The article “The Morals of Funk” was written by Dave McCullough for Sounds magazine and published on June 26, 1982.
Wham come from Watford and their name is rather stupid. Like a big daft shout, too close to the now long-since vainglorious shout of Wylie’s WAH!, and nowhere near as subtle as the delicate inferences of McKenzie’s precise ‘Sulk’ commentary. But, then again, it too has its subtle usages.
Wham! are two guys, George Michael and Andy Ridgeley, aged 17 and 18 respectively. They see their job as more or less usurping the latest pomp and circumstance of the likes of ABC and, yes, the Associates – rather post-graduate rock in their eyes.
Andy says: “- I like ABC, but I don’t like the way they project themselves across, you know what I mean?”
Sure do. Something false frying up beneath the brillant surface; too conscious of their roots maybe, too conscious of everything. Go on Andrew…
“And the Associates: I don’t understand a thing in their lyrics. And I’ve tried and tried to get into them, but it’s like they mean nothing to our age group. They’re too complicated I suppose.”
Again, I see what he’s getting at. Associates are a hedonist’s treat. But, isn’t it like ’70s rock? Doesn’t their very cerebral effort and all those words and decorations doom them to the very thing they despise, vis-a-vis sounding quaint and old-fashioned in a few years time?
No, if you see what I’m getting at you’ll see that this Wham! isn’t as dumb as it seems and is in fact a crossover-point, and a possible new beginning all at the same time.
Less Fred Flintstone, less Batman, more of a ‘real life confrontation’. If that’s possible for a hype.
WHAM!, COMING from Watford, are a hype in so obvious a self made sense that they fall on their backsides the minute they leave the house. They’re the kind of ‘hype’ that never was that the Haircuts turned into – it’s as if they place all the problems on their own heads right at the start so that things can only get better and more honest from then on.
I like their naivete, I like their youth (makes me feel like a doddering Arthur Negus) and I guess it follows I like their music.
Wham!, ineluctably, is funk with a capital ‘F’. It would have to be! Wham! follow up the theory of Clock Dva currently by simply saying ‘Well the best music around is funk so let’s get started into that!’ They don’t mind being trendy, though; in fact they find it quite useful – again, things can’t get any worse et cetera in the ‘credibility’/cynicism stakes.
The ‘Wham! Rap’ was their first Epic single and, fitting in with our story, it got ignored. I think their company, strictly speaking the Inner Vision subsidiary of The Big Label, didn’t know what to do with them, hesitated before thinking they were a hard-core funk fanatic’s act – and finally landed them in limbo land.
This vagueness is good too, landing Wham! at just the right off-centre angle.
AR: “We want a mainstream market really. We want to balance the pop and soul angles. Make it kind of crossover, if possible for live shows and things…”
The ‘crossover’ idea: Wham! are in confrontation in the sense that they sum a lot of things up about the current (dying out?) Funk Thang that bagfuls of Pigbags could never hope to.
The Wham! thang for a start is real enjoyment: I haven’t heard a music that, on a level of sheer bopping about pleasure, has beaten this Wham! thang in ages. Again, it’s probably the duo’s youth, the fact that they were completely new to The Studio when they created the big multi-layered sound of ‘Wham! Rap’ – and the fact that they’ve satisfied themselves that they’re about that early inherent freshness of approach. They’re young tearaways and no mistake.
I spoke to Ridgeley on the phone when he was in New York trying to find a producer (unsuccessfully); it’d been the first time he’d been in the States and he, typically for the Wham! thang, said he’d taken America head on, not sleeping for days, drinking too much, ruining himself – he was, in short, ready for Watford again.
That innocent would-be decadent approach runs thoughout Wham!’s music and, again, brings them into a head on collision, which others like ABC maybe baulked at early on, with the morals of funk.
The ‘morals of funk’? I know it sounds like a Katherine Hepburn movie, but it’s right at the centre of the Wham! confrontation.
Wham! – a confrontation with reality, getting your head above the surface and hitting at the contradictions. The same thing, sorry the same thang’s summed up in the Clash’s superb ‘Overpowered By Funk’. Like Wham!, the Clash here hint at a tiny crisis in after-punk music, vis-a-vis the insidious, as Strummer say in parody, ‘asinine’ nature of funk, its trendy background overpoweringness.
And then again, it is uplifting fun! You have to almost submit to that fact, the Clash song ending in this way by really ‘getting into the funk’ groove and Strummer sounding defeated-but-happy.
Same with Wham!, only it’s their constant theme. Ridgeley poo-poos at suggestions of Wham! as a political force, but ‘knows what I mean’ when I talk about, at the very least, the ambiguity in Wham!’s first record.
Here it’s not so much the capital ‘F’ as a capital ‘P’ that stands out brashly – a poo-pooing at Politics…
‘WHAM RAP!’ was about being grounded in lovable Watford…
“On the dole for about a year, trying to scrape some money together – but finding that a lot of musicians were in the same position. In fact finding that it wasn’t that bad after all. We knew all these musicians who lived in this big house, a really nice place it was too – and they were having a great time! No, we didn’t think at all about it morally – taking money off the State or anything. But there again we felt we had to write about it. The rest of the songs aren’t that political at all in fact…”
Doesn’t really matter though, ‘Wham! Rap’ effectively is charged with that sense of contradiction that covers the entire funk scene.It`s almost obscene in its championing of being a ‘doleboy and a soulboy… don’t give a damn cos the benefit gang are gonna pay!’
Lazy sods! Layabouts! There’s a really ugly and vile lyric to ‘Wham! Rap’ that would have the wettest liberal hard pressed to approve, never mind to condone. Wham! write about laziness in a way that is hysterically, frantically vigorous, and there’s a kind of insight in the way they squeeze something from between the pressure of the two – a little toothpaste roll of a half truth.
Wham! – collision! They’re a punk act in the sense that a lot of these half-baked funk scribes talk about funk. But Wham! realise the connection in a way that’s probably too altogether real for those fashion mongers: the name ‘Wham!’ is after all as we’ve noted, dears, rather, erm, clumsy. Good thang too!
Wham! are a follow-through perhaps to Spandau’s ‘Chant No 1’ set of good ideas – good, new ones badly (or not at all) carried out.
Hearing about the London ‘club scene’ certainly, and although I`m a strict early to bedder`the whispers of it growing fiercer and more real seem to fit in with the Wham! ideology of ‘rising up to confront the contradictions’. Of an ‘earthy’ rebellion to follow on from where punk left off. Et cetera – it’s worth considering.
“We don’t approve at all of that kind of elitism in the club thing. I mean, I used to dee jay in pubs around Watford (!) and that was about it. I liked the electro-pop thing when it came along though, because I think it did get rid of an elitism that was creeping in.
“Really, we want to appeal to young kids, or people our age group. Which we don’t think anyone is doing at the moment.”
The missing link between the Ants and ABC? Wham! have the ideology and the energy to make it work – if ‘work’ is the appropriate word. The only trouble appears to be a question of what context the powers-that-(shouldn’t)-be decide to fit them into.
One has fears of Wham! as a partner of Linx et al, playing merrily encapsulated music to a set they are really too comfortable to dig very much deeper into it.
Ridgeley sounds determined though, for the ‘centre ground’. It’s certainly the place where the Wham! meat-axe (not a Meat Loaf) of a name belongs. Cutting heads and attitudes in half.
THE WHAM! dualism: how far back do you want to take it? In Ridgeley’s thinking, not that far.
“We let others do the thinking for and about us!”
But the Wham! thang is as important as 23 Skidoo’s rock searching, their sifting through the past darkly.
‘Wham! Rap’ sort of articulates the dualism you’ll find even in earliest chart pop. It cuts right down to the roots of the reality of a creative process being used explicitly, for no other reason, than to make money.
It takes the two opposites together and bangs their respective heads. And then, Wham!, it goes on to find more and more opposites, more expressing and living up to the kind of immediacy that pop was (?) originally about. Or should have been!
As opposed to ABC (and they have to be, in a sense) the duo (!) Wham! are more or less XV/?L!!! I think Watford should be proud of them, and they should be proud of Watford.
In harness, as usual.
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- Wham! Teen Dreams Come True (NME, 1983)
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- Wham! Young Brats Go For It! (New Musical Express, 1982)
- George Michael in Q Magazine Interview (October 1990)