30 years ago today a five-piece band from Liverpool released their debut track. It went on to become the seventh best-selling UK single of all time and helped them to become only the second act ever to top the UK singles chart with each of their first three singles. It did the song’s popularity no harm at all that it was banned by the BBC on the grounds of its sexually suggestive lyrics.
I am, of course, talking about Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’.
I was 13 at the time, so naturally I found the whole affair thoroughly amusing as the BBC’s actions – they condemned the song, refusing to play it on either the radio or its flagship TV programme Top of the Pops – served only to fan the flames, catapulting it to number one for five weeks and boosting sales to nearly two million copies.
Now that’s what I call music censorship
Today, as a parent of three young and music-loving children, I take the whole matter of explicit and suggestive lyrics somewhat more seriously. Listen to any top 40 single these days and there’s a good chance it will contain something to give a parent pause, even if there is usually a more family-friendly radio edit also available.
And it’s not just those nasty gangsta rapper dudes either. Here is a sample of lyrics from three mainstream hits from the past couple of years. Let’s start with the merely awkward and suggestive, Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)’:
We went streaking in the park
Skinny dipping in the dark
Then had a ménage a trois
Then the use of – how shall I put it? – industrial language, Maroon 5’s ‘Payphone’:
All those fairy tales are full of s***
One more f***ing love song, I’ll be sick
And finally, well, you judge for yourself, Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’:
I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two
See what I mean?
The music police
Yes, I know I can go to iTunes and download ‘clean’ versions of most songs. But first you have to know that the original contains explicit lyrics. Which, when your kids are constantly exposed to the clean versions playing on radio and TV and demanding you create them new playlists, requires a certain degree of policing before downloading.
Checking for explicit lyrics in iTunes is easy enough. But then you also need to be aware of non-explicit but suggestive verbiage such as the Katy Perry example above. That requires an additional scan of the lyrics online just to make sure I haven’t missed something.
Then, and only then, do I feel I know what I’m letting myself in for when I click ‘buy’.
Am I being overprotective? Maybe a little. But at the same time I’ve made a conscious decision to allow them to watch videos featuring artists such as Rihanna, Lady Gaga and countless others who frequently appear in attire that would count as being underdressed on the beach. I choose not to draw the line there – many parents would – but you have to draw it somewhere, right?
As an unapologetic 1980s nostalgist, I often look back on the decade of my teen years as being a better time, something of a golden era. It was an altogether more innocent time where we could watch Wham on Top of the Pops and not immediately realise that George Michael was so obviously gay. It was a time when the suggestive nature of ‘Relax’ was the exception rather than the rule. When it comes to the lyrical content of the music my kids listen to, I really wish they were growing up in the 80s too.
Relax? I wish I could. It’s easier said than done. I don’t want to have to be the one to have to answer the question, “Daddy, what’s a ménage a trois?”