Those familiar with Wham! already know just how huge “Make It Big” was for the pop duo. In one fell swoop, it catapulted George Michael into super-stardom, while consigning Andrew Ridgeley to near anonymity. With good reason, too. With “Make It Big”, Michael solidified himself as the sole creative force behind Wham!. Indeed, it wasn’t long after the release of “Make It Big” that the pop duo decided to go their separate ways.
Today in 1984, “Make It Big” hit No. 1 on the UK album chart. At the same time, they also hit No. 1 on the US singles chart with “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”.
I was a child of the 90’s, and still remember the first time I heard that song. I was watching “Zoolander”, and it played in the scene before Ben Stiller’s model friends die in a freak gasoline explosion. The scene was hilarious, and is now seared in my memory. So in a way, I’ve been carrying around “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” in my head for quite some time.
But let’s take a look back at the release of “Make It Big”, and get a glimpse into what made this pop album such a tremendous success.
Make It Big
“Make It Big” is the second studio album from Wham!, just one year after their debut, “Fantastic”. The title was fitting for the heights George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley were shooting for. Stephen Thomas Erlewine’s review on AllMusic says it all.
“The title was a promise to themselves, Wham!’s assurance that they would make it big after struggling out of the gates the first time out. They succeeded on a grander scale than they ever could have imagined, conquering the world and elsewhere with this effervescent set of giddy new wave pop-soul”.
While “Make It Big” only contains eight songs, half of them were released as singles leading up to, and past the album’s release in October, 1984. In chronological order they were, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (May), “Careless Whisper” (July), “Freedom” (August), and “Everything She Wants” (December).
Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
The album’s first released single came out in May, 1984, and was the perfect hook for the forthcoming album. Who can forget the Motown-esque snapping intro, or the often repeated “Jitterbug”? This fusion and revival of Motown into modern pop can be seen all throughout “Make It Big”.
While most of “Make It Big” falls under the category of Motown-inspired pop, “Careless Whisper” stands alone as a unique outlier. This sax-infused, jazzy, soul ballad to a one-night stand carries so much emotion. And, almost because of that, it’s become somewhat of a joke as its aged.
This is another song that many members of the younger generation probably heard for the first time in a movie. In Tim Miller’s “Deadpool”, Ryan Reynolds made it a point to write in one of his favorite records. He even sings along to it in the last scene. While the scene pokes fun at Wham!, it also works as an homage, in a weird way.
This is one that I’m not as familiar with, but it keeps with Wham!’s themes of love and love lost. “Freedom” is a message to a significant other who won’t stop fooling around with other lovers, and a plea to stop.
As the chorus goes, “I don’t want your freedom / I don’t want to play around / I don’t want nobody baby / Part time love just brings me down”.
I’m not sure the song aged particularly well, as it didn’t really grab me personally, and felt more like a drag to get through in some places. But still, I suppose it’s worth remembering when taking into account the success of “Make It Big”.
Everything She Wants
In “Everything She Wants”, George Michael almost sounds like he’s channeling Michael Jackson. He even gives a few of the classic Jackson “whoops” and sharp, rhythmic exhales, which may be one of the reasons why I enjoyed listening to this more so than “Freedom”. It’s catchier, has a higher bpm, and is more dynamic by far.
And yet again, we get the classic Michael lyrics of unrequited love, while trying to give a lover everything she wants. “Somebody told me / ‘Boy, everything she wants is everything she sees’ / I guess I must have loved you / Because I said you were the perfect girl for me”.
So if you’re feeling it, take a walk down memory lane, or expose yourself to music from the now-popular-again ’80’s. Wham! is definitely worth familiarizing yourself with. Or, you could just wait for the next “Deadpool” movie.