Aug 09

WHAM! – “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”

FT + Popular80 comments • 10,119 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. 1
    Pete Baran on 10 Aug 2009 #

    Local boys made good. Whilst I love those early Wham! singles, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go is one of those records which grabbed me by the pop balls the moment I heard it. Record and Play for the second time it was on (little bit of Graham Dene’s voice at the end on my taped version). I think it is a mixture of the ridiculously high pop production values and the audicity of the nonsense lyrics. Unlike their contemporaries in Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran, this period of Wham! told you up front that their song was a bit silly. Oddly, lyrically Wake Me Up makes a whole lot more sense than any of the Durannies numbers at the time, but there is a full frontal embracement of the silliness of pop that George Michael would flirt with for the rest of his career.

    Its this I go back to if I ever feel I can’t quite get my head around the nonsense of a Gwen Stefani or Fergie song. Not their best musical moment, but a defining pop moment for me. 8.

    (Oh, and a video that looks EXACTLY as you would imagine it. It doesn’t need to do anything else than bounce and smile.)

  2. 2
    logged-out Tracer Hand on 10 Aug 2009 #

    This was the first big hit I felt superior to, rather than just loathing. I still think it’s pretty bad, but the “Jitterbug” bits are superb.

    George Michael’s teeth wouldn’t be this white again until after the millenium.

  3. 3
    Tom on 10 Aug 2009 #

    #1 I just think I like George more when he gives in to his grouchiness or emoness a bit. I really hated this at the time, though, but I was a mental. The song that converted me to Yog is embargoed so more of that anon.

  4. 4
    Erithian on 10 Aug 2009 #

    Number one during Finals week! A piece of commercial pop, as frothy as they come, and utterly brilliant for it. This was one of the things that got us through that uniquely stressful week in our lives (along with the release of watching Liverpool win the European Cup on the night before the first exam). I can still remember the empathy with the girl who managed to spill a kettle of boiling water onto her writing hand on the eve of finals week, and coming to terms with the fact that from the bathroom window in our hall of residence you could see the building where the exam room lay – so no escape! Except for when you heard the number one of course.

    You might even say, Tom, that this has as many hooks as anythng since “Sugar Sugar” and is a damn sight more danceable. Maybe not cool for a 22-year-old bloke to like Wham!, but this was one I just couldn’t resist. As grim as the mid-80s political and economic scene might be for those on the wrong end of Thatcherism, its pop was a great party, which is why it’s so fondly remembered – whether it reflects its politics or escapes it. As Deniece was saying down at Number 2 Watch, let’s hear it for the boy(s).

  5. 5
    Tom Lawrence on 10 Aug 2009 #

    Ah, memories! I still wasn;t born when this was #1, but this is asong I have memories of, for a very specific reason – around the age of five I owned a small electronic keyboard, which I couldn’t play, but it DID have a dmeo feature, and an instrumental version of this (arranged for synthesised marimba and squashed duck noises) is what it would play.

    It would be some time before I would connect that strange annoying tune with an actual musical record, much less with the fgure of George Michael, who by the time I became aware of him was of course a solo artist.

  6. 6
    johnny on 10 Aug 2009 #

    i always mistook the line “don’t wanna miss it when you hit that high” as “don’t wanna listen when you get that high”. i like my version much better.

  7. 7
    Steve Mannion on 10 Aug 2009 #

    And there’s ultra-bouffant George up on deck now, long may well he reign.

    This is my least favourite #1 ft. GM with one possible 90s exception…and maybe one coming much much sooner. Rather like ‘Hello’ the naffness of the video outstrips the song’s own “problems” although those are all too abundant here anyway and for me boil down to the boys shifting from 70s influences (disco, funk) to the kinds of 50s/60s influences i care far less for – a retro-active step but it clearly paid off, and at least they’d follow it up with what sound like homages (or rip-offs if you’re feeling less generous) to past #1s I can tolerate more easily.

    Better opportunities ahead to discuss GM’s voice so will leave that until then.

  8. 8
    Rory on 10 Aug 2009 #

    In my first year of pop obsession a few bands loomed large, and one of those was Wham!, whose name – complete with exclamation mark – made for excellent block capitals in black permanent marker on the back of a wooden ruler. My obsession was based entirely on one song, “Wham Rap”, with its “D.H.S.S.” chant and get-on-down funkiness. It made me think that this rapping business might have something to it, but its early-’80s representatives on the Australian charts were all ring-ins – Wham!, Blondie, Malcolm McLaren – and by the time the real thing arrived, I’d lost interest.

    In hindsight, I started to lose interest in Wham! not long after their debut album came out, even though at the time it was a prized purchase. They showed some nous calling it Fantastic, an even more hubristic title than Thriller, and one that turned every mention into a review: “Wham!’s new album is Fantastic.” “Is it really? Thanks for the tip, I’ll pick it up.” But I wasn’t sure it was. I still loved “Wham Rap”, but the album tracks didn’t quite match its excitement, and the elusive singles “Bad Boys” and “Young Guns”, which I’d missed when they were in the shops (they were released first in Oz), were a little disappointing after all the anticipation. Only the Miracles cover “Love Machine” caught my interest. By the end of the year I had swapped the record with my brother and moved on to new rulers and new bands.

    So by the time “Wake Me Up” was topping the Australian charts (for seven weeks, including a return to the top after a week of Prince’s “When Doves Cry”), my love for Wham! had well and truly waned, and I dismissed the song as fluff. The whole white-shirts-and-teeth look seemed far too calculated to a sixteen-year-old mastering the fine art of cynicism, and the “jitterbug” intro sounded like an imitation of the hated “Uptown Girl”. I didn’t buy the single, or the album, or anything else to do with the band – not even when Rolling Stone went into Serious Grown-Up Music orgasms over George Michael’s Faith.

    So let’s see how it holds up on a fresh viewing, rather than in tainted memory…

    It’s great. I was a fickle teenage flake. 7, if not 8.

  9. 9
    wichita lineman on 10 Aug 2009 #

    The fifties pastiche element is lifted from Happy Days rather than original source material, which gives it a cut-price, Wrigleys gum ad superficiality.

    It’s too squeakily positive for me, all winks and toothpaste grins, thin and silly underneath those brass blasts. Uptown Girl kinda gets away with it through its thick, NYC-size production; this sounds like Bushey’s retro diner. The number one WMUBYGG reminds me of more than Uptown Girl, while its emotional counterpoint, is the equally thin and silly Seasons In The Sun.

    Oh, isn’t “You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day” a first, gentle cri de coeur from still-closeted GM?

  10. 10
    Weej on 10 Aug 2009 #

    I was expecting to agree with you here. My memories of the song are pretty much as you describe – a harmless ‘fun pop’ hit with bags of energy and charm, but after watching the video I just feel a bit nauseated by the whole thing. It all just seems so contrived and hollow, a lowest-common-denominator shiny product with nothing underneath it. Even the horn break just grates on me now.
    On a side note, #5, I had that keyboard too! The song seemed perfectly suited to it for some reason.

    (A video link for those in the UK who can’t watch music vids on Youtube for silly reasons: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2aixj_wham-wake-me-up-before-you-gogo_music )

  11. 11
    Tom Lawrence on 10 Aug 2009 #

    #9 – The whole thing codes extremely camp now, even for the eighties where this sort of thing was commonplace. Doris Day references, short, tight shorts, falsetto swoops, plucked eyebrows and ear studs.

    But everything’s obvious in retrospect.

  12. 12
    anto on 10 Aug 2009 #

    Wham! become the last of the “big 4” to go to number one following Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club. Personally I think this particular 4 produced very few decent records between them and in an ideal world the big 4 would have been Dexys, The Associates, Altered Images and The Human League.

  13. 13
    Tom on 10 Aug 2009 #

    #9 #11 – the moment in early Wham! I’ve never been able to hear in quite the same way is George’s passionate stay-away-from-the-ladies plea on “Young Guns” – “But you’re heeeeere….”

  14. 14
    Billy Smart on 10 Aug 2009 #

    Good though it is, I do see this as being another staging post along pop’s retreat away from exciting modernist playfulness and into comforting retro signifiers of quality that’s the single defining bad trend of the 1980s UK singles chart. The sun shining brighter than Doris Day is a lot more agreeable than the emulatory “listening to Marvin all night long” for me, but is part of the same syndrome.

    While the first four singles do seem rooted in the world of 1982 North London, this feels like an attempt to write a “timeless pop classic” that could exist at any time and attract listeners anywhere in the world. It was clearly entirely successful in fulfilling this ambition; number one in America, listeners from generations other than young people in 1984, but it felt like something got lost along the way.

    Apart from perhaps in the Wham! single that only got to #2. But more of that anon…

  15. 15
    Billy Smart on 10 Aug 2009 #

    I think that I must have been rather like Tom as an eleven year-old, and this song was precisely the sort of thing that I should have felt was sent on earth to irritate me. However, I didn’t actually mind it all that much, which is some tribute to Goerge Michael’s way with a tune.

    Advertising watch: A series of London Transport posters of 1984 encourage us kids to get teenage day bus tickets with the slogan “Pick me up before you go-go!”

    That was an open invitation for defacing with sexist grafitti.

  16. 16
    TomLane on 10 Aug 2009 #

    A pure blast of Summer fun from the great Pop music year of 1984. A #1 in the U.S. as well. Come on! You can resist this?

  17. 17
    Billy Smart on 10 Aug 2009 #

    #2 Watch: Two weeks of Denice Williams’ ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’

  18. 18
    Tom on 10 Aug 2009 #

    #15 Agree that something was lost Billy but I think after this something was found too, as George got more confident about his retro chops and started putting meatier content in there… but we’ll get to that!

    #16 like you say, a feast of classic pop around at the moment (Denice Williams!) so I feel able to be choosy ;)

  19. 19
    lonepilgrim on 10 Aug 2009 #

    While I quite enjoy Wham’s singles I find it hard to get wildly excited about them and this is no exception. There’s something efficient and pristine about the music which I find slightly off putting. I had tickets to see them at Crawley Leisure Centre on their UK tour of 1983 but they cancelled – allegedly because George had a sore throat. Perhaps that coloured my judgement.
    Prince made more compelling use of the backbeat this year with ‘Let’s go crazy’ – it’s one of the minuses of the year that despite the success of ‘Purple Rai’n (movie and album) none of the singles made number 1 in the UK.

  20. 20
    Jonathan Bogart on 10 Aug 2009 #

    I have never had to resist the urge to dance across campus listening to my iPod harder than when this song comes up. A ten from me.

    But then I’ve never heard (or more precisely paid attention to) any of Wham!’s other songs. And if they’d make me like this less, I don’t want to.

  21. 21
    jamesf on 10 Aug 2009 #

    I had heard this song many, MANY times before I ever once stopped to consider the lyrics (never been a lyrics person, myself). I could not contain my incredulity when a friend informed me that the chorus of the song was, in fact, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go / Don’t Leave Me Hanging on Like a Yo-Yo” … IT CAN’T BE! surely this was the Weird Al version … nope, those seem to be the actual lyrics. Was this penned by a five-year-old?

    Nevertheless, it remains a fantastic pop song. although frankly, any song which can overcome such painfully horrible lyrical shortcomings and remain even listenable has certainly achieved something.

  22. 22
    Tom on 10 Aug 2009 #

    Incidentally, while we’ll have plenty of later opportunities to consider the unique contributions made by Andrew Ridgeley, his “guitar strumming” in this video is a wonderfully audacious bit of business. Or Bez-ness.

  23. 23
    will on 10 Aug 2009 #

    Definitely a let-down after the first three Wham! singles, all of which had a slight anti-establishment veneer (especially Wham Rap). WMUBYGG was (and still is) too bouncy for its own good. And I HATED those Choose Life T-Shirts.

    Re 1: Yes, growing up in Watford area myself, Wham were very much seen as local lads who’d made it. Circa 1983 everyone at school seemed to have some sort of spurious George Michael-related story. They’d seen him at the bus stop/ down the chippy/ his sister cut their hair etc

  24. 24
    LondonLee on 11 Aug 2009 #

    Like Will said, the first three singles all copped an attitude of some sort but this one just seemed empty headed. I actually find it a little cynical too, it stinks of George throwing off the parochial Englishness of the previous singles and writing a ‘taking over the world’ record. Which worked obviously.

  25. 25
    Snif on 11 Aug 2009 #

    >>And I HATED those Choose Life T-Shirts.

    I saw a lot of “Choose Death” t-shirts about in response to that.

  26. 26
    swanstep on 11 Aug 2009 #

    Yes, between the ‘Frankie says x’ shirts and the ‘Choose y’ shirts, and Talking Heads-heads trying to get everyone to just, please, Stop Making Sense (I was sympathetic), it felt like a pretty didactic time in pop. Even though most of it was largely content-free. Odd.

    Utterly compelling record first 50 listens:

  27. 27
    Rory on 11 Aug 2009 #

    Thinking some more about why I reacted to this so warmly on a fresh listen yesterday, I think it’s partly Popular’s fault. This whole enterprise is a cynicism vaccine when it comes to pop songs, which neutralizes my teenage reaction of “what a sell-out piece of fluff”. Of course the makers of pop songs try to make them more popular – that’s the point. Once you accept that, the question then becomes “did they succeed?” – did they hit that sweet spot of an exquisitely catchy tune, polished production, and (in the image-obsessed ’80s) unforgettable look? With “Wake Me Up”, Wham! clearly did.

    And it’s really not such a drastic break from their early sound, despite the ’50s touches; this and “Wham Rap” are both full of horn stabs and dance-floor action. The lyrics may have lost their street vibe, but that wasn’t all it seemed, either: the lyrics to “Wham Rap” read as easily today as Tory apology than as Labour protest. “Hey kids, sorry you’re on the dole, but don’t let it stop you having fun!” As for the deeper messages of “Young Guns” (wise guys stay single!) and “Bad Boys” (let’s join a gang!), are they really that preferable to “take me dancing tonight”?

    I also want to go back in time and give the people who made the parody “Choose Death” T-shirts a good shake. Okay, so the Wham! ones were sappy (although hardly inconsistent with their “Wham Rap” message), but what’s so smart about the opposite? We all knew sixteen-year-olds who did choose death. I wonder what kind of 41-year-olds they might have been.

  28. 28
    LondonLee on 11 Aug 2009 #

    The ‘Choose Life’ t-shirts weren’t designed by Wham! but by Katherine Hamnett who created the baggy slogan t-shirt the year before.

    A word on the retro feel of this record. Sure, it’s catchy as hell but those lyrics would have gotten you booted out of the Brill Building or Motown HQ.

  29. 29
    lonepilgrim on 11 Aug 2009 #

    re28 you are too modest Lee – I’m very impressed by your involvement in the original Katherine Hamnett T-shirt production process

  30. 30
    Rory on 11 Aug 2009 #

    Lee, your comment has an href tag with mismatched quotes, which breaks some browsers – is there still time to fix it?

    We first met the Hamnett shirts in the Relax thread, so I wasn’t thinking that George and Andrew designed these, just that they popularized them. Made the slogan their own, as it were.

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