Aug 09

WHAM! – “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”

FT + Popular78 comments • 9,150 views

#535, 2nd June 1984, video

“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.



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  1. 31
    AndyPandy on 11 Aug 2009 #

    Will @23: those tenuous attempts at a connection with Wham!/George Michael even stretched a few miles down the M25 to where I was – a girl who used to come clubbin’ with us in 1983/early 1984 was supposedly a cousin of George – she was half Greek too so it sort of seemed plausible at the time…it may even have been true!

  2. 32
    LondonLee on 11 Aug 2009 #

    Sorry about that Rory, I had some browser issue at the time that wouldn’t let me fix it. This is it:


  3. 33
    wichita lineman on 11 Aug 2009 #

    George M’s sister ran a shop in Highgate until recently, which he helped set up. It only sold white things. An intriguing concept, but I went in for some sugar once and she didn’t have any.

    Re 27: So glad I’m not the only person who doesn’t equate Wham Rap with Phil Ochs. “Soul” rhymes with “dole”, I think that was the line of thought. Sorry to sound cynical, Rory!

    Re 28: Not even a tea boy at either studio with that wafer-thin production.

    While we’re skirting the subject with Choose Life and Frankie Says, can I point out how hard it was to find decent clothes in the provinces in the “image obsessed” mid 80s? High street retailers were a pastel or loud check patterned nightmare. No wonder C86 was all about charity shops.

  4. 34
    Izzy on 11 Aug 2009 #

    A titbit from wikipedia: “Michael’s inspiration for the song was a scribbled note left by his Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley for Andrew’s parents, originally intended to read “wake me up before you go” but with “up” accidentally written twice, so Ridgeley wrote “go” twice on purpose.” I love little stories like that, pop gold fashioned from the most unassuming sources.

  5. 35
    Tom on 11 Aug 2009 #

    #27 and #33 – I don’t think this lot could be taken as Tory apology:

    “HEY – JERK – YOU – WORK This boy’s got better things to do”
    “I ain’t never gonna work, get down in the dirt, I choose, to cruise.”
    “Hot-damn! Everybody, let’s play! So they promised you a good job – NO WAY!”

    (excitable capitals courtesy of “sing365.com” not me!)

    Now this isn’t pro-Labour either by any means, and it’s not a programmatic song (or not in any way a realistic one), in fact it’s probably as much opportunist trolling as anything, but it IS political and doesn’t seem to me like a lazy accident.

    And to Rory – sure I agree w/the message of WMUBYGG more than the earlier stuff, but I also have a grillion songs with that message: the first four singles have a bit more character to ’em.

  6. 36
    Tom on 11 Aug 2009 #

    Incidentally, the video for Wham Rap is start-to-end OMG80s, especially

    – the unbelievable gormless woodenness of Andrew’s expression
    – “listen Mr Average YOU’RE A JERK”
    – “a jet black guy with a hip hi-fi” (session saxman holds up massive Walkman sheepishly)
    – “maybe leather and studs is where you’re at” (MAYBE INDEED)

  7. 37
    ace inhibitor on 11 Aug 2009 #

    Re #26, ‘a pretty didactic time in pop’, thats a really interesting point. Not that the New Didacticism shows up much in Popular; though ‘Wake me up…’ and ‘Relax’ are both titles taking the imperative form, they were the only ones from 1984; and my five minute survey suggests that 2 imperative number ones is actually very average (44 imperative No.1s for the 20 year period from 1965-84 makes 2.2 per year).

    In fact the high point for didactic number ones was the mid-70s, with 4 imperative titles in 1975 (‘Come up and see me make me smile’, ‘Stand by your man’, ‘Give a little love’, ‘Hold me close’), 3 in 1974 (‘Billy don’t be a hero’, ‘Rock your baby’, ‘Love me for a reason’) and a whopping 5 in 1973 (‘Cum on feel the noize’, ‘Get down’, ‘Skweez me pleez me’, ‘Can the can’, ‘See my baby jive’). ok, the last 2 are a bit dubious.

    Both 1969 and 1970, on the other hand, featured no didactic No.1s at all. Hippies.

  8. 38
    Pete Baran on 11 Aug 2009 #

    I think we need a pop imperitive number one graph.

  9. 39
    Rory on 12 Aug 2009 #

    Tom #35: Wellll… “Wham Rap” is political, yes, but it’s not exactly a stick-it-to-Thatcher song. That idea of “let’s party, the government are paying for it” is like a right-wing parody of lazy sponging lefties. Sure, there are artists and musicians who live off the dole to support their art, but they’re hardly living it large. The idea that dole life is a party life doesn’t sound like it comes from someone who’s lived it.

    Which may be the point: “Wham Rap”, like “Bad Boys”, is a fantasy portrayal of its subject. I see that George Michael grew up in a conservative area, which doesn’t mean he was conservative himself, but it doesn’t look as if he grew up walking the mean streets. (Maybe someone from Bushey can set me straight on that.) It isn’t what he thought his lyrics meant, though, so much as what others made of them, and because they don’t have that ring of truth it can’t have been hard for any lefty vibe to be ignored once Wham! made it big. Young Tories could dance to Wham! without guilt, because what were the early singles really saying anyway? In a way, “Wake Me Up” was a wake-up call, its trivial lyrics revealing how trivial most of their previous lyrics also were. Perhaps that’s what bothered me about it at the time. I’m not bothered now, though, because I’ve had two decades of not thinking of George Michael as a political lyricist, “Shoot the Dog” notwithstanding.

  10. 40
    will on 12 Aug 2009 #

    It should be noted that 1982/3 (when Wham Rap was first released) was long before UK tabloids became full of tiresome tales of ‘dole scroungers’. The unemployed, all 3 million of them, were seen as something of a noble, if pitiable, breed back then – viz Bleasdale’s Boys From The Blackstuff. Personally, I thought Wham Rap was funny, truthful and actually quite subversive. Few pop songs have attacked the time/work discipline of modern capitalism in such a gleeful manner.

  11. 41
    Rory on 12 Aug 2009 #

    Seen by whom, though? The Sun endorsed Thatcher, and I’d be a bit surprised if it wasn’t looking down on dole recipients by 1982. “Dole bludgers” had been a political football in Australia since the 1960s at least, and Murdoch would have known a useful hot-button topic when he saw one.

    I thought “Wham Rap” was fun and funny too, but I couldn’t know at fifteen whether it was truthful. It talked a good game; suggesting that a regular job is a sell-out was bound to appeal to young creative types. A subversive idea for sure, but it wasn’t the Man being subverted, it was the thousands of teenage psyches being encouraged to feel unsatisfied with what life was likely to offer them. If nine-to-five doesn’t turn out to be unalloyed bliss you’re a sell-out, and if life on the dole isn’t one big party you aren’t doing it right.

  12. 42
    wichita lineman on 12 Aug 2009 #

    Well, I was only saying that I don’t see Wham Rap as a political critique, or socialist in any way. My memory of the NME single of the week review is of something along those lines, and it gets referred to as at least ‘anti Tory’ constantly. It’s political but how is it “subversive”? In 1982/83 you’d have had to rely on a parental home to enjoy any kind of social life on the dole. Rory at 39 says it with flowers, can’t add much to that.

    But I will. Call me a killjoy – go on! – because Club Tropicana sounded to me, aged 18, like it had to be at someone’s expense, if only the bar staff’s, the “cheap holiday in other people’s misery” referenced just six years earlier. You can draw modern banker/pension investor parallels. Same with soul/dole on Wham Rap. Fantasist maybe, but not smart or subversive.

    So, to me at least, Wham! and “choose life” came over as kinda unthinking breezy middle Britain youth. I know George Michael loved Joy Division and wrote a few pretty good songs down the line, but WMUBYGG and its grinning, blonde-highlighted predecessors pushed all the wrong buttons for me. In 2009 Wake Me Up sounds like a Special K ad at best. On The Rebound only got 5, people!

  13. 43
    Tom on 12 Aug 2009 #

    You’d need a parental home to live life the Wham Rap way – yes, this is there in the song: the context is totally kids living with their parents. Parents and politicians say “get a job”, kids say “sod that”, effectively using the dole to call their bluff. As Will suggests, this is surely at least as realistic as the portrait of the dole as succour for the noble British artist painted by Jarvis Cocker etc. in later years.

    And enacting a caricature of a right-wing bogeyman – this is always a good and funny thing for pop to do IMO.

    No, it’s not remotely socialist, and nor did anybody here say it was – total straw man, comrades! As I said up above, it’s a bit of opportunistic trolling of politicians by attacking a value (work) they all agreed on.

    I do sympathise with Rory’s concern that Wham!’s outlook if thought through was totally irresponsible and selfish, and I’ve used similar yardsticks to damn records on Popular before (eg “Vincent”). Especially as GM was a total hypocrite – an extremely hard-working pop star. But I still love the record – in my top 100 of the 80s for certain.

  14. 44
    Matthew H on 12 Aug 2009 #

    #39 Mean streets of Bushey? My mum let me walk the half-mile to the library by myself from the age of 8. There was a gift shop called Hardy’s Ambit and a supermarket called Bishop’s. It was all very nice. I’m sure George had a lovely time.

    A devoted Wham! fan, I bought this but never considered it a favourite. My top choices are still to come. It’s a glorious pastiche, but in the same way I never felt particularly close to it – it sounded like a sop to the mums. It worked.

  15. 45
    Erithian on 12 Aug 2009 #

    ##37-38 – only people like us could have this sort of (faintly tragic) conversation! OK, 1970 had no didactic titles, but “In The Summertime” was full of instructions, many of which could really get you into trouble…

  16. 46
    Pete on 12 Aug 2009 #

    I have to admit to being a Hertsmere youth, but I was in Borehamwood, which was the outnumbered Labour town surrounded by poshos in Bushey and Potters Bar, returning Cecil Parkinson to the House.

    It would have been about this time that Cecil, came to my middle School to chat to an assembly, clearly he had time on his hands post resignation. As School swot with loudest voice I was chosen to introduce Cecil to the School, and together with our English teacher we came up with two speeches. One, for the rehearsal, fawning over CP. And one, which I actually used on the day, slightly more critical of the Tory party and with a few not subtle at all digs at his downfall. The kids didn’t get any of these satiric gags (mainly about children and the fact he had a new one), but the teachers loved it which meant I got the softest detention ever. I fear however it set me from being a goodie goodie student to being a little bit more disruptive at a later School.

  17. 47
    Steve Mannion on 12 Aug 2009 #

    I do love the contrast in attitude between the protagonist of ‘Wham Rap’ and one Man Parrish of NYC who, according to ‘Boogie Down Bronx’, you would never catch “on the welfare line”. Parrish and Michael would perhaps find common ground further into their respective careers, on the subject of male strippers.

  18. 48
    Pete Baran on 12 Aug 2009 #

    The idea of the dole as Pop Star YTS seems ingrained in the British pop myth, with a number of record companies going to bat for it in recent times! Though the relative worth of UK dole and US Welfare has to be compared too (esp in the 80’s).

  19. 49
    Conrad on 12 Aug 2009 #

    Wham! Rap (Enjoy What You Do)

    is not politically-motivated I don’t think. More about espousing a decadent lifestyle, or at least a lifestyle where you prioritise fun over anything else – the clue’s in the title. Live for now,have a laugh with your mates, enjoy your youth, stay free – the same sentiments cropped up in the follow-up. All pretty good advice really

    God, the first two Wham! singles were great – Wham! Rap is up there among the greatest debut singles ever, yet rarely seems to get much attention for some reason.

  20. 50
    ace inhibitor on 12 Aug 2009 #

    live for now, prioritise fun = not political? depends. seems to me there were (at least) 2 different political registers in play at the time. One, dating back to the 30s (at least) was the labour/left/collectivist tradition of the dignity of work and the indignity of poverty, manifested in the early 80s in the ‘right to work’ marches, Boys from the Blackstuff as mentioned earlier etc. The other I think was a continuation/working through of the 60s, the politics of (individual) pleasure and leisure, the refusal of both work and consumption (Paris 68: ‘We do not want a world where the price of being certain of not dying of hunger is the risk of dying of boredom’); which found its way via various anarchist/communalist experiments in the 70s into the anarcho/punk/hippie/crustie nexus in the 80s, as well as the culcha more generally. (I had a page from the NME blue-tacked to the wall featuring a snaking queue of contemporary subcultural types under the headline ‘What are we offering them? The right to work? In other words the right to be exploited’. Po-faced 18 year old that I was.)

  21. 51
    Tom on 12 Aug 2009 #

    I refer you all to that fount of knowledge Wikipedia!


    Fifth paragraph particularly germane ;)

  22. 52
    ace inhibitor on 12 Aug 2009 #

    that proves it then. Also of course, in context, ‘Wake me up before you go go’ could be read as a coded endorsement of the mass picketing strategy in the miner’s strike, that was reaching its zenith in this very month, Battle of Orgreave etc (picketing being an early morning affair, generally)

  23. 53
    Rory on 12 Aug 2009 #

    Last edited on 25 July 2009 by SmokeyTheCat: “The political nature of the song; unsourced admittedly but worthy of inclusion I think. Please discus it if you feel the need to delete.” Can we delete it now that we’ve discussed it here? ;)

  24. 54
    Snif on 12 Aug 2009 #

    Just out of curiosity (if not ignorance) was that young lady whose face adorns the sleeve anyone in particular?

  25. 55
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    It’s Shirlie isn’t it, of Pepsi & Shirlie, Wham! backing singers and briefly pop stars in their own right. In fact they’d be getting their own entry here if it wasn’t for their former employer.

  26. 56
    Glue Factory on 13 Aug 2009 #

    ..and apparently featured on another artist’s number 1 in 2000, according to the ever reliable wikipedia.

    (Is it really Shirlie? I don’t recognise her with differently coloured hair)

  27. 57
    Matthew H on 13 Aug 2009 #

    That is no way Shirlie.

  28. 58
    lonepilgrim on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Shirlie you can’t be serious?

  29. 59
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    I admit I did not consult a picture of P&S before rushing to this judgement.

  30. 60
    Alan on 13 Aug 2009 #

    pepsi & shirley v wendy & lisa FITE. (actually this is way too one sided, cos W&L do all the telly music innit)

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