An April Fool’s Day special: When Wham! named its second record Make It Big, is was a statement of purpose and a prophecy. Wham! reshaped our understanding of what a pop song could achieve and produced an album that became the definitive musical statement of a generation.
As its name suggests, Wham! was a band built to make an impact. When they hit, they hit hard, with memorable anthems and indelible ballads that changed the way a generation felt not only about freedom, whispers, and go-going, but about what it was possible to achieve within the confines of conventional pop.
A quarter of a century ago, after a radical revision in their leather-clad tough-boy image, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley went to the South of France to record their second album. The result, Make It Big, more than fulfilled the considerable promise of their first record, Fantastic. Leaving behind the groundbreaking genre experiments in rap (“Wham! Rap”, “Young Guns (Go For It!)”) and calypso (“Club Tropicana”), Make It Big consolidated the band’s musical strengths in one seismic eruption that divided pop music into a before and an after. Before, Wham! was among a host of genial, well-coiffed British pop acts floundering for a distinctive identity; after, they were international icons, and George Michael was being heralded without hyperbole as the next Stevie Wonder.
No mere sexual innuendo, the title Make It Big was both a statement of purpose and a methodology. Big synths, big drum machine samples, big lyrical themes, big oversize T-shirts with political slogans. To honor this seminal record on its 25th anniversary, PopMatters offers a song-by-song analysis of the opus in its entirety, with special essays on its place in the history of Wham! and the history of pop.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an April’s Fools package. Opinions may or may not be in earnest, though all details are authentic to the best of our knowledge (save for the interview with Ernie Isley quoted in the “If You Were There” entry, which is fictional).
Wednesday, April 1 2009
Wham!'s hits became legendary and deserved successes, but the strength of Make It Big's album cuts proves the band's innovativeness and versatility, revealing Ridgeley and Michael capable of crafting a song cycle as well as a stunning single.
Is Michael is doomed to walk the earth, a well-coiffed ghost of Christmas past, gripping the foil-wrapped box containing this precious gift, forever seeking someone who will finally put his oft-regifted heart to rest?
What's more macho than luxurious, well-tooled leather, skin tight and sculpted to fit that amazing man of your dreams? Would you believe, buff bodies in pastel beachwear, tans shimmering golden beneath layers of white, pink, and powder blue?
It would seem that time has not been particularly kind to "the other guy in Wham!" The always enigmatic Ridgeley has gone from being one half of the world's most successful pop duo in the 1980s to a punch line on Family Guy. Is this entirely fair?