The article Wham! written by Adrian Thrills was published by the New Musical Express on June 19, 1982.
ADRIAN THRILLS hears how two people called WHAM! are taking soul off the dole and into the pop charts.
FIVE FLOORS up from the chic cafes and slick shopfronts of London’s opulent South Moulton Street, two young musicians meet daily to pool resources and make plans.
Singer George Michael and guitarist Andrew Ridgeley are the founder members of the Wham! organisation, a dynamic duo dedicated to delivering the breath of fresh air that they believe Britain’s youth now demands.
Their West End rendezvous is the office of Innervision Records, the label which recently released their remarkable debut single ‘Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do?)’, an exhilarating exercise in impatient pop percolation and the sort of record that restores one’s faith in the capacity of the single suddenly to throw up hitherto unheralded teenage talent.
Produced by Bob Carter – the man behind the Linx and Junior albums – the record is fiery and febrile, frothy and effervescent. On a good club sound system, it springs from the speakers with a power and precision that makes most mainstream jazz-funk flotsam sound like the tame and tepid slush that it is.
The song itself is a stinging attack on the stigma of unemployment. Rather than moan about the miserly prospects facing the jobless school leaver, however, Wham! sing of soul on the dole; of having a good time in spite of the hard times. Youth, they argue, is too previous to waste: “Do you enjoy what you do?/If not, just stop./Don’t stand there and rot!”
The duo’s message, prompted by their own experiences on the dole, is sincere, although it is not without its tongue-in-cheek
“It’s not a totally serious song. It’s not a matter of us saying that this is what people should be doing. If people take the song too seriously, they’ll wonder what we’re on about because there are a lot of contradictions in there.”
“And a lot of intentional cliches too,” adds Andy. “The song was originally going to be a real parody of a disco rap, but once we got into the studio, that all changed and we went for a much harder, more aggressive sound.”
“What we are saying in the song is that unemployment is there,” continues George. “And, for all the campaigning that everyone is doing, it’s not going to go away. What we should be doing is educating people into how to deal with it, how to use their leisure time. If you’re not going to be able to do anything about it, you might as well have a laugh about it. We managed to do that quite well when we were on the dole. It is possible to have a reasonable time without that much money. If a lot of your mates are on the dole too, you can have quite a good time.”
Certain people might find the song – and the Wham! attitude – mildly offensive. How do they answer charges that they are
“The song is certainly not meant to be patronising,” says George. “I mean, we were unemployed when we wrote it. I think that people will see the humour in it. It might offend older people, the sort of people who think that a hard day’s work is the only way to earn a living.
“My parents seem to swear by the work ethic. At one time I had a part-time job as a DJ and a cinema usher. I was earning pretty good money, but my dad couldn’t accept it because I wasn’t getting up early every morning and going out to work.
“He kept on asking me when I was going to go out and get A Real Job. He thought it wasn’t worth it, because I wasn’t sweating for it!”
IT WAS DURING their year on the dole after leaving school in Bushey, Herts that George and Andy, both just turned 19, decided to form the Wham! organisation as a vehicle for their ideas. Their only previous musical experience had been a ska band, Executive, “which fizzled out with the 2-Tone thing”, leaving the two of them as the core of a songwriting team.
They recorded some rough demos and presented them to a friend called Mark Dean, who was in the process of setting up Innervision Records after a successful sting in the A&R department at Phonogram, where he signed ABC. Dean was impressed enough to put them into the studio with producer Carter and a pool of musicians including drummer Andy Duncan, bassist John McKenzie and saxman Chris Hunter, the sessioners who contributed to the Linx albums.
The result was eventually vinylised as ‘Wham Rap!’, the first release on Dean’s new CBS-distributed label.
“Wham! is basically just the two of us,” says Andy. “When we were putting our ideas together, we just couldn’t find anyone else who was on the same wavelength, anyone else with the same sense of humour. It was easier to stick to a team of just two. When it came to doing the single, it seemed a good idea to stick to the musicians who Bob usually worked with. In the future, though, I think we will probably assemble our own team, although I don’t think it will ever get to the stage where we have a proper fixed band.
“We want to be able to use different musicians. I like the idea of being able to change your sound for each single by using different musicians. When you have a fixed band line-up, there are always contractual problems when you try to do that.”
For producer Carter, the single’s hard-hitting abrasive edge represents something of a departure from the smoother work he has done with Linx and Junior, although the current 12” mix is supposedly not the final version – the band were this week jetting to New York to oversee an American re-mix of the track. This could become as confusing as ‘Mama Used To Say’.
“I think our appeal lies in the fact that the mood of the record isn’t bland,” says George. “We’re aiming for people who want something more than just a commercial pop single, although we also want as wide an audience as can possibly get.”
“The trouble over the past few years is that kids are trying to relate to bands with images that are much more adult than they want to be,” adds Andy.
“People are taking pop too seriously. It’s great to have slick, neat records, but there are not that many records with much guts at the moment. There aren’t many groups with a very honest image. People are going for images that are good to look at but they are things that are not really that accessible for ordinary kids to look at or have a laugh at.
“Things are all very slick and glamorous at the moment. Kids want to have a bit of glamour, something special, but they don’t want to have to pretend to be something special.
“It should be possible to have a certain glamour and be able to have a sense of humour at the same time.”
On the strength of their single, the last laughs could well be on Wham!
- Wham! Teen Dreams Come True (NME, 1983)
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- Wham! Nothing Looks The Same In The Night (Melody Maker, 1983)
- George Michael: Artist or Airhead? (Musician, 1988)
- Wham! Young Brats Go For It! (New Musical Express, 1982)