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Aug 09

WHAM! – “Freedom”

FT + Popular51 comments • 3,189 views

#539, 20th October 1984, video

Just as with “Careless Whisper”, “Freedom” finds George Michael working his way through a form: the upbeat, Tamla-style soul stomper. A fine thing to be doing, except this is almost twice as long as many Motown hits and it doesn’t use the extra space to any great effect. The cascading “I don’t want your / I don’t want your” vocals and guitar work at the end are sheer embellishment.

That wouldn’t matter a whit – they’re pleasant to listen to, after all – except that there’s a tight, wounded song in “Freedom” which might have been better served by brevity. In fact a three-minute edit of “Freedom” would be comfortably my favourite Wham! record: those post-chorus cheerleading “Do! Do! Do!”s might be first against the wall. They’re pointlessly celebratory, and it’s not like George has much to celebrate here.

At its centre the track’s a flip on a “Men Are From Mars” caricature of gender relations, and a case study in fidelity as game theory. George wants to be exclusive, his girl thinks otherwise, and what really stings isn’t even the other boys, it’s the way she mocks him for missing out. Even lying would be better: “If you loved me baby you’d deny it / But you laugh and tell me I should try it” is one of the more hangdog lines in pop, and Michael’s performance hits the right note of petulance, bafflement and hurt. But to get to the hurt you have to fight your way through all the bunting he’s draped the track in, which turns it into something bouncier and frothier, an effectively upbeat song that pulls its emotional punch.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Mark M on 25 Aug 2009 #

    I really like this – my natural channel-hopping instincts probably meaning that I’ve effectively been editing it down into Tom’s ideal version. And I really liked it at the time, even though I was in my brief high rockist period. Perhaps this seemed acceptably retro enough?

  2. 27
    Conrad on 25 Aug 2009 #

    Oh this always reminded me of Darts’ version of “Let’s Hang On”.

    It’s okay but a bit ‘will this do?’

  3. 28
    swanstep on 25 Aug 2009 #

    @Billy Smart. I misheard “I don’t want *nobody*, baby’ as *your body* too, and like you find the correct version duller. Looking back at the lyrics now I find I also misunderstood the first verse:

    People say that you’re no good for me./Saw your lover with another/And she’s making a fool of you, oh.

    I now see that’s all just stuff people are saying about George and his gal (the people speak indirectly then directly… haw haw). But I missed that and instead thought that the second bit (from ‘Saw..’) was George (not the people) talking… so that he was cajoling his belle with the news that her main lover (not George, and a woman to boot) is making a fool of her just the way she’s making a fool of George. i vaguely remember having a conversation with someone about the subversive reinterpretation of all that, which has George chasing a bi- guy whose straight lover is making a ‘fool’ of him etc. , which he’s cool with, unlike George, etc.. Oh well….

  4. 29
    TomLane on 26 Aug 2009 #

    This went to #3 in the U.S. I find this the lesser of the Make It Big singles. Like the rest of the album, it’s damn catchy, but it never stuck with me the way the other ones did. I think George does Motown better on “I’m Your Man”. A generous 7 for tunesmith.

  5. 30
    col124 on 26 Aug 2009 #

    well, at the time (when I was 12, that is) I really loved this one. I completely agree with what Tom’s saying about its too-extended length (I too would love to hear that Platonic ideal three-minute edit) and how its bounce and froth defeat its harder-edged sentiments. But still–that chorus! It’s still pretty wonderful: nostalgia’s ruined me as a critic here.

    As a Yank, it’s hard to imagine that “Everything She Wants” wasn’t a #1 single in the UK (as it was in the US)–that one seemed to be great leap forward for Wham (again, from the perspective of a 12-yr-old kid, lines like “Now you’re telling me you’re having my baby/I’ll tell you that I’m happy if you want me too” seemed almost shockingly cynical).

  6. 31
    tonya on 26 Aug 2009 #

    Many songs have lines similar to “you can drag me to hell and back just as long as we’re together” but fewer add the “and you do” that this one does. Also my recollection is that Wham! going to China was a HUGE deal, back when we thought that economic liberalization meant democracy was just around the corner.

  7. 32
    MikeMCSG on 26 Aug 2009 #

    I think I’d have to pick this as the best of Wham’s four no 1′s although not a patch on their 1982-3 singles. Interesting that there was no video for such an image-conscious band.

    #25 Will I’d agree “NMLN” was the last great McCartney song (aided by that David Gilmour guitar solo). The less said about the film the better.

    #23 Haven’t seen the whole of “Honest” just the clips of the Appletons revealing their “talents” (Nicole’s are jaw-dropping; lucky Liam).

  8. 33
    Erithian on 26 Aug 2009 #

    col124 – the reason “Everything She Wants” wasn’t a UK no.1 will be discussed in great detail before long, I suspect!

  9. 34
    Billy Smart on 26 Aug 2009 #

    Oh, ‘Wham In China’, yes. See Lindsay Anderson’s diaries, for a dry look at the Wham! phenomenon seen from the inside by one of life’s natural outsiders. He has quite a high opinion of George, who then doesn’t allow the great director the final edit and refuses to speak to him. Reading about it makes you really wish that you could see the film that Anderson intended…

  10. 35
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 26 Aug 2009 #

    haha yes sadly i had no room to discuss wham in china in my if…. book!

  11. 36
    Dan R on 26 Aug 2009 #

    #23 Give My Regards to Broad Street was indeed a terrible film, a rich man’s folly. The problem is that Paul wrote the film himself, and while he knows EVERYTHING about writing songs, he knows NOTHING about structuring a satisfying script. It follows a kind of ‘day in the life of Paul McCartney’ which manages to be implausible and unctuous. (Pops into a warehouse to make a video – an excruciating ‘bodypopping & robotics’ video to ‘Silly Love Songs’ as I recall; turns up at the Studio to record a version of ‘For No One’; drops in at a Ballroom to play ‘Ballroom Dancing’, etc.). This occupies about half of the film until the prospect suddenly emerges that the tapes for his new album have been stolen by a hostile record company employee. This is supposed to power the narrative on but there are two problem (a) it’s never explained what this person is going to do with them and (b) since we’ve seen Macca perform five songs in the space of 45 minutes with various bands and orchestras, why doesn’t he just take the day off and record the album again? Doesn’t look too hard.

    Anyway, this being Macca with his sweethearted meliorist view of the world, the ‘thriller’ plot ends up with everyone revealed to have acted from good motives, everyone sinister revealed to have been misjudged. I guess McCartney was pretty invincible at this point, so the people who historically had challenged him weren’t challenging him any more. Hence this rotten script. I note from IMDB that it seems to have ended the short career of director, Peter Webb.

    There’s almost nothing to say in its defence, except that the version of Ballroom Dancing is very good and has a terrific crunchy little guitar solo from Dave Edmunds. The single, as others have said, ‘No More Lonely Nights’, is a beautiful and heartfelt song. Oh and the movie features Ralph Richardson’s last ever acting performance, as I recall.

    The Frog Chorus, written for the short film that accompanied Broad Street in the cinema, and which is routinely held up as an example of how awful Paul McCartney’s judgment became in the 1980s, is, of course, a brilliant, witty, sweet and adorable song. If it hadn’t been written by PMcC, it would be regarded as fondly as Walking in the Air or any number of the songs from the resurgent Disney movies of the 1990s. As it is, it remains another strike against Paul.

  12. 37
    LondonLee on 26 Aug 2009 #

    Doesn’t the whole film turn out to have been a dream? I vaguely remember it ending with Paul waking up from a snooze in the back of his Roll’s.

    Sorry, spoiler alert!

    Spitting Image did a good bit on it. Paul is in a restaurant and a waiter comes over saying “your turkey, sir” and drops a film cannister labeled ‘Give My Regards To Broad Street’ on the table.

  13. 38
    CarsmileSteve on 26 Aug 2009 #

    was there (and i used the term advisedly) a “dance remix” of No More Lonely Nights? i’m sure i remember there being two versions…

    Give Me Regards To Broad Street was ALSO one of the worst Spectrum games of all time…

  14. 39
    Billy Smart on 26 Aug 2009 #

    #38 The “dance remix” of ‘No More Lonely Nights’ was, infuriatingly, included on ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 4′, much to the irritation of people who got the compilation for Christmas in 1984.

  15. 40
    Rory on 26 Aug 2009 #

    This mostly passed me by at the time, such was my falling out of love with Wham!, and only reached #3 in Australia, but it sounds enjoyable enough today. Six sounds fair. (I rated it just now and the display shows Tom’s 6, my 6, and an average rating of 6. Has there ever been a more uniform verdict?)

    The lightness of the music stopped me from studying the lyrics too closely before, but they do reward the attention. Sign of an ’80s backlash against ’70s free love, perhaps? Given the growing awareness of AIDS with no treatment in sight, that would have made it a good fit for the times.

  16. 41
    AndyPandy on 26 Aug 2009 #

    Agree with Dan R – I always imagined people who looked on the Frog Chorus as a terrible record to be largely the kind of people who make vague attempts and pretending to know whats going on but really haven’t clue. It’s a well made and produced attempt at distilling the essence of a particularly English childhood/innocence with a decent video inspired by Paul Mccartney’s childhood love of Rupert Bear.

    All in all a very well put together package and IMO a far more becoming dip into childrens fantasy than that practised by those who read bloody Harry Potter.

  17. 42
    Tom on 26 Aug 2009 #

    Does anyone even claim to dislike the Frog Chorus these days? I don’t think revisionism needs to go TOO far with it – it’s a jolly (and restful) record but not much more.

    P McC had a fair few tracks at making children’s records, I have to say none particularly successful, though the frogs are the best of ‘em. He had a minor thing about fairytales – surely forgotten late-80s single “Once Upon A Long Ago” for instance.

  18. 43
    wichita lineman on 27 Aug 2009 #

    I think “puppy dog tails in the house of lords” got Once Upon A Long Ago a mention on the Pipes Of Peace thread, but it sounds a little half-arsed, a classically mellifluous Macca chorus with plenty of padding. His last top 10 hit, wasn’t it?

    Someone had a little dig at the Frog Chorus upthread, and I certainly still meet haters who mention it as if it’s the only post-Beatles record he made. It’s sweet, and some way better than Mary Had A Little Lamb, which he made in a hissy fit to spite people who said he shouldn’t have released Give Ireland Back To The Irish.

    No More Lonely Nights is lovely, relaxed, entirely unforced, though it doesn’t sound like a no.1. Freedom was fated to edge it because of Wham’s total dominance at this point – the follow-up to Careless Whisper could hardly fail. It’s ok, as seems to be the consensus. Everything She Wants is another matter entirely.

  19. 44
    Matthew H on 27 Aug 2009 #

    #39 Ah yes, Now 4. My university skin-up board.

    Ahem. Stupid students.

  20. 45
    Rory on 27 Aug 2009 #

    That single sleeve reminds me that there’s something quite touching about the early history of George and Andrew. As Wikipedia’s entry on the latter has it, Ridgeley volunteered to take young George Panayiotou “under his wing”, and their shared musical interests grew out of this schoolyard friendship. I can remember similar friendships at school, formed after a nudge from teachers who thought that these shy kids might get along, and I’m still in touch with some of those friends today; without them my life would have been very different. So for all the jibes about where Wham!’s talent lay, we shouldn’t underestimate Ridgeley’s role in making it all happen. Would Michael even have had a solo career if not for that childhood friendship?

  21. 46
    ace inhibitor on 27 Aug 2009 #

    surely its george channeling andrew? I don’t want the freedom to make solo singles & sing with other people & get back together occasionally as a part-time band, I JUST WANT IT TO BE US 2…

  22. 47
    intothefireuk on 2 Sep 2009 #

    Both this and WMUBYGG seem too light and frothy even in comparison with their slightly earlier hits. The bass oomph seems to have been wrenched out of them as have all the performance nuances. It’s slightly better than WMUBYGG but not by much. Both leave me cold. George would have better days.

  23. 48
    Jeff Canuck on 18 Oct 2009 #

    anybody who thinks this song is too long has never danced to it badly in the basement!

  24. 49
    Brooksie on 5 Mar 2010 #

    Wham! can do no wrong. This is no exception. Not as danceable as WMUBYGG, not as emotional as CW, and not as seasonal as LC, this one had The-Song-Before-The-Album written all over it. But it does just fine; uptempo, catchy, a surefire chart-topper. ‘Make It Big’ followed and Wham! hit the road to conquer not just Britain, but the world (WMUBYGG had just topped the US charts).

  25. 51
    Paytes on 12 Nov 2010 #

    All those above who mention the excessive length of Freedom definitely have a point and that an edited version would be a very good thing.

    I’m 99% sure that the version on the Hits Album (which was my reference point for this track for many years) is heavily edited to about 3’40 and is all the better for it. An 8 (for the edit)!

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