From the 80s

The restaurant Reposado, where I regularly have lunch, plays Mexican popular music, in Spanish (more on this below), on its sound system on weekdays, but popular music in English on weekends, when visitors to Palo Alto might prefer it. Yesterday I noticed that I recognized almost all of the songs, even while I was mostly concentrated on reading and taking notes. It started with Madonna’s “Material Girl” and went through a range of other songs. Here’s a list of the ones I caught, with the dates of their release:

“Material Girl” (1984), “Owner of a Lonely Heart” (1983), “Electric Avenue” (1982), “Relax” (1983), “(I’m) Bad” (1987), “Tainted Love” (Soft Cell version, 1981), “Take My Breath Away” (1986)

Oh my, hit songs of the 80s. The 80s were my 40s, and a very complex time in my life — my first stint at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, my wife’s death, the shift to an Ohio State/Stanford split schedule, and more — but I seem to have been attentive to the music of the decade.

Two things: the categories of popular music, the song “Relax”.

Categories. The categorization of popular music is a minefield, with competing, shifting,  and often unclear classifications. “Take My Breath Away” seems mostly to be categorized as Adult Contemporary these days, but it could also be classified as Soft Rock or even just Rock, or as Pop. And so on with many other songs. In the case of Mexican music, I’m aware that there are many genres, most of which I know nothing about — but the weekday music at Reposado sounds mostly pop-py, and is probably as safe as the music in English played there on weekends.

“Relax“. Of the songs in English above, this one has the riskiest reputation. From Wikipedia:

“Relax” is the debut single by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, released in the United Kingdom by ZTT Records in 1983. The song was later included on the album Welcome to the Pleasuredome (1984).

… [ZZT Records cofounder Paul] Morley intentionally courted scandal with the promotion of “Relax”. ZTT initiated the ad campaign for “Relax” with two quarter-page ads in the British music press. The first ad featured images of [Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s openly gay Paul] Rutherford in a sailor cap and a leather vest, and Johnson with a shaved head and rubber gloves. The images were accompanied by the phrase “ALL THE NICE BOYS LOVE SEA MEN” and declared “Frankie Goes to Hollywood are coming … making Duran Duran lick the shit off their shoes … Nineteen inches that must be taken always.” The second ad promised “theories of bliss, a history of Liverpool from 1963 to 1983, a guide to Amsterdam bars”.

The crucial words, which are subject to several interpretations:

Relax don’t do it
When you want to go to it
Relax don’t do it
When you want to come

Performed here in the original version, which also leaves interpretation open:

Even so, the song became a gay anthem.

And then there was a banned gay S&M version of the video, discussed on this blog on 6/16/12 (with the video). Once you’ve seen this, it’s hard to go on thinking of the song as erotic but relatively innocent. Rather startling as lunch music.

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