Saturday, 1 September 2012

Party nights and neon lights: my love of Wham! explained


I was born in 1979 so I was a bit late for Wham!  They were definitely there  lurking in the background of my eighties childhood– on telly and the radio, in magazines – but that was about it. I never had any of their records and neither (if memory serves me) did any of my older siblings, whose music tastes I absorbed as I grew up.

These days I like to think that i’ve got fairly wide ranging music tastes, but I have to admit that eighties pop is probably the genre closest to my heart. So I have for some time appreciated the indisputable pop genius of wedding disco favourite ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’. But it’s only quite recently that I’ve started to properly get into Wham! I admit that 32 is an odd age for this to happen. But happened it has and I just cannot get enough of them.

Those Wham boys are easy to laugh at and I know that in many people’s minds they’re probably associated with the overdone, luminous camp of the Club Tropicana video and the bad 80s nostalgia nights it spawned. But beyond the fake tans and cocktail umbrellas, beyond the cheesy grins and blonde highlights, beyond Andrew Ridgely’s pretend guitar playing, there really is some great stuff going on.

To start with an obvious point, they made fantastic pop. There is, I admit, a fair bit of daftness among the back catalogue (of which more later) but there are also moments of pure joyful brilliance. You just CANNOT argue with the opening ‘jitterbug’ hook on Wake Me Up, or with the drama of the ‘pack your bags…’ middle eight in ‘Club Tropicana’,  or with ‘Freedom and its fab thumping Motown-style beat (not to mention that glorious bittersweet trumpet solo at the end).  They also did a brilliant line in heartbreak, and ‘Last Christmas’, aside from being probably the best Christmas song ever, is also a great bit of soulful pop. Every time I hear it I am struck anew by the sheer pain in George Michael’s voice. The way it builds to that soaring, pained crescendo near the end – soppy bastard that I am, it actually bring tears to my eyes.

So that’s the stuff that I would happily and confidently defend in the Court of Pop. And then there’s the daft stuff, like ‘Wham Rap’, which is half totally shit and half absolutely brilliant. It’s their anti-wage labour anthem, in which George Michael *ahem*  ‘raps’ about his refusal to get sucked into a soul-destroying 9-to-5 job. ‘I’m a soul boy, I’m a dole boy;’ he tells us. ‘I take pleasure in leisure, I believe in joy’. Right on, boys! I love that lyric – it’s so brilliantly of its time and so unlike anything that any two-bob boyband, for all kinds of reasons, would sing about today.

There’s a genuine, almost punk-like, spirit of youthful joyousness and rebellion in that song and others like it (see also ‘Young Guns’ and ‘Bad Boys, also a bit silly). Those songs grapple with all the stuff that pop should grapple with– freedom, fun, sex, telling your parents to fuck off. There’s a side to their songs that genuinely wants life to be as good as it can be. Take ‘Club Tropicana’, on the surface a shiny eighties anthem about an exotic getaway where you can ‘rub shoulders with the stars’. But at this place everyone’s welcome and what’s more ‘there’s enough for everyone’. No one has to do without - it’s socialism!

It’s all that stuff, combined with those amazing hooks, choruses and tunes, that makes Wham! so great. They are pure pop and pure joy. My favourite lyric - and perhaps even my life motto – is from ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’:  ‘Come on baby, let’s not fight, we’ll go dancing and everything’ll be alright’. And when I hear that line, there is genuinely a part of me that thinks, as long as that song exists, that everything will be alright.

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