March , 1985
By David Huff
Wham!-O, Brit Lads Set Hearts Afire With a Careless Whisper
Whenever a new sensation sweeps America, there’s always intense scrutiny and speculation as to the who and what created the hysteria. More often than not, these ‘surprise’ developments also tend to breed contempt and skepticism from the press. Such is the case with the British pop duo, Wham!
As a member of the Fourth Estate, I’m not here to defend music journalists. I will, however, admit to preconceived notions. Before their show at the Bronco Bowl in Dallas on Feb. 8 of this year, curiosity had certainly taken center stage concerning the duo of guitarist Andrew Ridgeley and vocalist George Michael. I had assumed they were just another flash in the point spawned in part by their pretty boy looks and disposable pop songs.
Wham! surprised me with effortless way their show played out through the course of the evening. Though one local paper would call this performance a sham, it was far from it. Yes, Ridgeley and Michael are this year’s teenage crushes. I’m pretty sure that posters of the ‘cute’ Brits are plastered up on bedroom walls throughout the land. You can thank Wham’s music videos for the craze. The thing is, this duo actually can write some substantive material. The songs Careless Whisper” and “Everything She Wants” are perfect examples. Yes, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” is about as bubblegum as it gets. But the tune is quite catchy, and it’s song title is something you’ll probably remember the rest of your life. That’s exactly what it was meant to do.
Wham updated their image to a pop band last year. From what to what is still up for debate, but whatever transformation took place, it was by MTV, which is increasingly remaking the music industry itself. The duo’s first video, "Club Tropicana" changed the band’s look from brooding rockers in leather jackets to fashionable pop stars. It also cast Andrew and George as dreamy sex symbols rather than dissatisfied punks.
Over the last holiday season, Wham released the double-sided single "Last Christmas” backed by “Everything She Wants.” It became the highest-selling single ever to peak in the UK charts. It stayed at number two for five weeks and became one of the biggest selling singles in England. The band donated all royalties to the single to Ethiopian famine.
This wholesale makeover propelled Wham’s next single, the bouncy “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” to the top of the music charts the world over. The song was written from a note left by Ridgeley to his parents while he was home in England. The note was originally written to say, "don't forget to wake me up up before you go." Since he had accidentally written the word "up" twice, Ridgeley decided to compound the error and by doing it again with "go". George Michael saw it and you know the rest. The song became the band’s first number one single in the UK. It topped the Billboard charts in the U.S. as well. The video for the song was memorable because of the tee shirts that read “Choose Life” and “Go-Go”.
The next single from the Make It Big album released last fall was the evocative “Careless Whisper”. It was curiously issued in the U.S. as "Wham featuring George Michael", but lists Michael’s partner, Andrew Ridgeley as the co-writer. The song is about a remorseful two-timer, but it makes you wonder who’s getting cheated on. Time will definitely tell on this development.
That brings up to the Feb. 8, 1985 performance of Wham at the Bronco Bowl in Dallas. I had to sneak in to the sold-out show because the band’s P.R. firm, Rogers & Cowan, wanted to limit press coverage of the group. (Makes you wonder why they were even hired). The subsequent show was performed before a packed house of shrieking females all desperate for the duo to pay them any type of attention. While the forlorn love affair was taking place among the screaming teens, the rest of the songs connected the artists to the silent minority.
Critics are a dime a dozen. I count myself among the dozen. It’s often a huge mistake to take anything the media says as the gospel. The opinions are always of a single person who didn’t pay a dime to attend the performance, but are paid for their opinions. These reviewers believe their voice is the only one that counts, when more often than not, it doesn’t. For those of you out there that actually swayed by columnist opinions, here’s a clue. Think for yourself and draw your own conclusions. You’ll be better off for it in the end.
Wham’s performance was tightly choreographed and enjoyable to watch. Granted the audience was mostly comprised of young and impressionably female persuasion, parents as well as a strong contingent of males, were also bobbing their heads and getting into the action.
Michael said that he had known since the age of seven he wanted to be a pop star. He and his partner are well on their way to fulfilling that dream. Dallas was one of only five stops on Wham’s abbreviated U.S. tour. They also limited the size of the venues to 3,500 or less to insure sell-outs.
Granted "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" leaves something to be desired after you’ve heard the dreadful lyrics for the umpteenth time, but you have to admit it is extremely hard to forget. Believe me, I’ve tried. But when you hear the opening chords to “Careless Whisper,” it puts you into a different frame of mind, and whatever negative thoughts of the band you harbored disappear. It’s an emotionally gut-wrenching song that will surely go down as one of the greatest songs of the ‘80s. And yes, it is equal to anything the other Michael - Jackson that is - recorded on Thriller, it’s that powerful.
Wham exploded onto the British pop music scene in 1982 about the same time Duran Duran and the Culture Club were coming into their own. "Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do)," propelled Ridgeley and Michael into teen stardom in England. Their music has not ‘cloned the clones that have cloned the clones’ as a Dallas critic so wistfully wrote. Whimsically light music is more like it, then again, to each his own.
I haven't talked that much about Wham's concert. It was a very enjoyable show to watch that was beautifully choreographed. Ridgeley and Michael lived up to the lofty pedestal most of the people in this crowd had placed them on. The show even had film clips during a ten-minute intermission showing the British duo in a variety of poses and situations that made the audience scream for more. The distraction certainly added a different element to the show.
I have little doubt that Wham will be slammed from coast-to-coast by newspaper critics dismissing the band as another teenage fantasy created by the British to warp the youth of America. And yes, Wham is being packaged by its management to be the answer to the prayers of the prepubescent set, but who cares. They are a lot more serious things parents have to contend with growing children than two pop stars who create the illusion of puppy love in their music. And let’s face it, would you rather your impressionable daughters wondering through their delicate years fixate on a harmless group like Wham, or solo dating and Van Halen?
Wake me up up before you go-go!