The article “Wham! Young Brats Go For It!” by Lynn Hanna was published in the November 27, 1982 issue of New Musical Express (NME).
Straight out of school and onto the dole. Now, just over a year later, two Watford boys called Wham! are Britain’s newest pop success. Their songs are bold attacks on unemployment and adult apathy – but is it all a ploy to tap teenage disenchantment, or honest political funk? Young guns Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael explain their masterplan.
This was the week when everything went WHAM!
- …When a barbed sex battle raged on the radio and a swaggering funk single brought fresh zest to the tired charts.
- …When the macho joys of staying single were comically pitted against the lure of love.
- …When that creepy guy who insisted on interfering was told where to go by a girl who could obviously give just as good as she got…
Despite appearances, the success story of Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael is no simple triumph of charmed innocence. A strong streak of native cunning and a shrewd commercial instinct have combined with the more slap-happy element of luck in paving the way for two new conquering pop heroes. On the morning that I meet them, George and Andrew are pretty pleased with themselves, as well they might be with their first top ten single confirming them as the latest chart darlings of a nation’s young hearts. And at 19, George and Andrew are still young enough to be part of a generation whose expectations of life after education are totally different from anyone who approached adult life before the present government was elected. Almost unconsciously, Wham! celebrate a new mood that cherishes the present in the enforced absence of any permanent certainties, and they reflect the excitement of a harder, private, hidden world where ‘normal’ rules are suspended and different, darker systems are evolving. On a personal level, it’s the choice between enjoying what you do or disappearing into the depression. While certain fatuous commentators have seized upon the ‘Hard Times’ tag as an odious means of self-aggrandisement, Wham! appear to speak simply from their own experience. Such a direct, enthusiastic appeal was bound to link up with a new wave of young consumers distanced from the pop process by an increasingly dreary parade of the calculated and artificial.
Wham! come from Watford, a town on the edge of North London’s urban sprawl, where they went to the same school until Andrew left for college while George stayed in the sixth-form. Both are boys who take their pleasure-seeking extremely seriously, and it was in ’78, as they remember somewhat solemnly, that they became involved with a suburban soul scene, moving on to affiliate themselves with the ska and 2-Tone musical movement when the discos slipped into a more limpid jazz-funk. “Ska had that energy. That’s what we’ve always listened to, the stuff that’s got the energy at the moment,” says George. While Wham! expended their adolescent energy in dancing and drinking, school not surprisingly took second place and their results suffered correspondingly. Andrew didn’t get our exams because he was being a college trendy. I was a sixth-form rebel – which didn’t take much,” George adds. “I think we both stayed on at school so we’d have an excuse to stay at home and wouldn’t have to go out to work, being lazy. We both knew that all we wanted to be
Inevitably they gathered up a group – a ska band to start with. When they left school they signed on the dole and carried on composing. A year later their second single entered the charts and in retrospect made their short career look almost like a masterplan. “We were both convinced that once the songs were heard by the right people we were going to make it. It was just convincing other people of that – like parents, that was the hard job. “You’re surrounded by people who are trying hard and failing dismally, and you’ve got to convince your parents that you’re not one of those people. They don’t
“That’s been an advantage, definitely,” explains George. “We’ve had a lot closer contacts with a lot of the areas.”
“We know the machinations a lot more,” adds Andrew.
Less charitably it’s possible to speculate just how fine the line between a refreshingly realistic attitude to the entertainment industry and the dismally limited vision that
Their first record, ‘Wham Rap’, now due to be reintroduced to the shops on the strength of ‘Young Guns’ success, coincided with a wider
‘Young Guns’ – a witty condemnation of
“At the same time, I didn’t think there was any harm in the lyric,” adds George. “It’s worked so well in every other way. The idea when we went in the studio was anti-young marriage – of either sex. It didn’t mean to be anti-young girls. It just seemed to us that the funniest thing we could think of relating to it was the way you get the boys up the pub saying, Where’s so-and-so? Oh, he’s at home, she’s kept him in again. It might not be right or true of all situations, but it does happen a lot and we’re just commenting on it. That is what people listen to, and they think they know that situation. For people in that situation, the girl is the one to feel sorry for. In a lot of cases she’s not been brought up to expect anything more than to feel supported and secure. We were just looking at it as it happens. We weren’t taking sides. It was a comic observation.”
What Wham! achieve on their TOTP slot is an abrupt electric shock that jolts the programme’s flaccid system into instant
The biggest future problem Wham! will face is keeping that shiny bright sense of
“So far, anyway,” adds Andrew.
- Wham! Teen Dreams Come True (NME, 1983)
- Wham! Interview: The Morals of Funk (Sounds, 1982)
- Last Wham! Interview: No. 1 Magazine (1986)
- Wham! You’re On Your Own, George (Sunday Times, 1986)
- George Michael: Artist or Airhead? (Musician, 1988)