Friday, October 30, 2009


"Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" / Wham!

Here's the trouble -- after a week immersed in 80s cheese, it doesn't sound so cheesey to me any more. I'm thinking -- is it fair to make fun of Yes just because, in the last stutter of their prog-rock decline, they released an overproduced dance-rock hit like "Owner of a Lonely Heart"? Did Christopher Cross ever pretend to be anything more than the mellow soft-rock crooner of "Sailing"? Am I going to mock the glossy synth-pop of Berlin's "Take My Breath Away," just because I associate it too closely with Tom Cruise in Top Gun? Can I deny that I still enjoy the perky pleasure of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want To Have Fu-un"?

And then it hit me -- Wham! There is no song that better sums up the slick plastic club beat of the 1980s than "Wake Me Up Before You Go." No, wait, excuse me, it's "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" -- that second syllable is essential to this deliriously frivolous track. Of course it's "go go" so that they can rhyme it in the chorus with "yo-yo" ("don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo") and "solo" ("'Cause I'm not planning on going solo"). Clever, hunh?

Remember in the movie Zoolander, where Derek Zoolander and his male model buddies go out for a double orange mocha frappuchino to lift their spirits? It's this infectious track on the car radio that inspires the guys to goof around the gas station, playfully spraying each other with gasoline. For just one moment -- before a tossed match incinerates them -- we can bask in their carefree frolic. The minute you hear that song, it signals that the characters are shallow mindless hedonists addicted to glitz.

This single hit the clubs in 1984, almost a parody of itself from the very beginning. Wham! didn't last long -- they broke up in 1985 -- just long enough to spawn the career of George Michael, who was one half of the duo (his partner was Andrew Ridgeley). I couldn't tell you a single other song by George Michael; as far as I'm concerned, he only exists to provide Craig Ferguson with punchlines for his late-night talk show monologue. But I gather he's made a fortune as a Pop Star of the First Magnitude, at least over in the UK. The plot line of this song is absurdly simple: He complains that his girlfriend's been cheating on him -- not by sleeping with another man, but by going out dancing (hence the "go-go"). Tonight, he cajoles, he wants her to dance with him -- in bed. Hey, you expected profundity?

The joyous spirit of doo-wop dances through this song, with its upward swooping vocals, handclap percussion, and irresistibly syncopated beat. Although there are enough drums and keyboards to bring it squarely into the disco camp, the flat, foregrounded sound reminds me more than anything else of the sound of a 1960s transistor radio tuned to an AM station. The sound isn't retro, exactly, but the spirit is.

And I have to say, there's some nifty word play in some of these verses -- like the opener: "You put the boom boom into my heart, / You send my soul sky high when your lovin' starts. /Jitterbug into my brain, /Goes bang bang bang till my feet do the same." Or the later verse, that proclaims, "You get the gray skies outta my way, / You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day. / Turn a bright spark into a flame, / My beats per minute never been the same."

I'm posting a video because you really have to watch these guys sell this song; that's the whole point. The perfectly coiffed hair, the groovy dance moves, the tight white pants and blinding white teeth -- it was a whole package. Totally 80s.


wwolfe said...

It irritates me when this song is compared to Motown. I think that's a crutch used by lazy writers to describe a song you can dance to. The only real pleasure I've ever gotten from Wham! (besides Robert Christgau's review of their first album in which he ended every sentence with an exclamation point) was that Andrew Ridgeley's post-Wham! life inspired the very enjoyable Hugh grant/Drew Barrymore movie, "Music and Lyrics." Otherwise, despite my deep and lifelong love of pop music, Wham! left me cold. (Or, "cold!")

Holly A Hughes said...

You know, I hadn't made that Music and Lyrics connection consciously, but now that you mention it -- of course!!

I have got to look up that Christgau review; I'm sure it was a thorough (and well-deserved) roast. Somehow I don't mind skewering Wham!, knowing that George Michael has been so handsomely remunerated ever since.

Carabella said...

One of those seemingly innocuous ear worms that crawls in and won't leave. Because of this I am finally going to do a blog (egad, me?) about not so insidious tunes, maybe.

Anonymous said...

I bought this album from a Mongolian woman whose teeth were stained with betel nut juice, at a kind of Asian bodega outside of Islamabad at about a quarter to four on an August Tuesday in 1984 as the torrid sun refleted its dry heat from a seething pile of oxen dung toward by wrinkled, squinting forehead.

Just kidding, Holly. I actually DO NOT have this one.

But I love the video you selected as a period piece and its wonderful kitsch value.

Larry Bird wore the same shorts when the Celts played the Lakers in '84.

Hey, how come The Kinks stuff never seems this dated?