Aug 09

WHAM! – “Freedom”

FT + Popular52 comments • 5,354 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.



1 2 All
  1. 1
    Tom on 25 Aug 2009 #

    My copy of this – second hand from the Notting Hill basement – has a girls name biro’d on sleeve and label and then – in a different colour – a vigorously drawn-in pair of specs on George and goatee on Andrew. A snapshot of sibling war, I like to think.

    The video for this was put together well after the release: a collection of clips from the band’s visit to China, which some wag thought would go well with “I don’t want your freedom”. Wham! and politics – inseperable, I tell you.

  2. 2
    Pete on 25 Aug 2009 #

    Freedom is a key word for George Michael, and one he will return to later in his career (and also be used in a second hand way by someone trying to emulate his career). But yes, this is too long but at the heart of it is a terrific litle stompalong. I like the Do Do Do’s, it yet again underlines the Wham! do anything / try anything grab-bag of styles which was always great about them. And without the do do do’s, we would get the dididi-di-di-de-dee, bit later for the reprise which is rather fun padding.

    I always read the: “If you loved me baby you’d deny it / But you laugh and tell me I should try it”, meaning that she would deny herself the freedom if she loved him, but instead she wants him to shag around too, rather than lying. Though your reading is more obvious.

  3. 3
    mike on 25 Aug 2009 #

    Inhabiting similar stereotype-inverting lyrical ground to Joe Jackson’s “It’s Different For Girls” – she’s the flighty player, he’s the one seeking commitment (but note that this would also read well from a gay male standpoint) – this is a hefty improvement on “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and “Careless Whisper” (being more substantial than the former and less irritating than the latter) – but I still struggle to care much about it. 6 sounds about right to me.

  4. 4
    LondonLee on 25 Aug 2009 #

    I’d completely forgotten how this one went so went to look at the video and soon as those do-d-dos started it came back to me. A much better song than ‘Wake Me Up..’ which I think Berry Gordy would have rejected but this one felt like a cover of some obscure Motown non-hit (by Barbara McNair maybe) that ended up being a Northern Soul favourite. But it does go on far too long which makes such a thin song wobble at the foundations a little.

  5. 5
    Steve Mannion on 25 Aug 2009 #

    I think this is a good example of George’s powerful blaring, wailing style working as well on an upbeat retro gallop as on the more spacious ballads – particularly on the bridge. Any higher and it would be bordering on the intolerable but I love where his voice tended to sit on the scale – not too bassy and rarely venturing too high.

    Given the use of falsetto on the earlier Wham hits it’s interesting that they seemed to drop that shortly afterwards – I’m sure there was an example or two since ‘Bad Boys’ but I can’t think of them. Maybe GM just couldn’t hack it anymore or maybe falsetto had just become particularly unfashionable from the mid to late 80s and, NKOTB’s Jordan Knight aside, perhaps longer (mercifully imo!).

  6. 6
    Dan R on 25 Aug 2009 #

    Tom may mock their political affiliations, but I have a vague memory of Wham! playing a benefit gig for the striking miners. I also remember Bruce Springsteen donating money to the NUM at the same time and The Smiths doing a Red Wedge gig. All of these seem so unlikely I wonder if I spent six months of 1985 in political fantasy land. Ah well.

    Freedom is a very likeable song and was very much of its time in that Motown revival way. We’ve already discussed Phil Collins’s ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ and The Jam’s ‘Town Called Malice’, but there’s a Supremes bounce to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’. And we’re about to head into more direct Motown revivals, but that’s for later.

    I wonder if Motown seemed like a way of retrieving ‘good-time party music’ from the solemnity and swagger of stadium rock, and the intelligence and challenge of new pop. This is the era of plastic checker bowler hats and beach balls on TOTP and I suspect that Motown signified, for many, a time before music felt it had to challenge its audience. That’s 80% unfair on Motown of course.

  7. 7
    mike on 25 Aug 2009 #

    Wham! did indeed headline a miners’ strike benefit, at the top of a more typically Red Wedge-esque line-up (although we’re still 15 months away from the actual Red Wedge tour), and were duly mocked in the NME for miming throughout their set. Not long after the show, George Michael also voiced significant reservations about Arthur Scargill…

  8. 8
    Pete Baran on 25 Aug 2009 #

    From this Guardian interview:

    He has been accused of jumping on the political bandwagon for publicity’s sake, but he says his politics is a constant stretching back to Wham! “We were doing Wake Me Up Before You Go Go at the miners’ strike benefit, and I called Arthur Scargill a wanker because much as I hated Thatcher it was clear his motives were ego driven. I basically did that benefit because there were families starving, never mind who was right. That was the kind of thing I was drawn to at 19.”

  9. 9
    Steve Mannion on 25 Aug 2009 #

    Did he mime calling Scargill a wanker is the question.

  10. 10
    Tom on 25 Aug 2009 #

    #6 Not mockery – just a jokey reference to how the “Wake Me Up” thread turned into a very long discussion of Wham!’s politics. And here we are again :)

  11. 11
    johnny on 25 Aug 2009 #

    steve@5 – the relative pitch of george’s voice seems in direct relation to the gravity of the message he’s delivering. the early wham! hits are in falsetto because they’re all fun and frivolity. by the Faith era, he’s comfortably in his lower register. by Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1, he’s diving for notes far too low for him to access (see “Praying For Time” for a good example of this).

    i always liked this one. my favorite by wham!, though i agree with everything that’s being said about it. still, one of the lightest chart-toppers of the year with interesting lyrics to boot. noel gallagher certainly thought so too…

  12. 12
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 25 Aug 2009 #

    I think the key bit there is neither Scargill nor Thatcher but “at 19”: in Rome you weren’t allowed to be voting till you were 36!

    (Not that I’m advocating Roman practice: it is WAY TOO YOUNG obvs)

  13. 13
    Dan R on 25 Aug 2009 #

    #10 Ah, okay, that’ll teach me to avoid Popular for six months.

    I am interested in this particular rhythm, the 4/4 rhythm where the second half is in double time. It pops up in the oddest places: more conventionally as a deliberate Motown reference in something like ‘Stop’ by the Spice Girls but it’s also underlining ‘I Am the Resurrection’ by the Stone Roses. Can anyone think where this comes from though? Off the top of my head I can’t think of a Motown song that features it, though my Motown knowledge is hardly exhaustive.

  14. 14
    lonepilgrim on 25 Aug 2009 #

    good toon – too long, as mentioned.
    The video made me feel quite nostalgic – they had a meteoric rise: late 84 they were playing local leisure centres and here they were in China.

    George – and other 80s UK acts (such as Gary Kemp from Spandau) were often quite vocal about their (Old) Labour roots/values – (most likely) coming from families who had been beneficiaries of the NHS and welfare state – but being Pop stars in an age of incremental excess they (unwittingly?) embodied the upwardly mobile, every-man-for-himself values that were embraced by working class Tories in those days.

  15. 15
    swanstep on 25 Aug 2009 #

    Had completely forgotten this one…and I think that says something: this is Wham’s/Michael’s first hit where they’re coasting, where the song’s only a hit because they’re now an established act, as opposed to being a song that’s strong enough to be a star-making pop confection for anyone. As others have suggested, although not in quite so many words, this has _The Big Chill_ s/track (which was ommni-present at the time) *all* over it. And it’s v. similar to, though not half as good as Culture Club’s (in my view) stonking ‘Church of the poison mind’ the previous year. Interesting to read that other people really like this one, but mike #3’s comparison with Joe Jackson’s ‘It’s different for Girls’ just hurts (why couldn’t *that* song be a #1? shakes fist at cruel pop world). For me this is at best a:

  16. 16
    Billy Smart on 25 Aug 2009 #

    I have a complex relationship with this song in that I unequivocably loved it in 1984, it bounced and swelled and seemed to promise a great vista of freedom and optimism ahead, and the TOTP performance with – I think – diamonds of yellow and pink lights behind the group seemed like the absolute pinacle of youth and delight.

    The memory of this performance, and the idea of freedom, provided me with some consolation during the various miseries of and humiliations of my new life as public schoolboy.

    The lyrics, though, I could never fathom. I did suppose that might be a prepubescent thing, but just looking at them now, I do find a tongue-tied jumble that lets it down as a song. Its very hard to care what the mood of the verses is when you have to mentally decipher them as you listen.

    One mishearing was crucial to my excitement, though – “I DON’T want your body, baby. Part time love just brings me down” That seemed like quite a statement, some kind of chaste courtley love advocacy buried in the middle of what seemed to be a very flirtatious song. Listening back, I rather wish that my hearing had been right, and would have made it a rather more interesting song.

    I didn’t really know what it was pastiching and these days I would certainly rather listen to The Isley Brothers. But Freedom still makes me happy when I hear it, though, which is no mean thing.

  17. 17
    Billy Smart on 25 Aug 2009 #

    #2 Watch. A week of Paul McCartney’s ‘No More Lonely Nights’ – a lot better than ‘Ebony & Ivory’ or ‘Pipes Of Peace’

  18. 18
    Billy Smart on 25 Aug 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Wham! twice perfoemed Freedom on Top Of The Pops;

    11 October 1984. Also in the studio that week were; Kim Wilde, Sade, Paul Young, Alison Moyet and The Style Council. Mike Read & Tommy Vance were the hosts.

    1 November 1984. Also in the studio that week were; Heaven 17, Duran Duran and Jim Diamond. ‘Ooh!’ Gary Davies & Mike ‘Smitty’ Smith were the hosts.

  19. 19
    Matthew H on 25 Aug 2009 #

    My favourite single of the year, back when I used to do my year-end Top 20s.

    OK, still do.

    Not sure I’d rate it top now, but I’m very fond of it. It’s so bright, clattery, happy/sad. However, I remember being monstrously irritated by the TOTP performance: G’s bouffant waaaay too long by this point, and he spent the whole song shaking his head and clicking his fingers with vexing vigour. Don’t know why that should rankle so, but it did.

  20. 20
    Glue Factory on 25 Aug 2009 #

    Re:13 the drums remind me of nothing so much as that bloke out of the Dave Clark Five (albeit a bit less “marching-band-drummer-who-only-knows-one-rhythm”). Although, I assume like other UK groups of that era, they were trying to emulate the sound of young America.

  21. 21
    johnny on 25 Aug 2009 #

    #13 – i’m sure there are plenty of others, but one example of the beat used in a Motown tune is the Supremes’ “love is like an itching in my heart”.

  22. 22
    Erithian on 25 Aug 2009 #

    Plenty of Motownesque energy, plenty of hooks (a few of them being tried out in the phase where the song outstays its welcome for some) and a song that gives wholesome a good name. Not quite in the same class as GM’s previous two outings, but always good to hear again. And how big were George and Wham! at the time? – three number ones out of the last five at this point, and another massive hit to come before the end of the year.

    For Paul McCartney at number two, on the other hand, it was a bit of a turning point. “No More Lonely Nights” was from the soundtrack of “Give My Regards To Broad Street”, a film which was critically panned, and it was the last time Macca had a major hit with a serious song (a less-than serious one got him to number 3 for Christmas, and that was that). A strange and unexpected commercial dive, not that he’d be too worried about that financially.

  23. 23
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 25 Aug 2009 #

    Has anyone here seen “Give My Regards To Broad Street”?

    Also: who has seen the All Saints movie? It was their Spice World, except *actually* no good where SW was unimprovable. Apparently.

  24. 24
    LondonLee on 25 Aug 2009 #

    I’ve seen it. Purely by chance though. I was at college and a group of us went to see ‘Ghostbusters’ which unfortunately was sold out so the other options were ‘Broad Street’ or ‘The Terminator’ – I tried to persuade everyone that Arnie’s film had got really good reviews and could be worth seeing but the wussy liberal Fine Art girls we were with didn’t want to, so…

    It was truly awful, only film I have ever considered walking out of.

  25. 25
    will on 25 Aug 2009 #

    I’ve not seen it either. I was put off by the reviews. No More Lonely Nights is another matter entirely though, McCartney’s last great pop song, I’d argue.

  26. 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?

  27. 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?’

  28. 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….

  29. 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.

  30. 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).

1 2 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page