In the Smash Hits 1985 Yearbook, George Michael was interviewed by Neil Tennant and Peter Martin about his songwriting process in a piece called “How to Write a Hit in 4 Easy Lessons. For obvious reasons, only the interview with George is included below.
It’s not that easy, actually. Writing a pop song can be the work of a few minutes or a painstaking process lasting several months. It all depends on a mixture of inspiration and hard work. Paul Weller, Morrissey, George Michael and Gary Kemp are four consistently successful songwriters. Here they’ve each chosen one of their own lyrics to illustrate how – and why – they go about writing their songs.
“My favourite lyric is on the B-side of the original 12” of ‘Wham! Rap’. It was quite hard, something that we felt very strongly about at the time.
“I realise that I’m not a poet, I’m a songwriter, so what I do now – realising I can’t go on writing lyrics that mean an awful lot to people – is write, with pride, in a style that will suit a certain type of song. It should go perfectly with the record, be catchy and sound good. There’s a definite way to write hooky words as well as melodies. It’s a craft and I concentrate on that. Whatever I do, I want to be the best at.
“I see that ‘Wham! Rap’ and ‘Wake Me Up…’ work in two totally different areas. ‘Wham! Rap’, with its lyric, is slightly left-of-field and that’s not where my real love of music lies. Classic pop songs with brilliant voices – old Supremes’ records, some seventies’ records – that’s what really sends a shiver down my spine. That’s what I’m working towards and ‘Wake Me Up…’ is much better in that sense.
“More specifically, my favourite lines in ‘Wham! Rap’ were: ‘Hey everybody now listen to me/Cut the radio bullshit, this is side B.’ In other words: I can say this ’cause it’s not on the radio. It’s basic message was: we don’t need this crap and also anti-apathy. It was saying that adults were throwing all this apathy at us and saying: ‘Look at the poor unemployed’. It was like someone trying to be New York hip but talking about something very English. We chose rap as the way to do it because otherwise we’d have sounded like Chas and Dave and it flowed better. It was also supposed to be very tongue-in-cheek.
“‘Wham! Rap’, ‘Young Guns’ and ‘Bad Boys’ were all meant to be very tongue-in-cheek. With ‘Wham! Rap’ I still feel that the anti-apathy message is very important, but ‘Young Guns’ and ‘Bad Boys’ were making very flimsy statements. So I was very disappointed when all these people came up to me, saying we’d really sold out after ‘Bad Boys’, because I was thinking: what were you holding on to in the first place? There really wasn’t a lot there. It was just a pop song, you know. When it came to ‘Wake Me Up…’ I decided to shatter this illusion once and for all and write a really good pop lyric – get milkmen singing it – and it worked.
“Lyrics are very secondary now, I usually think of the tune first. But when I wrote the Unsocial Mix we were unemployed. I saw that funk was on its way back so we tried to make the music typically disco – this didn’t come off, though, ’cause we didn’t know how to do it then – but sing something typically undisco over it. And I thought, the dole, right? But the actual song is totally contradictory because the verse says: ‘Hey, the dole, it’s great running around with the government’s money.’ And the chorus says: ‘You can’t slag me down ’cause I haven’t got a job – it doesn’t make me any less of a man.’ I didn’t think much about it, I just put down the lines I thought were funny and that was that.”
- Wham! Teen Dreams Come True (NME, 1983)
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- George Michael Article about ‘Wham! Rap’ (Smash Hits, 1985)
- Wham!: Tan-Tastic (Record Mirror, 1983)
- Emma Thompson on George Michael and the ‘Last Christmas’ Movie