Frankie Goes To Hollywood 'Relax' | Classic Tracks

Producer: Trevor Horn • Engineers: Steve Lipson, Julian Mendelsohn

Published in SOS April 2008
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Technique : Classic Tracks

The debut single from Liverpool's Frankie Goes To Hollywood was the result of adventurous production and enjoyed massive chart success - as well as creating a great deal of controversy.

Richard Buskin

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"Relax, don't do it, when you want to suck it to it. Relax, don't do it, when you want to come..." While these words provided ample excuse for BBC Radio and TV to impose a ban on the joyously hypnotic 1983 debut single by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, they also served as a mid-'80s anthem during an era when homo-eroticism became an intrinsic component of the Britpop scene. Thanks to a suitably lewd S&M promo video that, predictably, was also barred from the airwaves, along with a massive marketing campaign that saw kids all over the UK wearing T-shirts with the slogan 'Frankie Says Relax', the band rode a short-lived wave of high-profile controversy. Yet of far longer-lasting impact was the music behind all the hype — a hi-NRG brand of dance-synth-pop that, as crafted by production supremo Trevor Horn, broke new sonic ground, while epitomising '80s excess in all its garish, overblown glory.

Introducing The Band

Having honed his studio skills with Geoff Downes, when they wrote, performed and produced as synth-based band the Buggles (of 'Video Killed The Radio Star' fame), before also replacing Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman in prog-rock band Yes, Trevor Horn became a full-time producer in 1981 and enjoyed considerable chart success with pop outfits Dollar and ABC. During the next two years he also co-composed several hits with Malcolm McLaren and Anne Dudley, at around the same time that he and wife Jill Sinclair acquired Chris Blackwell's Basing Street Studio complex. Renamed Sarm West, this also housed their new publishing company, Perfect Songs, and the ZTT record label that they founded with NME journalist Paul Morley and producer/engineer Gary Langan.

In May 1983, having seen Frankie Goes to Hollywood perform 'Relax' on Channel Four's The Tube music programme, Horn signed the band to ZTT. Fronted by singer Holly Johnson, with Paul Rutherford on vocals and keyboards, Brian Nash on guitar, Mark O'Toole on bass and Peter Gill on drums, Frankie had gone through various line-up changes between their formation in 1980 and the John Peel session they recorded for BBC Radio One in October '82. After accepting an invitation from The Tube to perform 'Relax' at the Liverpool State Ballroom in February of the following year, Frankie then included this song in a new BBC Radio session, along with 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome' and 'The Only Star In Heaven', and it was these broadcasts that caught Trevor Horn's attention.

From the outset, Horn focused on 'Relax' as the first single (as well as, interestingly, a cover of Gerry & The Pacemakers' 'Ferry 'Cross The Mersey' which would end up on the B-side of the 12-inch mix). However, initial attempts to record the chant-like 'Relax' with the band members and Ian Dury's backing group, the Blockheads, proved unsatisfactory.

"When I first heard the track, it was a lot funkier than the finished version," says Steve Lipson, whose engineering of the song represented his first collaboration with Trevor Horn. "Trevor's brilliance was to then take it in a different direction and to a whole other level. He really went at it. Frankie were his first signing to ZTT, and he wasn't going to give up until he had a hit."

Learning The Ropes

The producer and/or engineer of artists ranging from Annie Lennox, Grace Jones and Cher to Paul McCartney, Simple Minds, the Pet Shop Boys and Boyzone, Lipson started out as a guitarist and songwriter in a number of different bands around his native London, "nearly getting deals, always blowing it."

It was in 1975 that, fed up with his "terrible" guitar sound, he told a friend named Duncan Bruce that he'd like to become an engineer and learn how to record it himself. Bruce, who recorded jingles, had just purchased a building, and he asked Lipson if he was interested in constructing a studio. Lipson was, and over the course of the next year he put together the Regents Park Recording Company.

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Photo: Retna/Michael Putland

"I didn't have a clue what I was doing," Lipson now admits. "I read a few books, talked with different people, bought £15,000 worth of gear, did a bit of building work — with no acoustic treatment — and we opened for business. I obtained a 16-track Unicol tape machine from Command Studios, and the very first session featured a band that had to record a jingle in three hours. I had never recorded anything in my entire life, so I set up however I could, basically imagining what to do, and encountered a problem with the tape machine. When the pinch wheel went in, the tape rode up and down, and half the time it went over the top of the heads. I didn't have a remote, the machine was about 15 feet away from the console, and so I'd go in to 'record', stand by the machine to see if it settled and, if it did, I'd run over to the console, hit the talkback and say, 'Go'. It was a baptism by fire.

"For some bizarre reason, the studio started doing really well, and within six months a band named Sniff 'n' the Tears came in to record an album, Fickle Heart, and I ended up co-producing it just because I discovered this amazing thing called the mute switch. They were really good musicians and they'd play everything right through each song. Well, when I was mixing a track called 'Driver's Seat', I realised that if I muted the guitars while the guy was singing, and then opened the channels, it sounded great. Stuff like that was revelatory to me.

"Another time, when Dave Robinson of Stiff Records asked me to engineer an album by a German singer named Inga Rumpf, he told me, 'I'm getting this guy to come down to start you off.' I was disgusted but there was nothing I could do, and the guy turned out to be Phill Brown, who had been a house engineer at Island Records' Basing Street Studios. He was unbelievable. Phill was only at Regents Park for two days, but his way of doing things floored me completely. The band sounded absolutely great, and he told me this had everything to do with the musicians and nothing to do with him. He'd get them to do things like change the inversion on the piano, or try a different guitar amp, or tune the snare differently, and in the process he showed me that, in a way, the less you do as an engineer, the better it is. You have to be invisible. You should make it look as if you're not doing anything.

"That idea absolutely fascinated me, and from then on I was up and running. I'd got the plot. Because I was a musician, I understood what he was saying, which was don't hold anyone up. Just get them going. I learned that from Paul McCartney as well. A few years later, when he was producing Ringo Starr at a French studio called Superbear, near Nice, Peter Henderson was the engineer and I was assisting him. Well, Ringo saw one of those old Shure mics that Elvis Presley had used early in his career and he told Paul that he'd love to sing into it. Macca said, 'Great, sing into it.' So that's what happened, and afterwards I asked Macca, 'How come you let him use that? It's a terrible mic.' His answer was that if Ringo wanted to sing into it, he wasn't bothered. So long as he got Ringo into the place where he was happy to be singing, that's all that mattered.

"The job of the engineer, surely, is to facilitate whatever's going on, to make it as easy as possible for whoever you're recording. We're not talking about computers here, we're talking about people, and taking three days to get a drum sound is not conducive to great results. Anyway, what Phill Brown told me was a huge lesson. And by the way, I also discovered that my guitar playing still sounded like crap. Having gone into this whole thing, I realised that the problem lay with me, not anyone else."

A Banned Band
Ironically, the eventual success of the 'Relax' single would not only earn a fortune in royalties for 'Ferry 'Cross The Mersey' composer Gerry Marsden, but in topping the UK charts with their first three singles Frankie Goes To Hollywood would also equal the record set by Marsden's Gerry & the Pacemakers in 1963-64. Not that this looked likely upon the release of 'Relax' in October 1983, which saw the single hover around the lower reaches of the UK Top 50 for a couple of months, before climbing to number 35 at the start of 1984. It was a January 5th performance of the song on Top Of The Pops that made all the difference. Within a week, 'Relax' hit number six on the BBC chart, and its success was then sealed by that sure-fire guarantee of a spike in sales: a BBC ban.
On January 11th, expressing his on-air "disgust" at the record's sleeve artwork — depicting a man and woman pressing their bare bums against one another — as well as its printed lyrics, Radio One DJ Mike Read removed the disc from his turntable, and the BBC quickly followed suit. As it happens, the sleeve did contain an "accidental misinterpretation" of Holly Johnson's vocal, converting "Relax, don't do it, when you want to sock it to it," to "when you want to suck it to it." Yet the rest of the lyrics still left little to the imagination, and the instant result was that 'Relax' immediately shot to the top of the UK chart, where it remained for five weeks while Top Of The Pops resolutely displayed just a still photo of the group for the climactic 'Number One Spot' along with performances by non-number one artists.
The ban turned out to be an embarrassment for the BBC, not least because the UK's commercial radio stations continued to play the song, and it was deemed fit for broadcast in time for the Christmas Day 1984 edition of Top Of The Pops.
Regents Park To Basing Street

Although the Regents Park Recording Company was thriving and Lipson was gaining invaluable on-the-job experience, when Sniff 'n' the Tears asked him to produce their second album in Paris and Duncan Bruce demanded an 80 percent cut of the payment, Lipson walked. It was 1978 and, now freelance, he took engineering work wherever he could get it. This included producing and engineering Lindisfarne's Sleepless Nights album at Chipping Norton in Oxford, as well as numerous assignments at both Ridge Farm in Surrey and the aforementioned French studio, Superbear.

"One time, I was at Ridge Farm recording Sally Oldfield, and Herbie Flowers was playing the double bass," Lipson recalls. "I had the microphone where I thought it should go, and as I was walking back towards the control room he pulled it up, nearer his mouth. I therefore went back and repositioned the mic to where I had put it, smiling at him as if I knew what I was doing, and he smiled back. But then as soon as I walked away he moved it back nearer his mouth. I thought, 'You know what, he's Herbie Flowers. I'll just go with it.'

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Photo: Redferns/Gered Mankowitz
Trevor Horn in the control room of Sarm West, 1984. He was apparently on his way to a tennis game. To the right of the picture is the Synclavier that played such a big part in the Frankie Goes To Hollywood sound.
Trevor Horn in the control room of Sarm West, 1984. He was apparently on his way to a tennis game. To the right of the picture is the Synclavier that played such a big part in the Frankie Goes To Hollywood sound.
Trevor Horn in the control room of Sarm West, 1984. He was apparently on his way to a tennis game. To the right of the picture is the Synclavier that played such a big part in the Frankie Goes To Hollywood sound.
Trevor Horn in the control room of Sarm West, 1984. He was apparently on his way to a tennis game. To the right of the picture is the Synclavier that played such a big part in the Frankie Goes To Hollywood sound.

"When we did the take, he was humming with the bass, and he was humming a bit out of tune. Then he came up to the control room and said, 'Before you play it, put a harmoniser on me.' When I did that, it sounded unbelievable. Again, another huge lesson. And so was a session for Gerry Rafferty's Snakes & Ladders album at Air Montserrat in 1980. The band was recording a song called 'Welcome To Hollywood', and Richard Brunton was the guitar player. He and I got along pretty well, and after a take, when everyone was in the control room, he asked me, 'What do you think?'

"Remembering what Phill Brown had told me, I said, 'It's good, but I think you're playing the wrong inversion. You should be up an octave.' Richard said, 'That's a great idea. I'll do that on the next take.' Meanwhile, Gerry Rafferty saw us talking, and so he turned to Richard and asked what this was about. Richard said, 'Oh, Steve just suggested that I try a different inversion.' Gerry Rafferty looked at me, and in a really horrible way he said, 'You just get on with the engineering.' I never forgot that. It was a huge moment. Then and there I realised I should never ignore anyone. Everyone's got an opinion, and when I became a producer I should check them out."

It was in 1983, while producing at a small studio named the Producer's Workshop on London's Fulham Road, that Steve Lipson received a call asking him to spend a couple of days engineering for Trevor Horn. This would be at Sarm West, where an SSL E-Series console was supplemented by a couple of Studer A80 tape machines.

"I knew who he was," Lipson remarks, "but I just didn't want to do it. By then I wanted to be a record producer, and so engineering, for me, seemed like a black hole. At the same time, I also wanted to achieve success on my own terms, not through anybody else, and I was therefore anti the whole idea. Still, the job was for just two days, so I took it even though I had no interest in being there. I basically adopted a couldn't-care-less attitude, but what transpired was that Trevor is the kind of producer who loves the people around him to get on with their jobs. That meant I was inadvertently doing exactly what he wanted me to do — it was weird. And after two days, without either of us saying a thing, we just kept going."

Having already tried to record 'Relax' with Frankie and the Blockheads, as well as with Frankie alone, Horn was now attempting to give the song some fresh impetus, and to that end he'd recruited the engineering talents of Lipson, along with keyboard player Andy Richards and Fairlight programmer JJ Jeczalik. Initially, three weeks were spent on trying to re-fashion the track, while also working on 'Ferry 'Cross the Mersey' and editing The Art Of Noise. Yet it wasn't until he took a dinner break during a 'Ferry' session that Horn came to appreciate Lipson's musical abilities.

"That song didn't have a guitar part yet," Lipson recalls, "so I plugged in my guitar and began playing something for the middle eight. All of a sudden, Trevor ran into the control room and asked whose sound he was hearing. I said, 'Oh, it's me.' He said, 'You never told me you could play the guitar,' and I said, 'Sure, I did, but you didn't appear interested.' Now he was. And this brings us back to 'Relax', which at that time bore no comparison to the finished record, even though the song itself was similar. Trevor had obviously gleaned its essence from the band, but he'd also incorporated some ideas from the Blockheads, along with a few sounds that were in the Fairlight."

These included bass hooks recorded by the Blockheads' Norman Watt-Roy, and a bass pulse sampled on a Fairlight CMI at Battery Studios a couple of years earlier by session musician Mark Cunningham. But Trevor Horn still had an ace up his sleeve.

The Synclavier Situation
"In those days, the gear we had was pretty limited, and although the Synclavier had just arrived, it was still sitting in the corner of the room and nobody was using it," says Lipson. "JJ had the Fairlight, Andy wasn't interested — he had his equipment — so one day I said to Trevor, 'You bought this thing, do you want me to look at it?' He said, 'Yeah,' and I therefore became the Synclavier operator. At that point, I was the engineer, the Synclavier operator and the guitar player, and it was quite interesting how, reverting back to what Phill Brown had taught me, the engineering was invisible. It was like osmosis. That didn't mean it was easy, but it just happened in a very fluid sort of way. We plugged things in and set them up as we needed to. It was about the concepts and the freedom, about using the available resources, and the result was that all those things sort of engineered themselves. There was no studied engineering going on.
"At the end of what could be considered the first chorus on 'Two Tribes', there's a sort of jazz drum fill that leads back into the second intro, and I programmed that on the Synclavier. Of course, it took an age, and Trevor thought it was the weirdest fill he'd ever heard — a jazz fill in the middle of a pop song. However, I told him I thought it was great, so he went along with it, although begrudgingly, and that was indicative of how we worked together."
"Steve was the first guy I ever saw running a computer all of the time in the control room," Horn told me in 1994. "The Synclavier... incorporated the first timecode-based sequencer, and the significance of that was being able to continually run it like a slave machine. It didn't run on MIDI Song Pointers or anything dumb like that, and so if an idea came to us or we needed an overdub, we could instantly sequence it. I never saw anybody do that before Steve. He was a great guy to work with, because he'd be constantly coming up with ideas."
Rip It Up...

"About three weeks into working on 'Relax', Trevor came in after dinner one night and said, 'We're going to start again.' 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. However, Trevor looked at me and said, 'I've got a rhythm in my Linn 2 that I've had for ages, and I want to work around it."

As Horn himself described it to me in a 1994 interview for SOS, "It was like my pet drum pattern which I fiddled about with. I thought it was more like an English square dance than anything else, but when I saw the effect that this had on the guys in the band, I realised that it was probably going to be a very good dance record."

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Steve Lipson in the studio in the mid-'80s.
Steve Lipson in the studio in the mid-'80s.

"He had three patterns and he wanted to do it live," Lipson continues. "He told me, 'The bass needs to be programmed, and I want you to play guitar, Andy to play keyboards, and JJ to get a whole load of shit going on the Fairlight.' That's precisely what happened. Trevor had this rhythm and we just recorded it live, probably in one take. He heard the bass with this drum pattern and went, 'That's unbelievable. Let's go.' 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. I think this was all done on the fly to a blank pattern, and we put it down with me playing guitar, JJ creating funny noises, Andy playing the chords and Trevor stepping through the presets. Then he called Holly and got him in to sing it there and then, that night, right in the middle of Studio One. I can't remember how many takes, but it was really quick.

"All of the effects on that song were overdubbed. The pissing sound, for instance, was Andy playing his [Roland] JP8, as were the explosions. He had a JP8 and [Roland] MC4, and he sequenced stuff as well. I myself added some guitar synth with a Roland GR300 — I think it was the second one they ever made — and Paul Rutherford did a whole load of stuff, such as the backing vocals, while JJ programmed all of the weirdness."

The fact that none of the other members of FGTH contributed to the track, along with their unavailability for touring throughout their halcyon year of 1984, would fuel 'Frankie can't play' rumours. And meanwhile, Trevor Horn initially adopted an attitude of 'Stevie can't mix'.

"I did mix 'Relax'," Lipson says, "but because Trevor didn't know me very well he wanted to get someone else in, and so Julian Mendelsohn ended up doing the mix. The same was true for 'Two Tribes', and also for 'War', which was mixed by Nick Ryan, the Sarm chief engineer, who did a mix at Sarm East. For some bizarre reason, he turned the toms up really loud and compressed the mix, and it sounded brilliant. Anyway, I think those are the only tracks that I did with Trevor that I didn't mix. He was just a bit unsure, so it was a comfort-zone thing and I think he was probably right. It really didn't matter to me. We were working on the album, and we just kept going, and there was also 'Ferry 'Cross The Mersey', which we were all really excited about because of the start — we thought the sounds and the whole atmosphere were magnificent."

Three Times Twelve
In addition to Julian Mendelsohn's 7-inch mix, Trevor Horn also created a trio of 12-inch mixes, as he recalled in our 1994 interview:
"One of the reasons we did all the remixes was that the initial 12-inch version of 'Relax' contained something called 'The Sex Mix', which was 16 minutes long and didn't even contain a song. It was really Holly just jamming, as well as a bunch of samples of the group jumping in the swimming pool and me sort of making disgusting noises by dropping stuff into buckets of water! We got so many complaints about it — particularly from gay clubs, who found it offensive — that we cut it in half and reduced it down to eight minutes, by taking out some of the slightly more offensive parts. Then we got another load of complaints, because the single version wasn't on the 12-inch — I didn't see the point in this at the time, but I was eventually put straight about it.
"When I was out in New York producing Foreigner, I went to Paradise Garage. The Art Of Noise was happening and I'd just done 'Owner Of A Lonely Heart' [for Yes], which was huge in America. There was a great remix of it which made number two in the dance chart there, and yet it was only when I went to this club and heard the sort of things they were playing that I really understood about 12-inch remixes. Although I myself had already had a couple of big 12-inch hits, I'd never heard them being played on a large sound system, and so I then went back and mixed 'Relax' again and that was the version which sold a couple of million over here [in the UK].
"I wasn't being clever. It wasn't some great scheme that I dreamed up to make three 12-inches; I was just desperately trying to get the record right. I had a kind of ethic with 12-inch remixes. I never wanted them to be boring, even though they were going to be nine-or-so minutes long. I didn't see that as an excuse for them to be self-indulgent or boring, so we would work quite hard on them in order for them to make sense as pieces of music."
Two Tribes

Upon its initial US release, 'Relax' only peaked at number 67 in the spring of 1984. Yet in the UK, where Frankiemania was in full cry, it remained on the charts for 42 consecutive weeks, including a revival in the summer of that year when it climbed back to number two while the band's follow-up single occupied the top spot for nine weeks, having entered the chart at number one. Not that the aforementioned follow-up had been very easy to find.

"Sarm was a busy and expensive studio, so rather than mess around there trying to come up with a new song, Trevor asked me if I knew a cheaper place where we could go with the band," Lipson recalls. "I told him about the Producer's Workshop in Fulham, and so we all decamped for there. Even though he'd already figured out what the next single should be, it was a real long shot. The song was 'Two Tribes', and I remember when we first heard it we all looked at him like he was mad, but he said, 'It's all about the bass line.' He completely got it. He was firing on all cylinders, whereas the rest of us were completely in the dark.

"For one thing, there wasn't much to the song, and for another, the demo wasn't any good. However, out of all the material it was the only track that he could envision being the follow-up single — it wasn't a positive choice, but one made out of necessity. The thing about the bass part on the finished record is that it drops an octave, whereas the original bass part didn't do that. It sounded like kids were playing the song, and they were. What Trevor loved about it was the beat, and so after we went down to the Producer's Workshop and the band members did their thing, they then left and again it was down to the four of us — Trevor, Andy, JJ and me — all feeling depressed as anything because it just sounded terrible. We therefore set up and played it ourselves, and interestingly the only part that ended up being retained from the Producer's Workshop was my guitar.

"I played a sort of harmony, and that, together with dropping the bass down on those notes and sequencing it, as well as Andy then coming in with the chord movement — a minor chord to a fourth and back to the minor — were the key elements. Once these were all in place, we then moved back to Sarm to work on the track, and while we were in Studio Two, figuring out how to make the bass sound good, Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley were mixing an album in Studio One, and they then went away to record another album, came back to mix it, and we were still working on the bass. We were looking for sounds, trying to get the articulation right.

"During the recording of 'Relax', having become more familiar with Trevor and his wife Jill, I had suggested that they buy this digital tape machine called a Sony F1. It was a Betamax two-track recorder and it wasn't that expensive, so they went for it, and that was a revelation because we could now record loads of stuff and it was pristine quality. At around the same time, digital multitracks happened, with Sony producing the 3324 and Mitsubishi the 32-track [X850]. We were in Studio Two, and I asked Trevor, 'Why don't we look at these machines?' He was always up for trying things, and so a Mitsubishi was wheeled in for us to try out, but it didn't work. A short time later, a Sony was wheeled in and it worked perfectly, so he bought one and we recorded 'Two Tribes' on that machine. In fact, 'Relax' was the only one of the songs on analogue."

In Xanadu...

According to Lipson, Horn panicked at the last moment and embellished 'Two Tribes' with a Linn pattern that would link it to 'Relax'. Then it was on to 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome'.

"That song was quite interesting because I had the idea of getting another tape machine in," says Lipson. "It suddenly occurred to me, if you could make digital copies, you could offset. I had no idea what I was talking about, but I did an offset so that, where the song ended, I had it start again, and when I demonstrated this to Trevor he absolutely flipped out. It was a remarkable thing. The concept of offsets freaked us out. Nobody had ever considered doing anything like this, and all of a sudden we were sort of inventing a recording equivalent of the wheel. It was like a super-sampler."

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Steve and Trevor's 'pub' band, the Producers. From left to right; Lol Creme, Trevor Horn, Ash Soan, Chris Braide and Steve Lipson.
Steve and Trevor's 'pub' band, the Producers. From left to right; Lol Creme, Trevor Horn, Ash Soan, Chris Braide and Steve Lipson.

The producer had a similar recollection: "Steve had copied a multitrack and offset it eight bars, and it was like 'Wow! Let's use this on 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome'!' So he and I were basically upstairs for three months doing that track, which had started out as three minutes long, and we just kept overlapping it on itself, lengthening it and doing all sorts of stuff."

At one point, working in Studio One on the Monday morning after the surrounding Notting Hill carnival had taken place, Horn suggested hanging a microphone out of the window to record the general hubbub of the big clean-up — no one talking, just the sounds of bottles and cans as they were being swept and collected behind the studio along Lancaster Road.

"I literally hung a Neumann U87 out the window, went to the point in the song where the first round ended and the rhythm dropped out, hit 'record' and captured the noise of cleaning up the carnival," Lipson recalls. "It was a remarkable thing. It gave that moment in the song an amazing atmosphere.

"Steve Howe also played some acoustic guitar on 'Pleasuredome', a few funny chords that no one else could get their heads around. That song had so many vast expanses of music where nobody knew what was going on — one time, I was around the other side of the desk in Studio One, nowhere near the console, and I plugged in my old Strat, which was the only guitar I had in those days, and began figuring out a solo. I was telling Trevor how it could work, and he said, 'Show me what you mean.' Unbeknown to me, he went into record, and all the while I was talking to him, saying, 'Here it could go up, and then it could stop.' He said, 'OK, let's hear that back,' and what he played turned out to be the solo."

While it's a common engineering ploy to keep the tape running, it isn't often that you hear about the engineer being recorded without even knowing about this.

"That happened all the time," Lipson says. "It happened a lot on Slave To The Rhythm. Trevor was brilliant, but he also let me do whatever I wanted, and I think that's part of what's so great about him."

Talking in 1994, Horn described the aforementioned 1985 Grace Jones album as "probably the last really exciting thing" that he and Lipson did together. "I was acting almost like the artist and he was almost like the producer. I was having all of the mad ideas and he was executing them."

As soon as they began working together they were already embarked on that course. And in the case of 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome' the result was a three-minute song that eventually clocked in at 13:38 and, as mixed by Steve Lipson, became the title track for Frankie Goes To Hollywood's debut double album.

"Interestingly, I screwed up with one thing that I didn't know at the time," he now says. "When you do this stuff, your time code needs to be word-clock locked. But because I didn't know that, by the time it got towards the end of the song it had somehow drifted to the offsets that I'd done. In other words, whatever we were sync'ing up after the event, by the time it got to the end of the song everything was slightly out of time. On the one hand, that really pissed us off, but on the other hand it gave the track a certain kind of freedom and energy at the point where it needed it. So it was fortuitous, but it was also a big lesson."

Moving On

Including such tracks as 'Krisco Kisses', 'The Only Star In Heaven', an explosive cover of Bruce Springsteen's 'Born To Run', and the group's third consecutive chart-topping UK single, 'The Power Of Love' (featuring a band performance and string arrangement by Anne Dudley), 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome' entered the British album chart at number one. It reached number 33 in America, where 'Relax' was re-released and this time peaked at number 10. Not surprisingly, when the title track, prematurely touted as "their fourth number one" upon its March 1985 UK release, only made it to number two, cynics asserted — accurately, as it turned out — that the group's popularity was on the wane.

"The whole thing was unbelievable," Steve Lipson remarks. "Yet what was even more unbelievable was how, being so entrenched in the studio, Trevor and I weren't really affected by all of the success. We just kept going."

And so they did, through co-production assignments with the Pet Shop Boys, Paul McCartney and Simple Minds, after which Lipson opted to branch out on his own.

"Working with Trevor was brilliant," Lipson says, "and actually there was no down side, apart from the fact that I could lean on him. I could say whatever I wanted in the knowledge that he'd get the grief if anything went wrong. If a project went over budget, I could leave that to him. It's easy to talk when you know the buck doesn't stop with you. Well, that was all fine, but now I needed to see if I could do this myself."

That was in 1991. And now, after numerous production and engineering projects with the likes of Annie Lennox, Geri Halliwell, Natalie Imbruglia and Will Young, as well as a 10-year stint running his own facility, The Aquarium, in northwest London, Steve Lipson is not only back in his own room at Sarm, but also collaborating with Trevor Horn again, as a member of Stiff Records' band the Producers, alongside Chris Braide, Lol Creme and Ash Soan.

"That's taking quite a bite out of our time, because we absolutely love it," says Lipson. "For years, Trevor and I had been saying, 'Oh, wouldn't it be great if we had a pub band,' because we weren't playing enough. Then I mentioned it to Chris, and he was up for it, and he brought in Ash, who's a fantastic drummer, while Trevor brought in his pal Lol. We went to Hook End for two weeks and it was mind-blowing. Because of our commitments we still have another week of recording to do, but hopefully we'll put the album out somehow.

"My time's taken. I'm working with Will Young again, which is really exciting, and also with Boyzone, as well as with an extraordinary Russian lady who I'm developing, a classical pianist called Oksana Grigorieva. So there's enough to be getting on with, and I'm still flying..."

For more info on the Producers, visit www.myspace.com/producersofficial.


Classic Tracks: Billy Swan 'I Can Help'

Producers: Chip Young, Billy Swan; Engineer: Chip Young

In 1974 Billy Swan walked into Chip Young's Young'un Sound studio and, in two takes, recorded a million-selling single that had taken him 20 minutes to write. This is how it was done...

CLASSIC TRACKS: Ian Dury & The Blockheads

Track: 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick'

The story of how a characteristically chaotic and unorthodox 1978 recording session took Ian Dury & The Blockheads to the top of the UK charts.

CLASSIC TRACKS: Madonna 'Like A Virgin'

Producers: Nile Rodgers, Madonna, Stephen Bray • Engineer: Jason Corsaro

In mid-1984 Madonna arrived at New York City's Power Station studios with Nile Rodgers to record the album that would make her an international superstar - using cutting-edge 12-bit technology.

CLASSIC TRACKS: Fleetwood Mac 'Go Your Own Way'

Producers: Richard Dashut, Ken Caillat, Fleetwood Mac

In 1976, in the face of deteriorating personal relationships and massive record company pressure, Fleetwood Mac managed to create a record that would go on to sell 30 million copies.

CLASSIC TRACKS: The Only Ones: 'Another Girl, Another Planet'

Producer: Alan Mair • Engineers: John Burns, Robert Ash

Although never a commercial success, the Only One's 'Another Girl, Another Planet' has proved to be massively influential; and nearly 30 years after its original release, it's finally getting the recognition it deserves.

CLASSIC TRACKS: Tricky 'Black Steel'

Producers: Tricky • Mark Saunders

Thumbnail for article: CLASSIC TRACKS: Tricky 'Black Steel'Tricky's highly unorthodox approach to recording and making music led to the creation of one of the most unique and critically lauded records of the '90s.

CLASSIC TRACKS: Charlie Rich 'The Most Beautiful Girl In The World'

Producer: Billy Sherrill • Engineer: Lou Bradley

1973's 'The Most Beautiful Girl In The World' was one of the defining moments of the Nashville sound, and was the product of a finely-honed studio recording process.

CLASSIC TRACKS: The Ronettes 'Be My Baby'

Producer: Phil Spector • Engineer: Larry Levine

Phil Spector was one of the first producers to realise that a recording studio could be an instrument in itself - and the sound he created over 40 years ago has influenced popular music ever since.

CLASSIC TRACKS: The Jam 'The Eton Rifles'

Producers: The Jam, Vic Coppersmith-Heaven • Engineers: Alan Douglas, Vic Coppersmith-Heaven

'The Eton Rifles' captured both Paul Weller's growing talent as a songwriter and the raw power of his band the Jam, and gave the group their first top 10 hit.

CLASSIC TRACKS: Depeche Mode's 'People Are People'

Producers: Depeche Mode, Daniel Miller, Gareth Jones • Engineer: Gareth Jones

Released in 1984, 'People Are People' perfectly combined Depeche Mode's love of pop music and experimentalism, and gave them their first US hit single.

CLASSIC TRACKS: Les Paul & Mary Ford 'How High The Moon'

Producer & Engineer: Les Paul

Les Paul made some of the most innovative records of the 20th Century, but he had to invent multitrack tape recording first...

CLASSIC TRACKS: The Cure 'A Forest'

Producers: Robert Smith, Mike Hedges

Mike Hedges made his 1980 debut as a producer with one of The Cure's most enduring singles. 'A Forest' and the accompanying Seventeen Seconds album used his and the band's creativity in the studio to the full.

CLASSIC TRACKS: Sade's 'The Sweetest Taboo'

Producers: Robin Millar, Sade Adu, Mike Pela, Ben Rogan

Sade's ice-cool vocals and sophisticated, jazz-tinged instrumentation defined a new kind of soul music for the '80s. Engineer and producer Mike Pela describes the organic recording process that produced one of the singer's most memorable hits from 1985.

CLASSIC TRACKS: Heroes

Artist: David Bowie; Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti; Studio: Hansa Ton, Berlin

With 'Heroes', David Bowie pulled off the rare feat of having a major hit with a highly experimental piece of art-rock, which featured among other highlights live synth treatments from Brian Eno, pitched feedback from guitarist Robert Fripp, and a lead vocal with level-triggered ambience.

CLASSIC TRACKS: 'Anarchy In The UK'

Artist: The Sex Pistols; Producer: Chris Thomas; Engineer: Bill Price

When punk rock broke in 1976, the Sex Pistols caused panic in establishment Britain — and more than a few raised eyebrows in Wessex Studios, where Chris Thomas and Bill Price recorded the band's milestone EMI debut album.

MICHAEL JACKSON 'Black Or White' | Classic Tracks

Producers: Michael Jackson, Bill Bottrell • Engineer: Bill Bottrell

The 18-month gestation period behind Michael Jackson's Dangerous album and its lead single 'Black Or White' saw '80s studio perfectionism taken to extremes — and despite their success, the experience helped to convince co-writer, engineer and co-producer Bill Bottrell that there had to be another way to make records!

CLASSIC TRACKS: 'The Reflex'

Producers: Duran Duran, Alex Sadkin, Ian Little; Engineers: Phil Thornalley, Pete Schwier

When Duran Duran began work on their third album in 1983, they were already one of the biggest bands in the world — and with eight months of studio time and half a million pounds spent, huge expectations surrounded Seven And The Ragged Tiger...

CLASSIC TRACKS: 'Wuthering Heights'

Artist: Kate Bush; Producer: Andrew Powell; Engineer: Jon Kelly

Kate Bush's 1978 smash hit debut single was also the first major project Jon Kelly had recorded. It proved to be a dream start for both artist and engineer, and a perfect illustration of the benefits of working with talented session musicians.

CLASSIC TRACKS: 'What's Love Got To Do With It?'

Artist: Tina Turner; Producer: Terry Britten; Engineer: John Hudson

In 1984, a dose of British soul resurrected Tina Turner's flagging career in spectacular style. For engineer John Hudson, the recording of 'What's Love Got To Do With It?' also provided a memorable example of the 'less is more' principle in action...

CLASSIC TRACKS: 'Start Me Up'

Artist: The Rolling Stones; Engineer: Chris Kimsey

In 1981, 'Start Me Up' became one of the Rolling Stones' biggest hit singles. Yet it was actually a reject from a previous session, and only saw the light of day because its infamous co-writers had fallen out...

Classic Tracks: The Police's 'Every Breath You Take'

Producers: The Police, Hugh Padgham • Engineer: Hugh Padgham.

The Police's final studio album was both a technical and artistic tour de force, and yielded one of their most memorable hit singles. Yet the three members were unable to play in the same room without a fight breaking out, so the recording sessions proved tough going for engineer and co-producer Hugh Padgham...

CLASSIC TRACKS: 'Unforgettable'

Artists: Natalie Cole & Nat 'King' Cole; Producer: David Foster; Engineer: Al Schmitt

Half a century in the business has seen recording engineer Al Schmitt reach the very top of his profession, but even a man of his experience can find himself faced with new challenges. So it was in 1991, when he was called upon to turn a classic Nat 'King' Cole recording into a duet with Cole's daughter Natalie...

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