4 minutes reading time (842 words)

French Kiss: when culture goes into reverse

French Kiss: when culture goes into reverse Still from the video of Lil Louis, “French Kiss”

Thirty years ago this week, a 12" single was released by a Detroit house DJ. On the face of it, there's nothing special in that; house music at the time had already been prevalent in the UK top ten pop charts. Indeed, three years previously, ​Jack Your Body​ by Steve Silk Hurley got to number 1.

This track, however, was different. Not just for house music, but for music in general. Based on one single musical key - F - the track comprised of a synthesizer beat running until half-way, then slowing down to a near-stop, then speeding back up. Audible minimalism.

To add some flavour to the track, a vocal was added. This wasn't the normal sampled wails of house music, but a female vocal giving orgasmic moans over the part of the track which slows down then speeds back up. 

Released on 17/07/89, ​French Kiss​ by Lil Louis was most popular in the UK where it got to number 2 in the pop charts in August.

Here is the track, with a UK-market rather strange little video.


The single in plain form was played by radio stations in full - including on BBC Radio 1, who banned Frankie's ​Relax​ in 1983 owing to sexually connotational lyrics, and changed George Michael's ​I Want Your Sex ​to ​I Want​ just two years earlier. ​French Kiss ​certainly raised some eyebrows for families having the radio on in the background ​(Including my parents' kitchen radio - Ed).

Lil Louis had a brief career in pop, with an excellent follow-up single achieving modest success. However, this is not where the story ends - thirty years later to the week.

In August 2018, long-standing ex-pirate station Centreforce in east London broadcast two tracks in daytime: ​French Kiss​, and ​Baby Wants to Ride ​by Frankie Knuckles, which contains ​"Fuck me"​ in the lyrics. A listener complained to Ofcom, who reviewed the matter. Their decision was published in their Communications Bulletin of last December.

Centreforce is a DAB radio station broadcasting in East London, specialising in dance music. [...] Ofcom received a complaint about the broadcast of offensive language and "the sounds of a woman having an orgasm" in two music tracks between 12:00 and 13:00. We listened to the material and noted that French Kiss by Lil Louis was broadcast at 12:28 and included prolonged sounds of sexual moaning (lasting approximately 3 minutes and 20 seconds). [...]

Ofcom considered that the material raised issues warranting investigation under the following rules of the Code: Rule 1.3: "Children must also be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them...". Rule 1.14: "The most offensive language must not be broadcast when children are particularly likely to be listening...". Ofcom therefore requested comments from the Licensee on how the material complied with this rule. [...]

Reflecting our duties under the Communications Act 2003, Section One of the Code requires that people under eighteen are protected from unsuitable material in programmes. Ofcom has taken account of the audience's and the broadcaster's right to freedom of expression set out in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  [...]

The track French Kiss had no lyrics and instead featured a sustained period of sexual moaning sounds [...] It is Ofcom's view that both tracks clearly conveyed a sexualised theme which was not appropriate for children. We then considered whether children had been protected from this content through appropriate scheduling. Ofcom's published guidance document for radio broadcasters, 'Offensive language on radio', states that: "Radio broadcasters should take care when broadcasting songs which include clearly adult-oriented material...[and] avoid broadcasting lyrics that clearly focus on the taking of drugs, sexual acts or behaviour, or convey a clearly sexualised theme, when children are particularly likely to be listening" [...]

Our view is that the broadcast was in breach of Rule 1.3 of the Code.

Ofcom

Centreforce had apologised for the ​"Fuck me"​ in the Frankie Knuckles track, but not for the... er... sounds made in the Lil Louis track. Ofcom slapped the station on the wrists for broadcasting both tracks, and not apologising at all for the latter. James Masterton's blog provides much more detail on the matter.

One might consider that Centreforce is technically accurate, in that there are no lyrics in ​French Kiss​, so there was nothing to apologise for. However, the rather moralistic judgement of a pop record of 30 years ago implies that we are covering-up content which was appropriate for 1989 but seemingly inappropriate for 2018/2019. And, we are supposed to have moved forward as society and culture.

That's not to suggest that we should not protect audience groups from particular types of content - but this is a backward step. If ​French Kiss​ was legitimate for airplay in 1989 then it should be legitimate in 2019.

In the UK, the track was released on Polygram (now Universal)'s dance music label, FFRR, run by one Pete Tong.

It would be lovely if, by a twist of fate, ​French Kiss ​re-entered the charts after 30 years.

Over to you.

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