How In The Hell Did I Ever Own: Wham! U.K. – “Fantastic?”

Columbia Records | US | 1983 | BFC 38911

I’m the first to admit it: I’m hardly the hippest one in the room! I’ve made mistakes and musical gaffes that I can look back on and wonder, “what was I thinking, there?” Growing up I just soaked up US Top 40 of the 70s because:
a] it was there and accessible to a child with a transistor radio
b] I didn’t know any better!

There was some amazing music in the pre-Punk era but I had almost no idea about it! I was limited to the radio pointing the way. First AM, then FM, but Top 40 from 1971-1978-ish. As I was being crushed by Disco following the blow-up of “Saturday Night Fever” I finally turned the dial one night and found FM-Rock! Wow. Very different. But by the last 70s, the free-form “progressive” Dj curated era was over! Fm was morphing into AOR radio and was as tightly programmed as the Top 40 stations had been.

By high school I had already heard the stirrings of New Wave and being a voracious reader, had discovered music journalism which really opened things up. In Central Florida had a local New Wave paper called Dogfood [after the Iggy Pop tune on “Soldier”] that I would read and pick up on some new things that might be interesting. By the time I graduated high school I was starting to get very informed about music! And I was generally the one who suggested music to my group of friends.

Sometimes, the info flowed from friends to me. In college I became friends with Jayne, who worked at the best record store in town: Record City in Fern Park. Jayne was heavy into UK music journalism. She read Melody Maker, NME, The Face, and Smash Hits. Having a small budget, I never wasted money on music press instead of records! By 1981, I would buy Trouser Press, but only because that was the best music press I could have been reading at that time! Clearly the music magazine that was written with me in mind. So apart from subscribing to Trouser Press, I just read Jayne’s papers and mags.

It was 1983 and we were still in the throes of the New Pop movement in the UK. I was still a staunch Anglophile. While the US bands had originated Punk, and even Post-Punk, the UK scene grew it and developed the New Wave offshoots that had captured so much of my attention like pros. While I felt that 1982 had been a slight a step backward from the amazing ’79-’81 period, I had not yet grasped just how drastically the game was changing in the UK. Bands like Culture Club were very big and while I gave them a chance at first – they were British after all, it was clear that just because they were British, it didn’t mean that they were bulletproof. After buying their debut album, it was clear that I should not be paying too much attention to them.

It was in this environment that I’d see Jayne’s issues of Smash Hits and see that there was a new band coming hot on the heels of Culture Club called Wham! who were turning into a sensation in the British charts. Okay. Noted. They were a duo of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. Young guys. Probably my age. They seemed to be next in line behind Duran Duran for teen heartthrob status, but now that it had happened to Duran Duran; a band I liked, I thought nothing of it. I felt that I shouldn’t hold an audience of teenaged girls against anyone at that point. After all, that sort of adulation was almost completely divorced from the music and really, almost a separate thing.


So I was shopping a lot at Crunchy Armadillo Records by 1983, and in one of my jaunts there, I came across a copy of the debut album, rebranded for the US as “Wham! U.K.” due to another Wham! [a disco band from the high Disco era] out there raising a stink from 1978! It was a used promo copy, and it cost me no more than $4.00. I took it home and gave it a spin. I can see that it had lots of musical guests that had enlivened some recent Trevor Horn productions [Anne Dudley, Louis Jardim, Brad Lang] so this music was trying to at least be adjacent to my wheelhouse.

“Bad Boys” was the first track and wow, did it sound like they had been listening to Michael Jackson. Closely. Right down to the interjections of “whooo, whooo!” The cover of The Miracles great “Love Machine” from the mid-70s was a little ludicrous as these white, British teenagers were trying on their older brothers’ musical clothes. Hearing Michael [or maybe the backing vocalists] emulating the mature bass growl of “oooo-ooooooo-ooooooooooh, yeah!” of the original Miracles version was a bit much. Actually, the band brought absolutely nothing to this slavish cover of one of the earlier Disco hits.

Side one ended with “Wham Rap!” which was a long 12″ mix length track and I was only just starting to begin to like rap music as Run D.M.C. had finally cracked my disdain for this new style after several years of trying to ignore it. The branding was just beginning to switch from Rap to Hip Hop in 1983, and these Brits were obviously behind the curve. Though the lyrics about life on the dole were faintly amusing in the context with a refrain of “D.H.S.S.!”

“Club Tropicana” was a neon-pink sugary cocktail of a song. It would eventually become the fourth hit from the LP in the UK, but not a hit in my house. “Nothing Looks the Same In The Light” was a breathless ballad. Overlong and maybe aiming for the same target as Spandau Ballet’s “True” albeit without the crass thrills that Tony Hadley brought to their power ballad. I see a track on there next called “Come On!” but I honestly can’t remember a thing about it. The final track was another hit British single, “Young Guns [Go For It]” another single of rapping attempts as George Michael tried to convince his buddy that marriage was for saps and that he should be hanging with his bud instead. Yeeeeeeeah. Subtext for miles on this one.

So I had this album on my racks for at least a year as it was definitely not one for the ages. The presence of the band on MTV was minimal to nothing. I think I recall seeing them “live” on MV3 once, but with the second Wham album, and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” all of that changed as Wham! made America roll over this time with hit after hit. I traded in the LP by 1985 and the Great Vinyl Purge that saw a real culling hit the racks.

Looking back even a few years down the line, this one was a real aberration in the Record Cell. Glossy dance pop of a less than compelling stripe, but looking back, I’ve tempered my views on George Michael. He was teenager with a real love for Pop music and he produced this album with Steve Brown, who had done the honors on “Tears Are Not Enough,” the first ABC★★★ single. Now I can see him as a talented teen with a deep knowledge and passion about Pop, his records still did nothing for me. Looking back 40 years, I can cite George Michael as someone I could recognize as talented, just not my cup of tea. The old talent versus taste syndrome writ large. I’ve come to see talent as a crutch that often leads to bad habits and taste as the most important factor in music. What’s the next album in this series? I already know, but that will have to wait. I’ve got bigger and better fish to fry.

-30-

About postpunkmonk

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16 Responses to How In The Hell Did I Ever Own: Wham! U.K. – “Fantastic?”

  1. Big Mark says:

    When “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” was at its peak, I was working in an office where a very bland pop station was played, and it was sheer torture to be hearing that song multiple times per day. Like you, I ultimately — grudgingly — afforded George Mickey (as I liked to call him at the time) some degree of acknowledgement for having actual pop skills that were outside of my wheelhouse, but hearing “Go Go” still makes me cringe.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Big Mark – In the cosmic scheme of things, I think I’d rather hear “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” than “Karma Chameleon.” In retrospect, it was something that he was not simply a product but the co-producer of his debut album.

      As an aside, I remember when “Faith” came out and I was buying a lot of records from the Jack Wolek Rare Necessities catalogs. Those guys who ran that operation were all Dwight Yoakum fans heavy on Americana as it would come to be called in the early 90s. They would run their year end top ten lists and most of them unironically embraced “Faith” as a killer single of that year. I appreciated the radical shift in tone, but I wouldn’t rate it as highly, perhaps, as the one Queen song I would spare from the wood chipper, their chart topping stab at Rockabilly: “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Also the last type of record expected from the artist.

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  2. Have to say that while Wham(!) never did much for me, the “I want Your Sex” 12″ (pts. 1,2,3) and the whole Faith album still sound great today. Shep Pettibone probably had a lot to do with that…

    Sorry if this invalidates my cool cred card :-p

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  3. Shelf says:

    Damn, Monk – if you count Wham! “Fantastic” among your most embarrassing purchases, then rest assured that your reputation is faaar from tarnished. And I still like “Wham Rap!”

    The greatest one-time shame of my collection was undoubtedly Vanilla Ice “To The Extreme” – bought in a moment of madness and quickly bartered for gas money on a road trip in college. Can anyone beat that?

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Shelf – For what it’s worth, I think “Wham Rap” might be the best on offer there! And I would not call Wham! [U.K.] embarrassing. I don’t think I can be embarrassed by any music since there are some indefensible records in my collection that are there because I love them, no mater how “uncool” they are. Was I ever cool? It was not a concern. I would actually be embarrassed if I were trying to be cool! It was more like puzzling, when seen through the rear view mirror. There will be other “puzzling” records in this series eventually. The sort of records I can’t believe that were ever there, even briefly.

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  4. Jeremy Shatan says:

    We’ve all been there, making Ill-informed choices in the moment. Hell, I once paid full price for an Of Montreal album! As for Wham, Wake Me Up was a tragically bad song but I’m Your Man was a catchy tune. Some of the later solo stuff was pleasant enough but the lionization of Michael as some sort of genius is a bit ridiculous. And remember when Andrew Ridgley tried to have a solo career 😂?

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Jeremy Shatan – I had to look up Of Montreal. They were a new band to me. [What’s so bad about them?] So I went to Discogs and searched and saw a little red “1” in the upper corner of their avatar, meaning I had a release with them on my want list! Things like that always drive me a little nuts. So after searching their entry in every way to parse, I finally found that they appeared on a track on Janelle Monae’s “Archandroid” album! As for the genius/George Michael trope, that’s a bit much for me. But Talented? Yeah. I can go there. A teenager who can make that career happen has something on the ball! Even if I don’t rate it. I’ll admit that it’s a relatively new posture for me, but there we are in the 21st century. But yes, I do recall the Andrew Ridgeley solo career! All 10 minutes of it on MTV, who world premiered “Shake” then degaussed the video when they were no longer required to play it.
      andrew ridgeley shake
      Was a professional stylist employed on that solo career? It was 1990 and Columbia Records! But gosh, I sincerely hope not! I dearly hope that Ridgeley himself thought ‘this look is dope!” In which case, it WAS!

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  5. Deserat says:

    Interesting discussion; George Michael – I remember dancing to the song “Careless Whisper” and liking it. The next stuff where they were all dressed up like cheerleaders – meh. But the video with all those models and him singing about being exploited – wow – what a difference. He had a good voice, but as you say, he was packaged for general consumption (and hated it). Also, as you say, he had talent but the fame definitely distorted his life and possibly him. The last years were tragic; I always wonder how anyone in that type of position could know that anyone around them likes them just for who they are versus what they have….money, especially a lot of money, can really cause people to behave weirdly.

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  6. Taffy says:

    I realize this blog entry is about regretted purchases, which I understand to be about music you presumed you would enjoy and ended up not, but if I may pivot slightly…here goes! Folks are allowed to like what they like, and dislike what they don’t, but I cannot stand when an artist/piece of work is referred to as a guilty pleasure. Utterly no reason to add the qualifier of guilty – if one enjoys something then why bring in guilt? I say this because I wonder if perhaps albums the Monk regrets purchasing will be thought of as guilty pleasures by those who do enjoy them, as if there’s some justification needed. I love the Ramones, OMD, Dusty Springfield, disco, punk rock, Kylie Minogue, ABBA, Bowie, etc etc, and have zero guilt or shame in doing so. I also happen to enjoy some songs on all three Wham albums. I never worry about being uncool or embarrassed by any of my likes, probably cuz I do my best to never give a shit.
    Anyway, sorry for the tangent. Feel free to edit or remove if this is unwanted!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – I don’t understand that whole “guilty pleasure” thing either! I adore some ABBA® but dislike some of their other schlagerific™ material that exists realms below their finest work [which is sublime, indeed] but I would never throw out the baby with the bathwater! Just enjoy what you do [hah!] and forget the rest, I say. Guilt implies that you shouldn’t like something because of social pressure. I’m too isolated from society to feel any pressure. The Wham! record I bought was trying something new in good faith [again, hah!] that really wasn’t a good fit.

      And Taffy, FYI, I have never removed a single comment that wasn’t from a spambot from this blog in a dozen years. I even left the single attempt at trolling in. Though I will occasionally edit obvious typos as a courtesy!

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  7. Hugh Hall says:

    Over here in the UK I think Wham (and Culture Club and Adam And The Ants for that matter) were quite credible prior to the massive hits. If you listen to ‘Fantastic’, ‘Kissing To Be Clever’ and ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ they are still chock full of great tunes and some superb musicianship. You just have to close your mind to what transpired later on as each artist eventually jumps the shark creatively. Club Tropicana, Karma Chameleon and Prince Charming are shockingly cheesy and always have been. HNY!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Hugh Hall – Of those three the winner by far for me would be “Kings Of The Wild Frontier.” Funny that they were all on CBS. I thought that Wham! had hits right out of the box from the very start. Four top ten singles with the first [“Wham Rap”] the lowest charting at #8.

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  8. I share your embarrassment and have a very battered (faded/yellowed sellotape holding the cover together) vinyl copy of the LP I used to use for DJing in the 80s. There is one under appreciated gem of a tune on the LP, A Ray of Sunshine (side one track 2) which I think is an absolute post-punk-funk/new wave/disco classic. Try it again, you might like it!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Richard Oliver – Welcome to the comments! I’m trying to remember “A Ray Of Sunshine” in my head and it’s been so long that my attempt is mutating into Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” half way through the chorus hook. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that one!

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