad. Five hours later, and after five weeks of almost completely scrapped work, a completely new fourth version of "Relax" was born. As Horn later recalled "I wasn't thinking about a dance record, I was thinking about (...) armies of people stretching out onto the horizon waiting to have sex. And Holly standing on top of a tower, like a minaret, calling the faithful to come and make love." Once Holly and Paul had returned from the club, Horn brought them up to the studios. "The minute it started playing they were dancing, they loved it. Holly couldn't wait to sing it. I told him about the idea of the minaret on the tower. That's Holly on the roof of the building calling the faithful." The adrenalin may not have been the only thing that prompted Holly to give the charged vocal that he delivered that night, later admitting that, after his club visit, he may not have been the only one in the studio who had some artificial "inspiration". The session continued into more lunacy, with Horn insisting that orgasm sounds pepper the entire recording. "I (couldn't) help myself, I got carried away a little bit and started saying: "I want to have a huge orgasm here." And that was the big orgasm in the middle, where he says: "Come, come!" Woosh! We kept trying to get the orgasm bigger and bigger." After overdubs by backing singer Paul, the job was done and, bar mixing, one of the most influential and successful songs of British pop history was completed. The fact that the band did not appear on the single was considered by some to be contentious. As Horn later reflected. "Nobody ever complained about George Martin adding electric piano to certain Beatles songs. The producer's job is to enhance the band's ideas. Only an outsider would see it as interference. People said I was a Hitler in the studio, that the album was all my work. That was complete rubbish." Despite the band's absence from the record, Horn said, "I could never have done these records in isolation. There was no actual playing by the band, but the whole feeling came from the band." In fact, the band actually did appear on one mix of "Relax". The story of what followed has now gone down in pop history. The famous banned video, the contentious single artwork, the outrageous and over-the-top marketing by ZTT stalwart Paul Morley, the multiple 12inch remixes (then a new idea), languishing in the charts, their first Top of the Pops appearance, their banning from the BBC (not prompted by, but mistakenly accredited to DJ Mike Read, who took the record off midplay in disgust), the reaction to the subject matter of the song (as Mark would later comment "when people ask you what 'Relax' was about, when it first came out we used to pretend it was about motivation, and really it was about shagging"), the number one, the 48 weeks in the charts, the change in attitudes as to how technology could not only effectively make music but make music different, the music that followed and the musicians that copied them, the bands further two number ones, the world tours, the success, the albums Welcome to the Pleasuredome and Liverpool, the touring excesses and the infamous pre-gig bust up that saw bass player Mark kicking Holly in the behind immediately before their second last ever concert, what Paul Rutherford later referred to, without a hint of irony, as their "Spinal Tap" moment. The above notwithstanding, "Relax" was a coming together of very many talents at the right place at the right time. Today it still remains an exercise in production techniques, hooks, melodies, music technology and marketing, an iconic piece of music, and a recording to stand the test of time.

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