“We play it in marching band camp. fun song. no sharps or flats! yay”: this YouTube comment nails “Wake Me Up”‘s enduring appeal – it’s a song full of communal, kinetic, shade-free positivity. This might be nauseating but isn’t, thanks mostly to George Michael’s dynamism and his gleeful joy in his own fast-developing gifts. He produced the song as well as wrote it, and keeps things simple, building a supple funk-pop groove from keyboard and bass and then letting his own forcefulness fill the space. Two-thirds through the horns come in and the record bursts into renewed life – that trumpet-and-drum break shunting the track up a level.
In Wham!’s discography, though, “Wake Me Up” was a bit of a let down – their first three singles bounced in on a wholly addictive combination of magpied street-dance, pop shamelessness and a dash of hedonism. “Club Tropicana” took the shamelessness and the pleasure-seeking and turned them into a manifesto, saying things out loud the rest of the new old pop was coy about. All this tapped the same consumerist, individualist currents as Thatcherism, though Michael was no Tory (and the Iron Lady surely wouldn’t have approved off the off-your-bike pro-dole “Wham Rap!”). But Wham!’s early music feels more content-rich and speaks to its times more than anything their pop peers made. It helped that – as was frankly necessary for a band containing A.Ridgeley – they were utterly unafraid of looking naff.
But these songs didn’t get to Number One, and “Wake Me Up” did. You can absolutely tell why – it’s a blast, it ruthlessly sells George Michael as a pop star, but that’s really all it does, and while my disappointment at its lack of substance probably seems unfair, it’s only compounded by the way this has become the Wham! disco pick forever after.