572. ‘The Edge of Heaven’, by Wham!

When it comes to their (initial) number one hits, Wham certainly had a formula. Songs like ‘Club Tropicana’, ‘Wham Rap’, ‘Everything She Wants’ all tried out different contemporary sounds. To make number one, though, it seems they had to go retro…

The Edge of Heaven, by Wham! (their 4th of five #1s)

2 weeks, from 22nd June – 6th July 1986

Their final UK release is another mish-mash of doo-wop, Motown, and general sixties vibes. It’s a slightly more frenetic take on their previous chart-topper, ‘I’m Your Man’, and matches the energy of their first, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’. All four of Wham’s #1s have been fun interludes in what was a time when pop music could, on occasion, be a little full of itself.

Yeah-yeah-yeah, Badabadabada… It’s a great hook, one that stays with you for the rest of the day. I also like the hard-edged guitars in the solo, and the brassy horns. There’s also some interesting panting (more on that in a moment). But, at the same time, once you’ve heard their previous three number ones, do you need to hear this? You can see why George Michael was keen to split: he was clearly feeling limited, and his solo efforts – ‘Careless Whisper’ and ‘A Different Corner’ – have been the polar opposite of this breezy sort of pop tune.

Ok, back to the panting. It’s become almost customary for me to read for subtext in Wham/George Michael number ones. With ‘The Edge of Heaven’ I don’t need to read too deeply. The echoey vocals are buried quite deep in the mix, but once you pay attention they’re pretty steamy: And there’s a place for us in a dirty movie… George sings at the end of verse II, Cause no one does it better than me and you…

Michael later admitted that he made the lyrics overtly sexual because nobody bothered to pay the lyrics of Wham! songs any attention. (The opposite of John Lennon, who was famously annoyed by people paying too much attention to Beatles’ lyrics…) ‘The Edge of Heaven’ was marketed ahead of release as Wham’s farewell single, and it was released to coincide with their final concert, at Wembley. It could have been about skinning puppies or kicking kittens: this record was going to number one.

At least it’s an up-tempo pop banger. In the ‘90s and ‘00s, it was fashionable for pop groups to bow out with a dull ballad about how all good things come to an end blahblahblah. Sod that. Quite rightly, the biggest British pop act of the decade drew the curtain with a proper pop song. And that was that, for almost thirty-five years… I put that ‘(initial)’ in my intro, because one Wham! hit has had something of an extended afterlife. You know which one. Until then, then.

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560. ‘I’m Your Man’, by Wham!

It’s been over a year since Wham’s last number one, but their next chart-topper still feels like a direct follow-up to the Motown stylings of ‘Freedom’

I’m Your Man, by Wham! (their 3rd of five #1s)

2 weeks, from 24th November – 8th December 1985

The beat is breezy, the bassline is pretty cool, and George and Andrew are as perky as they’ve ever been. I did call for some cheesy pop, after what has been a pretty earnest autumn from the likes of Midge Ure, Jennifer Rush and Feargal Sharkey, and cheesy pop is what we’ve got. If you’re gonna do it do right, Right do it with me… they chant in the bridge, in a perfectly inane pop hook.

George Michael does his best to lift things, giving a good vocal performance reminiscent of ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’. But there’s something ever so strained in his ad-libs and in the soaring sax, a feeling that they might be trying that bit too hard to paper over the cracks…? Maybe I’m projecting, because we now know that Wham! split up just six months after this made #1. (‘I’m Your Man’ was the last song the pair ever performed together, at their final Wembley concert.) In the video too, a black and white performance of the song at the Marquee Club, Michael is bearded and manly, ready for his imminent solo career. (To be honest, this might as well be a GM solo number – he’s the ‘man’ in the title, Andrew ain’t getting a look in…)

‘I’m Your Man’ is also perhaps a slightly more adult song than it seems at first glance. It’s apparently about a booty call, or a secret affair. Or, and maybe I’m again projecting with hindsight, it’s about anonymous gay sex. Baby our friends do not need to know! George growls… Got a real nice place to go… Or how about: Wanna take you, Wanna make you, But they tell me it’s a crime… Plus the ‘baby’ in the song is never given a pronoun…

I dunno. I’ll happily read a gay subtext into just about anything. But it’s an interesting distraction from what is a decent, if not mind-blowing, pop song. Wham, and GM, were capable of better. But ‘I’m Your Man’ has lived on, and can possibly lay claim to being the duo’s best loved song, after ‘Last Christmas’. George Michael himself re-recorded it in the mid-nineties, and in 2003 none other than Shane Richie took a cover to #2, all in the name of charity.

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539. ‘Freedom’, by Wham!

Time for more effervescent pop from George and Andrew, as Wham! cement their place as the teen idols of the day…

Freedom, by Wham! (their 2nd of five #1s)

3 weeks, from 14th October – 4th November 1984

Like the duo’s first #1, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, it’s another backwards facing hit. And if that sounded like a subtle dig, then I didn’t mean it to. It’s wonderfully retro, a tribute to Motown and sixties vocal groups and the perfect follow-up to ‘Wake Me Up…’, which was pitched half a decade earlier, towards the days of doo-wop.

Every day I hear a different story, People say you’re no good for me… The chord progression in the verses sounds so familiar. I don’t know if it’s because ‘Freedom’ sounds like something, or if something released since has sounded like ‘Freedom’, or if it’s just such good pop that it sounds timeless. The verses, and the bridges – ending in that and you do-o-o… – are so strong that the chorus, when it comes, feels a little pedestrian. I don’t want your freedom… It follows the beat too much, and gets a little slowed down by it.

It’s not as instant as WMUBYG-G (what an ugly acronym) but then I did rather excitedly claim that as the catchiest song ever! It’s still a great slice of pop, though. Yes, Wham were teeny-boppers, but they proved that being a teeny-bop act needn’t mean being second rate. And the lyrics here are (slightly) darker than before. George’s girl is treating him properly bad, like a prisoner who has his own key, not just sneaking off to the dancing without him.

It is also a bit too long: five minutes even with an edit. The ‘solo’, where the boys adlib over that deliberate beat feels like they were killing time for some unknown reason. It’s not fair to compare – each song should be taken on its individual merits yadda yadda yadda – but WMUBYG-G was shorter, and even sweeter for it. (There are even seven-minute long mixes of ‘Freedom’, which is definite overkill.)

The video for this one is interesting, taking the form of a travelogue from the duo’s tour of China in 1985 (it must have been made several months after the song was a hit). They were the first Western act to play there since Mao’s rise to power, and they sold out stadiums despite nobody knowing who they were. One wonders if using the song for this video was intentional: I don’t want your freedom… sung over images of communist China?

So. Three of the past five chart-toppers have been written and performed by George Michael. (And Andrew. Let’s not forget Andrew!) Over half of the year so far has seen either Frankie Goes to Hollywood or George Michael at #1. Wham! won’t be back at the top in 1984, but under normal circumstances they would have been. They were about to release probably the world’s favourite Christmas hit (sorry Mariah…) only to see it kept off the top by… Well, we’ll save that for another time.

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535. ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, by Wham!

In my last post, on ‘The Reflex’, I wondered if Duran Duran had produced the most obnoxious-sounding intro ever. In this post, I will pose a similar question: is the intro to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ the happiest intro ever?

Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, by Wham! (their 1st of five #1s)

2 weeks, from 27th May – 10th June 1984

In fact, is this entire record not just the happiest piece of music ever recorded? It’s pure, pure pop. If you were to look up ‘pop song’ in the dictionary, I hope the entry would simply read: Noun. 1. As in ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ by Wham. There are finger-clicks, there are organs, there are Jitterbugs!… The moment where George Michael goes for the I wanna hit that high… line, and the horns come smashing in, is perfection.

You can picture the smile on Michael’s face as he sings – though his voice isn’t quite as strong as it would grow to be – probably because he knows he’s just sealed his first UK (and US) chart-topper. In the back of your head you’re thinking: this should be way more annoying than it is, nothing this perky can be ‘good’… But the irritation never comes, not for me anyway. Lines like You put the boom boom into in my heart… float past unchecked. ‘Go-Go’ is rhymed with ‘yo-yo’, and nobody bats an eyelid…

The record’s innocence runs deep. George is upset, he feels betrayed… All because his friend went dancing without him. (I just noticed the potential pun in the title: ‘go-go’, as in ‘go-go bar’…?) The video is also a slice of wholesomeness: an all-white set, George and Andrew in their ‘Choose Life’ tees, as if they are hosting a primary school anti-drugs talk, before things go all neon. (At the very end, as the music fades, a message on screen reads: ‘Go-Go Buy It’, which feels very eighties…)

There’s a cleanness and a simplicity to this record, especially compared to the Blitzkrieg-pop that was ‘The Reflex’ and ‘Relax’. It’s timeless, appropriate for everything from a kids’ party to a stag do, and everything in between. On a completely unrelated note, I’ve always subconsciously connected ‘Wake Me Up…’ with Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’. Both are slight outliers in their band’s discography, both are ridiculously catchy, both are throwbacks to the fifties and sixties – rock ‘n’ roll in Queen’s case, doo-wop and Motown in Wham’s. Doris Day even gets a name check here!

This was the first single to be released from Wham’s second album, and it was clearly a step up into the pop stratosphere. They’d had their earlier hits – ‘Wham Rap’ and ‘Club Tropicana’ among them – but this made them global superstars. Back when I wrote my post on ‘Relax’, I confidently claimed 1984 as Frankie’s year. But maybe they’ll need to share it with Wham!, and George Michael, who will also have scored three chart-toppers before the year is out, plus one of the biggest-selling number twos in history. ‘Choose Life’ versus ‘Frankie Say…’ Much more to come from both camps…

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521. ‘Candy Girl’, by New Edition

Hmm… On the one hand, you could argue that this next #1 emphatically breaks the run of eighties classics that we’ve been enjoying. On the other, you could argue that this record is as much an eighties classic as ‘Billie Jean’ or ‘Let’s Dance’

Candy Girl, by New Edition (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, 22nd – 29th May 1983

I mean ‘classic’ not so much in the sense that this song is any good; but that it is jam-packed with eighties flourishes. There is no mistaking when this record was released. And this is American eighties. We’ve had lots of ‘British’ eighties over the past three years, in the new-wave, post punk, New Romantic acts that have topped the charts. The 2nd British invasion is well underway but, as the decade wears on things will get a lot more US-led. Starting here…

Candy girl, You are my world… First things first, this is a pretty blatant rip-off of The Jackson 5’s ‘ABC’. And not just in terms of the melody: we’ve got five young, black Americans bringing a bright and peppy pop tune to the top of the charts. (They weren’t shy about the comparison either: the group’s name refers to them being a ‘new edition’ of the Jacksons.) Second things second: we’ve got rapping!

We’ve had bands toy with rap – mainly reggae acts like Dave & Ansil Collins and Musical Youth (who are another point of comparison with New Edition) – but this is the first genuine hip-hop number one. No other genre will dominate the next forty years of the charts as much as rap, so this is a bit of a moment. My girl’s like candy, A candy treat, She knocks me right off my feet… People complain about modern hip-hop lyrics, but… My girl’s the best and that’s no lie, She tells me I’m her only guy… Give me ‘WAP’ any day of the week.

It’s not just the rapping that makes this sound so modern though. The beat is clear and heavy – a glimpse ahead to new jack swing later in the decade – and the squelchy, farty synths are almost a voice in their own right. Which isn’t a good thing… Someone was let loose on the decks, and needed to be reined in. By the end they’re mimicking ‘ring a ring a roses’ like a demented playground chant…

In a classic boy-band debut single move, there’s a break to allow an introduction to the members who will soon be adorning bedroom walls the world over. Check out Mike and Bobby’s ladies… Ooh-wee… What about Ronnie’s? She’s bad… It’s incredibly cringey, but these moments always are. I’m forty years too late, and thirty years too old, to appreciate it.

If that write up sounded harsh then I didn’t really mean it to. I have to admit I’m enjoying this… Sort of. If you’re going to build a song so obviously around ‘ABC’ then you’re giving yourself a solid foundation. There’s an endearing energy to it, the boys were all just fourteen or fifteen when this was released, even if the farty synths and the high-pitched voices are a bit too much. Plus there is one of the clunkiest key-changes ever heard in a chart-topping single.

This was New Edition’s first ever release, and for some reason the UK took to them much quicker than the US (‘Candy Girl’ only made #46 on the Hot 100). In the long run, though, their American chart success would be much more long-lasting, reaching well into the 1990s. The members would also try their hand away from the group, the most prominent career being that of founder Bobby Brown’s (and not always for musical reasons…)

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