I am a fan of Wham! and George Michael, so get over it!
Yes, I will cop a little attitude when it come to the two. To my ears, Wham! was the teenage-version of Daryl Hall & John Oates, bringing sophisticated R&B/pop sounds to the relationship lyrics that George Michael was conjuring up. To the early Gen X-ers at the time, those two artists could no wrong. As a matter of fact, some critics were predicting a Michael Jackson-career trajectory for George Michael after he followed up his last two Wham! albums with his brilliant debut solo album, Faith.
As I have said time and time again, to my ears, nothing beats a solid pop solid with a memorable melody. That song could have come from the Motown brain trust, a Beatles nugget, a rare pop record by a metal band like Grand Funk or a stupendous sample of a previous hit song made into a hip hop classic like “Mo More, Mo Problems”. A pop song seems simple to create, a strong melody, a memorable hook and earnest lyrics; but, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
Back in 1983, Wham! released their tentative debut Fantastic. George Michael and Andrew Ridgely were indecisive in which direction they would travel. They created a decent early entry in the white boy rap sweepstakes with “Wham Rap”. Additionally, they showed some prowess with a couple of alternative song and a couple of those soul-based pop songs that Culture Club was mining at the time for big success.
It was not until late 1984, when the duo released their long-playing masterpiece, Make It Big. The great thing about a band from the UK is that they have always had the capability of making their US album compilations of their UK hits from albums, singles and 12″ dance single releases. That meant their USA releases were streamlined and packed with potential hits. And no artist did it better than Wham! did with their second album, Make It Big.
You can say what you want, how this album should in NO WAY be compare with the Metallica album of the day, Ride the Lightning, or the hardcore standard, Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade or The Smiths’ self-titled debut for the album’s long-lasting influence. And, I would say, “Poppycock!” As long as there are teens, there will be teenybopper pop bands such as Wham! But, once again, it is the maturity and sincerity in Michaels’ lyrics that will always set Wham! and Michaels’ solo career apart from the rest. Sure, one could make an argument that Wham! lead to *N’SYNC, and the argument would be correct. Once again, the different will always be with the lyrics.
Very few Britney Spears, Rihanna, Christiana Aguilera or any of the other teen idols being shoved down our throats will have the lyrical depth that George Michael put into his lyrics. Just from Make It Big, you can find “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, “Everything She Wants”, “Freedom” or “Careless Whisper” to find examples of the lyrical depth that Michael invests into his little pop songs.
Then, right before the duo split, they released another compilation album for the US of various stray UK singles called Music from the Edge of Heaven. Now, not every one of those songs were the soul/pop gems from as the previous album had proven to be. Still, the duo left many pop gems for the American fan. This hodge podge of an album still had “The Edge of Heaven”, “I’m Your Man”, “A Different Corner” and “Last Christmas” to anchor it. The problem is that neither of these albums, nor the debut album gave us any indication to the depths that George Michael would travel on his debut album, which I will discuss at a later date.
When word came that the boyhood friends of Wham! were breaking up, it came as no surprise. Most everyone acknowledged George Michael as the musical visionary. Still, try to tell me that you always remain in a bad mood after hearing “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”. Or, that if you are caught in the right moon that “Careless Whisper” doesn’t make you tear up.
As we all heard older people say when we were the young people, “Things are changing too quickly”. I’m sure some of you have said that when you discover that “our music” is now being played on an oldies station. Oh well, the circle of life. My words to you are to NEVER be so embarassed by Wham! that you can’t admit your allegiance to them as the musical geniuses they always were.