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Here’s how we did it: Relax Frankie Goes to Hollywood | Pop and rock

Holly Johnson, singer

I wanted to be provocative with the way Frankie Goes to Hollywood looked, and for the lyrical content to be modern and edgy. We had lived through a politically charged time, the Sex Pistols and Bow Wow Wow had made headlines and I knew we had to do the same to make an impact. I had a vision of something that fused punk and disco. I always asked the drummer to just play a bass drum of four on the floor.

Slap was written in my head and I sang it out loud to myself as I walked down the middle of Princes Avenue in Liverpool and laughed as I walked. Beggars Banquet offered us every £ 40 a week for the next year, but we signed ZTT. This turned out to be a very expensive choice. We all had to sign on dole because ZTT were tight with money unless they used them on our behalf in their own studies. Their only asset was Trevor Horn at his peak, which was a large carrot waving in front of our donkey.

We were booked into Manor Studio to record it. The sound of us jumping in the swimming pool was sampled in [computer/synthesiser] Fairlight – the only thing that survived these sessions. Trevor did not like the band’s standard of play, as he could not synchronize it with his machinery, which at the time was quite groundbreaking. Unlike the other members, I attended many of the studio sessions, so I was not surprised by the last version after scrapping three or four others.

ZTT celebrated Relax, which was banned by the BBC when it soon went to No. 1 in the UK. We had already done it on The Tube and Top of the Pops ’20th anniversary show, which catapulted the single up the charts, but was unable to play Top of the Pops when Relax reached its peak. This was a disappointment as it was every young child’s dream to perform on this show with a No. 1.

I’m not trying to look too much back on this period, but I’m aware that Frankie Goes to Hollywood is the lens I’ll always be seen through. It was the perfect pop moment that triggered an age of multiple dance remixes that are mandatory for today’s digital pop and dance artists.

Trevor Horn, producer

Slap took six weeks to record. The band we signed up for was not quite the band that had performed on the original demo, even though we did not know it at the time. The original guitarist was bassist Mark O’Toole’s brother, Jed, but he had to leave and get a day job. Brian Nash came in, but had just learned to play. When we finished Welcome to the Pleasuredome, he was good. But that’s why I’m hired [Ian Dury’s backing band] Blockheads – I needed to try the track with some other musicians to see if there was anything else we could do about it.

On the last single version, I recorded with three brilliant people: Steve Lipson, Andy Richards and JJ Jeczalik. We were all frustrated because it felt like we were not going anywhere. I admitted defeat. Sometimes when you do it and give it one more time, you are lucky. All the work we had put into these different versions suddenly came together.

Fairlight had a program called Page R. This was the first time you could sequence natural sounds, which was a big step forward. I could program a drum machine perfectly in sync with the piano. I worked on the drum machine and manually switched between patterns on the go and sang a guide vocal. Steve played guitar, Andy keyboards and JJ worked Fairlight. We had to work for hours to get to a point where we could record it. We laid our heads down and got it first.

Hitsingles are not just good songs. They must be moments. Holly had blown his saxophone on the study roof in Notting Hill at 2 a.m., and a bunch of guys showed up on the street and called him. He came down to make vocals and I suggested he play it at the beginning of Relax. It’s one of the first sounds you hear. In my imagination, he was among minarets on top of a temple, playing for a crowd downstairs as they all moved toward him in time with the music.

I was in New York working with Foreigner when I realized where risque Relax was. Paul (Morley) sent the video over the VHS cassette. The guys from Foreigner, who still did not like me much, wanted to see it. They thought it was disgusting.

About a week later I went to [New York club] Paradise Garage for the first time. It was amazing. They had this massive sound system. We got so many complaints about Sex Mix, including from gay clubs who found it offensive that I decided to make another 12-inch, something more ambitious with material that was not on the original. New York Mix made a big difference because it started being played in clubs. It was a game changer.

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