The Wham! interview “Wham! Teen Dreams Come True” was written by Paolo Hewitt for New Musical Express (NME) on June 18, 1983.
A sense of humour? Clubs, parties and late nights? Five months to write ‘Bad Boys’? What is with these WHAM! guys? PAOLO HEWITT steps into his best dance routine and checks for George and Andy’s disco dilemmas.
They sat in the kitchen, the pair of them, sullen and miserable, unable to communicate with each other.
The best of friends always, but tonight there was a wide gap between them, something they had never experienced before and it truly frightened them.
George knew what depressed Andy. Unemployment. He could see clearly the effects upon his friend’s usual ebullient nature. He felt sympathy for his friend, but he also felt confused by his refusal to fight.
Granted, the dole was no fun in any book you might care to mention. Hours of tedium, lack of funds, loss of vision all contributed to wearing your spirit down. But why couldn’t Andy at least make a token effort to face up to it.
George had. He was a part time DJ by night, and a part time cinema attendant by day. In between, he went swimming and wrote songs. He’d never felt fitter. Andy, on other other hand, didn’t want to know, refused to find work, any work, just to earn a little cash, to take up some of his time instead of moping all day long.
Andy wasn’t convinced. He could see George’s point, but why work at some crap job he’d hate the minute he started? What was the point? Sure, he needed the money, not least to get his nagging parents off his back. But to get it by slogging your brains out for some callous boss?
Thanks, but no thanks. There was more to it that that. He’d rather stay in bed. Keep warm. Hide from his parents. At least that way he could ignore the world.
So they sat there, in the kitchen, a painstaking silence between them, both fumbling mentally for some mutual ground and a common resolve. Then Andy smiled. He looked at George and he smiled, and in that one second, both friends knew everything was alright again. They’d survive.
“Mind you,” says George Michael now – “if we hadn’t have spent our time like that, ‘Wham Rap’ would never have happened.”
HUMOUR, IT was their sense of humour that attracted George and Andy to each other at their school in Bushey.
“When we first met,” Andy recalls, “I used to go round Yog’s (his nickname for George) house, and we used to make these tapes from the radio stations. We used to incorporate the agony hour and they’re hysterical. They’re like Monty Python tapes.”
Both boys came from middle class backgrounds and subsequently had a lot of pressure put upon them to succeed academically. From the age of 12, though, both ignored their parents wishes. Instead, they fooled around a lot, discovered girls and alcohol.
“There was a summer of five or six parties,” says Andy, “from the end of school to the beginning of school with everyone getting totally wrecked and it was really good, some great parties then.”
In 1978 they became soul boys. At 15 punk meant nothing to them. Discos and clubs were far more attractive propositions. Until, that is, McFadden and Whitehead released ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’.
“That was the record,” says George, “that slowed everything down. It literally slowed everything down and we thought, ****ing hell this is getting a bit dodgy.”
AS SOUL moved into jazz-funk and resulting in serious overtones, George and Andy – apart from the odd record like Stacy Lattishaw’s ‘Jump To The Beat’ – put away their baggy trousers and formed a ska group called The Executive.
“It was the next thing that was really good and energetic,” comments Andy.
Backed by local musicians, George and Andy were the two front vocalists who wrote the material.
“We had some quite good ska numbers actually,” says George. “The arrangements were really poor because they were the first songs we’d written. But a couple of them could have been really big hits. If someone had been clever enough to pick us up, organise us properly, we could have had some really big hits.
“I’m really pleased we didn’t. We got very close, as far as we know, because we had a manager who took a demo that hadn’t really been mixed to all the record companies and, as far as we could tell, got very close to Arista with Go Feet. We were really pleased for a couple of weeks, but then the band broke up. One of the stories from that, which is quite ironic, is that our repertoire which was on the tape, included a version of ‘Can’t Get Used To Losing You’.
“After the deal had fallen through I saw in a magazine, months afterwards, that it was coming out on the new Beat album. I thought, ****ing hell I can’t believe it. I was really ****ed off.
“But to be totally honest there are two things that made me think it was pure coincidence. One is, we did it really badly. We did it really fast; and the other thing is that when Dave Wakeling sings it, he sings it so much like Andy Williams that you get the impression that he was an actual Andy Williams fan, in which case it might have been a total coincidence.
“But it was really ironic that at the same time we were in the top five with ‘Bad Boys’ they were there also there with that. Really strange.”
Apart from “embarrassing tapes and photos” of The Executive now in the boys’ possession, the band was something of a local success. They were bad, but never that bad to get hysterical reactions, and they also had a lot of fun.
“The funniest gig,” says Andy, “was at my college. We had already gone on there with a band called Fizz who Imagination were born out of. Two of them, Ashley and Lee, were in it. It was hysterical because they walked into this dressing room with the big sunglasses and the wet perm, waltzing in with cashmere coats saying they’d just come off a tour of America.
“We,” says George, “just sat there behind this wall killing ourselves laughing.”
For this particular show, The Executive’s guitarist and bassist had thoughtfully decided to quit the band two days before. George had to go on bass and learn the set at a soundcheck, and Andy had to sing alone. Two numbers into the show, George had forgotten all the right notes. So he did the next best thing. He sang the notes whilst the crowd sang back.
Andy, meanwhile, had nipped back into the dressing room and reappeared in a kilt, his hair in a bow, wearing a baggy white shirt two sizes too big, and started dancing around, occasionally remembering to sing a verse.
They went down a storm, but success didn’t go to their heads. The band broke up a month later.
“The record that put us back into a funk, get down baby, blow my mind thang,” chuckles Andy, “was The Gap Band’s ‘Burn Rubber’. I was sitting in the bath listening to Capital Radio’s Best Disco and I heard this track and it was such an absolute breakaway from all the rest of the real MOR s—, I couldn’t believe it. I went out and bought it the next day.”
Socially, they stuck to each other, plus their girl vocalist Shirley and a childhood friend of George’s, David. They’d mix with others, but it was this four who comprised their tight knit circle, in the clubs and discos.
IN FEBRUARY of 1982; that all changed.
George and Andy had put together a tape of three of their songs. To be exact, they’d put together a tape which contained about ten seconds each of ‘Wham Rap’, ‘Come On’ and ‘Club Tropicana’. It was more an advertising jingle than a proper demo tape.
After hawking it around the usual record companies, a new company called Innervisions picked them up, and in March that year signed them. Months later, ‘Wham Rap’ was released – a disco, half-serious, half-joke look at unemployment. Instead of propagating one viewpoint (dole=bad, or dole=good), ‘Wham Rap’ put the case for both points.
“There are two very strong standpoints in it,” says George. “One was the chorus which said basically, don’t put me down because I haven’t got a job. It`s not my fault I haven’t got a job and it doesn’t matter anyways, as long as I’m being constructive with my time. The other half said in the verses isn’t it marvellous to be on the dole and made out that it is hip; cool soul guys, got no money but you’re really cool. Which is all a load of bollocks because there’s very few people like that about.
“One half of it takes the **** out of being on the dole, the idea that it’s good, when it’s not, and the other half is saying you should be on the dole rather than have a s— job.
“So it’s totally contradictory lyric, but each part is right.”
The record did nothing. Zilch. It nearly killed them. Like so many artists, they blamed their record company for not promoting them well enough. No build up, no hit.
As winter approached, they issued ‘Young Guns’, the follow up. WHAM! A HIT!
Tongues still planted firmly in their collective cheek, ‘Guns’ amusingly examined young relationships and troubles they can bring. A great dance record, Wham appeared on Top Of the Pops with an exhilarating dance routine that caught the eye and imagination.
But there were still problems with CBS, Innervision’s distributor.
“The best illustration of the really good job CBS can do,” remarks Andy, “is that when we were at 24 they ran out of records. They hadn’t printed enough to meet the demand, and we know that because George’s cousin worked in an Our Price shop and we always used to check. We used to check in HMV and every shop we could and they said no, we haven’t got any records. They ran out of records and we were at 24!”
Bad feelings aside, George and [Andrew], along with Shirley and Dee on dance and song routines, had established themselves with a vigour and energy that beautifully captured their obsession with youth topics.
Five months later, after working solidly on their debut LP, the third single ‘Bad Boys’ was put out. Most people felt that it was a poor parody of the first two songs; that they’d run out of ideas. Rumours circling claimed that George had dried up whilst accusations of contrivance with image and song filled the air.
When their debut LP ‘Fantastic’ is released, a lot of people will choke on their words.
It’s a stunning vindication of George’s and Andy’s ability to produce a black based music that covers various shifts in style but loses none of its identity. The three singles apart, ‘Nothing Looks the Same In The Light’ demonstrates George’s ballad side with touching sensitivity; ‘Sunshine’ his immaculate soul/pop roots; his vocals on the Miracles ‘Love Machine’ are nothing short of brilliant; whilst the next single, ‘Club Tropicana’, with its Latin jazz-funk shuffle, looks certain to be the summer song. Well, at least one of them.
‘Fantastic’ is a powerful, confident debut that will shatter a few illusions and create a few more. It will establish George Michael as a great singer and Andy Ridgeley as the perfect foil to his songwriting talents.
And I still think ‘Bad Boys’ is their best single. Yet.
A NICE sunny day in West London, Andy in his normal good mood, George a little more serious, a little more concerned. We sit outside the pub, order drinks and talk about Wham! Are they contrived?
“What can you do?” sighs George. “What can you tell people? We’re both young. We’ve written about what you go through when you’re young. When we get accused of things like that you’d think we were both 30 or something, walking round pretending we’re 19. I do understand that people have to have a go at you when you’re established. I think they could have a go at us for losing the freshness we had on ‘Wham Rap’, because we both realise that it’s not there.
“We realise that it was a fluke or simply the excitement of getting into a studio for the first time. But it’s something that you can’t recapture just like that. Whenever you get inspired, as it were, you’re going to come up with something. I think ‘Wham Rap’ was inspired. I don’t think the other stuff has been inspired, but I think they’ve been good pop records.
With ‘Bad Boys’, although it’s become the best seller George knew it would be, both admit that their critics might have a point.
“I think there’s more energy to ‘Bad Boys’ than there is to ‘Young Guns’. We wanted to take the energy we had on ‘Wham Rap’ and the commerciality of ‘Young Guns’ and put them together. I personally don’t like ‘Bad Boys’ as much as I wanted to, but I knew it would sell really well.”
Like of their songs, ‘Boys’ was concocted in the studio over a long period of time. It’s an expensive process because, more likely than not, George will scrap a day’s work rather than keep it if he feels, in the vaguest sense, dissatisfied.
Four songs actually recorded were scrapped at the last minute.
“It happenes all the time,” George admits nonchalantly. “That’s why ‘Bad Boys’ took months and months because I was under such pressure personally to follow up ‘Young Guns’ and not disappoint people. At the same time I didn’t want to make another ‘young Guns’. I just got totally confused and through that confusion I had to write parts for all the various things I hadn’t done yet.
“It took a long time because I’d do a part and sit there and say no, it’s not good. But the advantage to that is whenever I feel like that, I go for so long that whatever comes out at the end has to be right, so right that I know it without any doubt of having to ask Andy.
That’s what happened with the album, and that’s why I kept fighting and fighting, doing different things and then wiping them out completely and starting all over again.”
To George’s painstaking approach, which meant staying up 48 hours on the last days of recording to have the LP finished in time, Andy acts a vital catalyst, offering advice, support and opinion. On his own admission he’s “not as good a songwriter as George”.
But he is a main part in wham’s lyrical technique of taking a subject matter, pertinent to youth, and blowing it out of all proportion. The sexism of ‘Young Guns’ for instance, or the line on ‘Bad Boys’, ‘I’m handsome, tall and strong’ had stuck in many people’s minds.
“I can’t believe that anyone would take that line seriously,” says George in disbelief.
“Some people’s sense of humour,” offers Andy, isn’t the same as ours and they won’t get it. Simple as that. You can’t expect everyone to get the joke. Most people will and that’s the purpose of exaggerating it, to make it that much clearer. But there’ll always be someone who doesn’t get the ****ing joke.”
“Exactly,” agrees George. “The whole arrogance of that kind of line is all part of being a teenager. Some of the most attractive people, the most interesting people you’re ever going to meet are often the most confident. It’s just part of youth. There are loads of people going round like that. Everyone knows that time when you feel really, really confident. When you think about it, it’s probably a load of s—, but you just feel really good at that point and that’s part of growing up and feeling you’re your own person.
“A line like ‘handsome, tall and strong’ is saying it totally straight and thinking, what a ! I think anyone who susses the records at all knows that’s not a serious line. The sexism in ‘Young Guns’ was all ****ing tongue in cheek. People didn’t get it.” He shrugs his shoulders.
As long as people like his music, the lyrics are secondary in many ways. Although he won’t insult his or Andy’s intelligence by writing cliched disco lines.
THIS APPROACH, however, surely disguises anything George or Andy might want to comment on, their true intentions. ‘Bad Boys’ for instance could leave the listener in doubt.
“But then half those macho blokes,” argues George, “would think they’re one of us, but the other half you’re being a lot stronger with them. You’re saying, we’re not just criticising, we’re taking the ****, so it balances out. I don’t think we’re disguising things, I think it makes for a funnier record. We don’t want to preach to anyone.”
“We’ve tried to stress it to so many people,” Andy interrupts, “that we don’t want to be a UB40 or that kind of, eh, left field band. We want to make pop records; we want to be a successful band and make records that people enjoy, and not essentially for the lyric. What it boils down to is popular tunes are the tunes that everybody finds easy to hum along to.”
But lyrics still play a large part in your appeal.
“Exactly,” Andy agrees, “but they’re secondary to the melodies. We’re relatively intelligent people, so it would be an insult to ourselves to write s—-y lyrics. We want to write a lyric that’s interesting to us and amusing. We could try and write heavy political lyrics, but we wouldn’t get any enjoyment out of it. What it boils down to is the main thing Yog and I have in common: our sense of humour. That’s what interests us and that’s what goes down on record.”
The next single, ‘Tropicana’ follows a similar method. Using the press hysteria to the Beat Route last summer, it inflates the myth of a perfect club.
“I don’t think anyone is going to see it,” George remarks, “because I don’t think it means anything to anyone but us. It was written about the Beat Route and at the time the press were making so many things out of clubs, as though a club was suddenly a paradise when it’s just another way of spending an evening, probably the best way of spending an evening, but it’s not that brilliant.
“So I thought I’d make one about the Beat Route and that is what that line about ‘rub shoulders with the stars’ was all about. Everyone was saying you can go to the Beat Route and see Spandau! Steve Strange! So we made out that you could get a suntan there, there was a beach there and your drinks were free. Everything was in this club.”
With the release of ‘Tropicana’, Wham will also be undertaking a new skin. For a start Dee and Shirley will be absent.
“I think that ‘Bad Boys’ is definitely the last thing that they’ll go on Top Of The Pops and do because one, they’ve got other things that they want to do, and two, because people have got to see us as less of a dance troupe and more as a band. I think it matters.”
Why? A dance troupe is far more interesting than a band these days.
“Because,” George explains, “we’re being seen by so many people on a visual level. We’re like a very young version of Bucks Fizz. Two blokes and two girls who worked well visually, only we had the credibility that we were club dancing and we were very young. So that was different. When we did ‘Young Guns’ everybody said it was so different and that’s why the record sold so quickly afterwards. But when you do something so different it gets boring twice as quickly.”
FROM THE outset it was always Wham’s ambition to present themselves in a different light to others. In a lot of areas they’ve succeeded, in some they’ve failed. Simple matters like all three singles being present and correct on the LP grate somewhat. Both were against the idea, they claim, but opinion shifted their objections.
“So many people said it,” George says. “People who had no interest in telling us that we’ve got such a large kids audience and they really want to hear the whole catalogue. I would feel guilty about it, only I think there’s much more quality on the album.”
And similarly, their video for ‘Bad Boys’. Isn’t it a bit Michael Jackson circa ‘Beat It’, boys?
Not intentional, they claim. Various mistakes by the video people ensured that their idea to parody West Side Story ended up as a straight Jackson copy. It won’t happen, again. Promise.
What will happen, however, is that later on in the year Wham will undertake their debut tour. They speak with enthusiasm of their ideas to have a 15-piece accompany them, how a DJ (current hot tip Capital’s busy Gary Crowley) will open the show with an hour of disco, and then, after the group have played, keep spinning so the show becomes more of a disco event, and how unseen Wham videos will be shown throughout the evening.
“We’ve got to be cautious,” says George, “to the extent that we’ve never done it before. So you can’t be arrogant about what you’re going to do on tour before you get out there. But if it goes the way we plan, and everything else has so far, then it will be great.”
Also on the horizon is a solo offering from George Michael which will be released later this year. It’s a song that has been written years (and talked about in these very pages eight months ago), a soul ballad that wouldn’t suit Wham in their present format.
“It’s probably going to be bigger,” asserts George, “than anything we’ve done before. The thing is, I just love the idea of being able to keep the identity of the band consistent singles wise. We’ve already got plans for the single that comes out next year as the first 1984 Wham single, and it will be a really stark contrast to my single; apart from which – I don’t want to sound calculating – but if we had released this song at the end of the year as Wham, you can lose your audience when you don’t need to. You can turn them off the records you do afterwards by changing direction totally.”
A NICE sunny day in London. We order more drinks and talks about parents, money and success.
“I haven’t had hassles from my mum for years, since I was about 14,” admits George. “But I’ve had hassles with my dad, and it only stopped when he realised I had a financial future, because he’s a very financial person. He thought that I wasn’t capable of supporting myself because he never had any belief that I was talented.
“I could understand that because he’s not musical at all, so he’s got nothing to base it on. Being a parent, and fearing the worst, he thought I would be one of the thousands who try forever and never get anything. Now he can see some result, see me in the papers and on telly and hear people talking about large amounts of money. He’s not worried anymore.”
He turns to Andy, his closest friend. “You seem to get on worse now, don’t you.”
“Yeah, I get on well with my mum… I don’t get to see much of them actually. It’s not so much my parents; I don’t like home.”
Is money important to you, George?
“It`s not at all, actually. I was talking to someone about our deal, we’ve got a terrible one, and I was saying I could get really stubborn with the record company over finance. I’m doing it because I hate the idea of the record company ripping us off, but I don’t really give a s— about the money. As long as I’m comfortable.
“Like Andrew enjoys luxury a lot more than I do. It matters to him that the places we stay in, he notices all the trimmings.”
“I think,” says Andy aghast, “I ought to enlarge on this otherwise people might get the wrong impression.”
“I don’t think so,” says George laughing. “I think that’s fairly accurate. You do. Come off it! You’re really excited about a lot of money.”
“There’s certain things, but it depends on what you call a lot of money. I want to be comfortable, I want to do the things I want to do and half of those things take a lot of money.”
“Oh yeah, but it does excite you a lot more.”
“But only because it allows me to expand that much more.”
“But look at your car, Andy! Look at the car. Listen to this. Tell him what you’re going to have done to your car. Have you got the guts?” taunts George with a smile.
“Actually I had one of the wheels sprayed gold,” Andy says a little ashamedly, “and it doesn’t look too good…I was going to have the wheels sprayed gold and have AJR monogramed on one side.”
“You see what I mean? That is fairly indicative of Andrew.”
Andrew protests. “It only applies to cars because I have an absolute fascination for cars. I don’t understand them, but I love cars. One of the things I’d like to do is try my hand at motor racing because I love speed. I love that sort of thing. But I’m not an avaricious person, incredibly ambitious or incredibly greedy, I just want to be able to do some of the things I want to do.”
“I think you’ll eventually be a lot more extravagant than me,” muses George. “You’ll probably have a much nicer house where I probably won’t have the time to find one.”
“He’s right in saying that I will enjoy the money aspect more. I’ll probably utilise it a lot more than he will.”
“But the point is,” says George, “you’ve spent the money on that car. You’ve got no money now: you’re skint. You’ve got an overdraft. He’s got an overdraft. You’ve got your car, but to me it wouldn’t be worth the hassle of having an overdraft.”
“But I also know that my overdraft is so minimal that it doesn’t matter. I’m not the sort of person to get into a bad financial position, and I don’t regret getting my car because I’m so happy with it. It’s not a large overdraft by anyone’s standards.”
He looks sheepishly at George. How much is the overdraft, Andy? He looks over with a grin.
“It`s only a few hundred quid.”
And both George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley start laughing. A sense of humour. A common bond that has moulded their friendship and produced an exciting vigorous band with music to boot.
WHAM ARE a bright, colourful splash of arrogance, and enormous sound that reflects perfectly the gaiehsness, sweet and excitement of disco.
They’ve tried to capture the essence of youth and come as close as you can get and they’ve grown up considerably in the process.
‘I think it’s brilliant,’ says Andy of Wham, and he might have a point.
Meanwhile, a kitchen door is closing softly in Watford
- Wham! Nothing Looks The Same In The Night (Melody Maker, 1983)
- Wham-bushed! (Record Mirror, 1983)
- Wham! Interview: The Odd Couple (Sounds, 1983)
- George Michael: Artist or Airhead? (Musician, 1988)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)