The Wham! interview “The Odd Couple” was written by Dave McCullough for Sounds magazine on October 8, 1983.
A fashionable studio in London. Long hairs everywhere, ordering drugs on the phone, talking in put-on Cockney accents about getting “REALLY smashed” that night. A sea of AC/DC tee shirts. I want to scream.
Wham! are somewhere in the bowels of this frightful place rehearsing for their upcoming tour. An assistant who gets on my goat by calling me “mate” leads me into the studio where Wham! are letting loose. How can they keep themselves real in a place like this? Once in the studio the answer is obvious. There’s George in the centre of a group of musicians bellowing away like there’s no tomorrow. The sound is so powerful, so MEANT, you actually expect the four walls to bulge out with the passion involved. They glide through ‘Come On!’ (the weakest track off ‘Fantastic’, and even it sounds amazing in rehearsal) then cut into ‘Wham! Rap’ and finally the disco classic ‘Good Times’ (“We’re doing this one to let people see where we got the ‘Wham! Rap’ riff from!”). There’s every indication from my brief viewing of the rehearsals that this could be the fiercest soul due to hit the live stage in this country since Hall And Oates first toured, pre-punk rock, in the Seventies. There is that same strong hint of two impressive looking guys taking an audience by storm with a more than impressive music.
Certainly, in an age of rock uglies, Wham! represent Style. When there is so much contemporary music that not only feels but looks as if it’s from the gutter, and is from the gutter, Wham! present a genuine classiness. They are a true off-shoot from ’76 punk rock. Their music is full of dignity and an upstanding feeling that rises above cliché. They have a useful naivete still that the likes of Respond would give their eye-teeth to successfully imitate. They have it because they are not rock ‘n roll — they only glance across the border now and again, they keep mostly to their disco and pop fields which are, helpfully, disregarded by rock bores. They have the room and the space to be brilliant and enduring — if only they can keep a safe distance.
George is a bit tubby; Andrew, who just glided into the rehearsals with his guitar at a late stage (as if he’s not important?) has a crooked arch on his nose which the glossy pictures avoid. I ask George about the four girl fans he’d talked about on the Russell Harty show who’d camped-out on his front lawn.
“The amazing thing was, just as I said, that I noticed they were, all four of them, sitting in the front row of the television studio glaring at me! In fact my mum and dad, who were also there, had to give them a lift home. I told my mum, ‘You really shouldn’t have done that you know!’…”
Revision: at a third glance they are both very HANDSOME.
What will the live show be like?
George: “We’ll have DJ Gary Crowley at each end of it, a video section in the middle, which we’re doing this weekend. A kind of biography section it’ll be, showing us as kids with our families and things… It’s like, there are now three or four British rock acts who have been elevated to this same stage with screaming girls and that, the whole star bit. I suppose it’s obvious that we’ve done a few things that’ll put us in that bracket on this tour. You can deal with it in one of two ways. You can do the Duran Duran thing; or you can use that audience’s enthusiasm to bring them closer to you and get more of yourself across.
“The main point of the show will be to communicate as much as possible. That’s why we’re doing the biog. bit, to let them know some more about us. As opposed to just standing there and getting screamed at…”
Do you see anything wrong in that?
George: “Not wrong, really … a group like Duran give girls a lot of pleasure, I suppose. I just think it could be done in a better way. In a more constructive way. You see, it depends if you WANT to communicate with your audience. A lot of bands don’t, simply…”
Andrew, nursing a bad cold: “And you don’t HAVE to do it, that’s the thing. This audience probably won’t expect it. You give ’em more, and I don’t know how they’ll take it…”
George: “The last time this sort of thing happened to groups, as far as I can remember, was the Bay City Rollers, Sweet and that. But no-one’s gone to the extent of doing anything OTHER than getting on stage and getting screamed at. We don’t know whether it will work yet. The fact that we’re accessible might take us away from that status…”
George: “I mean personally. Clearly Duran Duran are very inaccessible. It’s all linked to stardom, the ‘untouchable’ bit. It doesn’t appeal to us very much. Stardom does! But not the coldness that goes with it. I dunno. Maybe girls don’t want to know you any better. Maybe they prefer to dream about you, have their own idea of you…”
Do you expect to get anyone else other than the girl element turning-up at the gigs — punks, for instance?
George: “I don’t think we’re any less credible than we were a year ago. But I suppose when you get that girl audience you’ll tend to lose your credibility with other people, who maybe think you’ve set out especially to get the audience. Which hasn’t been the case with us at all… I’m disappointed in a way because nearly 50 per cent of the venues will be seated. We wanted to get standing places, but there again they can be more dangerous I think, people getting crushed and things… I don’t feel a responsibility for people getting hysterical about us, but I do feel a responsibility about making sure we do everything so that none of them gets hurt. Cos some of them, as we found out at a seven minute PA appearance at the Lyceum, will do anything to get near you, get crushed, anything…”
Wham!’s impressive central thrust in their music doesn’t come from any strong political, change-the-world motive. It’s more to do with the way they (superbly) arrange their music.
George: “I don’t think people realise yet how carefully we arrange our stuff. A lot of people still don’t know we write it! I still get people coming up saying, Who wrote that ‘Bad Boys’ for you? The arranging part comes from obsessively listening to records since I was seven or eight. It’s all up here (taps skull) by now, I know the sound I want to hear. I did musical theory at school for an O-level. But I was no good at maths, so I just scraped by in it. I’ve forgotten it all, I literally couldn’t tell you right now what half the notes are on a stave. Also, I can hear a lot of up-and-coming acts now who I can TELL are gradually learning theory, bit by bit on each successive record you can hear it come through. They structure their chords, it starts getting very ‘correct’. Which I think makes it dull. Better if it’s all up there (retaps cranium). That’s one of the reasons why I’m trying NOT to learn keyboards. I feel I ought to but if I do it I’ll theory again and I really don’t want to…”
What was the atmosphere like as you went in to do ‘Fantastic’? It’s an exceptional LP. I would expect you to be on a real ‘up’…
George: “I was really pissed off with things. In fact I was pissed off after we did it, I didn’t think I liked it… I still think the strain shows on ‘Bad Boys’. That song sounds too much as if I’d thought it out from start to finish, bar for bar. Compared to ‘Young Guns’ or ‘Wham! Rap’ which just happened. They were incredibly spontaneous. As an arranger I think ‘Bad Boys’ sounds too busy and TOO arranged. And that’s why the next single, which will probably be around by February next year will have to be rawer again and closer to ‘Wham! Rap’. You see, I realise we’re drifting slowly into … I think a lot of people, because of ‘Wham! Rap’, [thought we] just were more subversive than we really are. Since ‘Bad Boys’ our personalities have come across more and people can see that we’re not that subversive as far as our aims go. But I don’t mean that, as a result, we’re going to become more and more mainstream. ‘Tropicana’ lead some people to think that, but that’s one of our oldest songs. It all means the next single’s got to be much harder hitting…”
You’re in a very powerful position. Out of mainstream of what I’ll loosely call political rock, yet carrying a political edge that appears every so often. I would describe you as a punk group…
Andrew: “I saw what you meant when you wrote that in a review. It’s an attitude really, it has a lot to do with youth rather than any political overtones that you might find in punk…
George: “Also, I don’t think we take ourselves as seriously as others do. Because we can see if you bring it down to a basic level what we’re doing is entertainment. There is a great deal of skill to that, but it doesn’t stop you injecting your own personalities into the music once in a while just to show people that it isn’t just that…”
Apart from having a classy music, Wham! are about having an added bonus. A little chink of change and education that comes through every so often that satisfies my theory that rock music is about the briefest, most clipped things ever. Wham! are nimble, and when they hit they hit hard. They have the spaciousness to operate allowed them from NOT being rock ‘n roll, and they make look positively clumsy current mainstream attempts to change the world. The best way to change things is not to seem to. Also, importantly, they are a duo. An even balance, if you like.
Andrew doesn’t write much material: what’s his role?
George” “He’s very important to the set-up. Everyone, the record company even, ask, Why is Andrew in the group at all? What does he DO? But if Andrew wasn’t as important as I’m telling you he is it would be easy, it wouldn’t be ‘Wham!’, it’d simply be ‘George Michael’. I suppose he injects an edge and a humour to the stuff. I’m definitely a different person without Andrew and he’s a different person without me and it’s whatever comes out of that relationship that is Wham!”
Key question: Will you get messed up?
Andrew: “What by? All this? NAH!”
George: “I was getting messed up earlier this year. We had no manager or anything. I had to get away from it all…”
Andrew: “We’re not particularly interested in having exotic life-styles or anything.”
George: “There’s no doubt though that we’re changing slowly, because you can’t help it. Because the people around you make you change as a result of success.”
Andrew: “If we were more rock ‘n roll, if you like, then we might be more susceptible to change.”
George: “We’re not liggers. We still live at home, our families are very important to us. Also, if we lived in town, it would be different…”
‘Club Tropicana’ was an obvious hitting out at the pretensions of the London club scene…
George: “There is definitely something wrong with the club scene. It’s elitism I think, I can’t put my finger on it. At the same time, up until recently at any rate, I loved the atmosphere of those places, there was a kind of danger to them. Nowadays, because they haven’t a clue what the Next Big Thing is going to be, because there hasn’t been any NEXT in ages, they don’t know what the hell to do. It’s quite laughable actually. The trendiest thing to be in those places right now is untrendy! They play the Wombles and think they’re not being pretentious when of course they can’t really escape being anything else! They can’t get rid of it…”
George: “It’s important to look good. Glamour’s come back, no doubt about it, and it’s abused to a certain extent. People using it to elevate themselves to a fantasy level.”
Andrew: “It has to be classy, that’s the thing.”
George: “It’s an aesthetic talent you’re born with, I suppose. It isn’t enough, obviously. Take Bowie right now, for instance. I think he’s better now at looking good than he is at making music, which is wrong somehow…”
George: “Right now I’m sorely tempted to write something expressing disapproval with the obvious wrongs that are going on in this country. Then again I think about it and I don’t think that would be right. You could be throwing an opinion at people who might now necessarily want to hear it…”
George: “Did you see the Animals? That kinda thing is absolutely pitiful. We’ve already made up our mind what stardom’s all about. It’s a by-product, it’s a great laugh, it’ll make the next few years a lot of fun for us, the teenybop thing will pass over and we’ll still be together making good music.”
Andrew: “I think if you hang on to your basic views, those you had at the start, you stand a good chance of coming out of the whole thing balanced. Our watch phrase is: If it wasn’t us, it would be somebody else.”
What don’t you like about rock music?
George: “Its elitism, whereby rock music looks down on pop. And the space that’s given to people’s views BECAUSE they’re so-called rock stars. Also rock seems to have a set of standards and structures that pop doesn’t.”
Andrew: “Rock ‘n’ roll to me means ‘Backstage’, ‘Groupies’, ‘The Coke, Man’, ‘Throwing Guitars Out Windows’. It’s abysmal! And the way you can spot your typical rock relic, the leather jacket/tight black pants/long hair/white basketball boot mob is basically just WRONG. It’s psychotic really…”
We agree at the end that the only thing harmful about Wham!’s present teenybop worship is if it’s harmful to them, the group, and prevents them going on to make great music.
George: “You can’t make fun records if you’re not having fun.”
Andrew: “Everything we’ve just talked about seems to come down to: ‘What is friendship?'”
George: “And what this is probably the biggest selling friendship in years!”
I tell them before they heard back into the studio that I want ten albums from them over the years. Ten at least.
- Wham!: A Meaningful Relationship (Sunday Magazine, 1984)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- Andrew Ridgeley on Life With and After Wham! (Hello!, 1997)
- Graham Norton Interview with George Michael (2003)
- Last Wham! Interview: No. 1 Magazine (1986)