Wham! sparked something of a pop revival in the mid-'80s and could arguably be held responsible for sparking off the boy band trend of the '90s. They were unashamedly pop, to the point of padding the front of their trousers for television appearances. At the heart, however, was a string of catchy singalong singles written by George Michael (born Georgios Kyrriacos Panayiotou in London to a Greek restauranting family). Michael met Wham!'s other half, Andrew Ridgeley, at school in the London suburb of Bushey, and in 1979 they started performing together as part of the ska-based band the Executive. When that group dissolved, they wrote songs, made demos, and rushed into a recording contract with the equally eager independent label Innervision, scoring an instant hit with "Wham Rap!" (they thought that "wham" was the sound they made when Michael and Ridgeley performed together). In order to move to a recording contract with Sony label Epic, Wham! was forced to walk away from most of the royalties from their debut album, Fantastic. None of that mattered when their 1984 single, "Wake Me up Before You Go Go," became a worldwide hit, accompanied by a video of the pair cavorting in their sportswear. Almost immediately, George Michael started thinking of a solo career, and released "Careless Whisper," issued in the U.S. as George Michael of Wham! The duo embarked on a much-publicized trip to China and enjoyed considerable success in America. Wham!'s end came rather suddenly, in 1985, reputedly when the group's manager, Simon Napier-Bell (later to manage Take That), decided to sell a share of his management to a South African entertainment conglomerate. Supposedly, as part of a stand against South African politics, George Michael immediately announced Wham!'s breakup. They gave their farewell performance before a sold-out audience of 72,000 fans at London's Wembley Stadium. George Michael comfortably stepped straight into his own highly successful solo performing and recording career. Andrew Ridgeley's post Wham! album, Son of Albert, produced the Top 60 U.K. hit, "Shake."
© Ed Nimmervoll /TiVo
© Ed Nimmervoll /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 22, 1985 | Columbia
The title was a promise to themselves, Wham!'s assurance that they would make it big after struggling out of the gates the first time out. They succeeded on a grander scale than they ever could have imagined, conquering the world and elsewhere with this effervescent set of giddy new wave pop-soul, thereby making George Michael a superstar and consigning Andrew Ridgeley to the confines of Trivial Pursuit. It was so big and the singles were so strong that it's easy to overlook its patchwork qualities. It's no longer than eight tracks, short even for the pre-CD era, and while the four singles are strong, the rest is filler, including an Isley Brothers cover. Thankfully, it's the kind of filler that's so tied to its time that it's fascinating in its stilted post-disco dance-pop rhythms and Thatcher/Reagan materialism -- an era that encouraged songs called "Credit Card Baby." If this dichotomy between the A-sides and B-sides is far too great to make this essential, the way Faith later would be, those A-sides range from good to terrific. "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" is absolute silliness whose very stupidity is its strength, and if "Everything She Wants" is merely agreeable bubblegum, "Freedom" is astounding, a sparkling Motown rip-off rippling with spirit and a timeless melody later ripped off by Noel Gallagher. Then, there's the concluding "Careless Whisper," a soulful slow one where Michael regrets a one-night stand over a richly seductive background and a yearning saxophone. It was an instant classic, and it was the first indication of George Michael's strengths as a pop craftsman -- which means it points the way to Faith, not the halfhearted Edge of Heaven. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
Pop - Released December 14, 1983 | Epic
Fantastic is the misguided 1983 debut release from the U.K. duo Wham. With Fantastic, George Michael and partner Andrew Ridgeley introduced themselves as leather jacket-clad, street-smart "rebels." This approach proved wildly popular in the U.K., where Fantastic was a Top Ten hit, but the album went largely unnoticed in the States. While Fantastic showcases the ability of the young (20 at the time of the album's release) George Michael to craft engaging, hook-filled melodies, much of the material on Fantastic suffers from the duo's pretentious, tough-guy posturing. The empty funk of the U.K. hits "Bad Boys," "Young Guns (Go for It)," and the embarrassing "Wham Rap" barely registers, and Michael's smart-aleck, self-conscious lyrics are often unintentionally hilarious. Although Michael eventually became well-known as a reasonably successful emulator of R&B trends, neither these tunes nor Fantastic's stupefying remake of the Miracles' "Love Machine" give any indication of his abilities. At best, Fantastic can be viewed as a testament to George Michael's maturity. "Nothing Looks the Same in the Light" and "Club Tropicana," two of Fantastic's best tunes, lean toward the lush, adult pop of Michael's later solo work. Fortunately, Michael and Ridgeley would later ditch the superficial, leather-jacketed approach for the more sophisticated pop of later Wham releases like "Everything She Wants" and "Freedom" (both from 1984's Make It Big) and "The Edge of Heaven" (from 1986's Music From the Edge of Heaven), finding major U.S. success in the process. Fantastic isn't a good album, but it's oddly entertaining. It's certainly interesting hearing the difference between the frothy Fantastic and Michael's later, "serious" solo work like Listen Without Prejudice and Older. And Fantastic is also good for a few chuckles. Unfortunately, that probably wasn't George Michael's intention. But even he might get a good laugh out of it. © William Cooper /TiVo
Pop - Released January 3, 1985 | Epic
Another slab of Wham! that, when paired with the slightly earlier Best Remixes LP, pretty much wrapped up the best club cuts that this staple of the 1980s had to offer. This stateside mini-album offered an alternative but familiar set, one that was better suited to hardcore fans than the Japanese import that had hit the racks two years earlier. Leaving behind the more radio-friendly pap of the duo's mainstream successes, where 12" Mixes shines is across Wham!'s earlier, more politically motivated pop. It's the controversial "Young Guns (Go For It)," which burned the PC police and titillated young hipsters with its abortion-as-birth-control catch phrase, and the Michael Jackson-inspired, synthesized blue-eyed soul of "Everything She Wants" that provide the thrill ride here, as do other early nuggets "Wham Rap! Social Mix" and "Bad Boys." The seven-minute "Freedom (Long Mix)" and the pure silliness of "I'm Your Man" round out this superior set. With more than enough synths and tongue-in-cheeky innuendo to satisfy any club-groover, 12" Mixes is unmitigated in its purpose, and proof enough that, no matter how much the duo were laughed out of serious circles of the time, they were nearly single-handedly responsible for revitalizing a tired dance-oriented youth. That's not a shabby legacy. © Amy Hanson /TiVo
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