Another big ‘80s splash today, with the breakthrough album from Wham!, “Make It Big”, featuring the very talented George Michael on lead vocals. This album was a massive hit, and although Wham! was known as a duo, George Michael covered almost all of the songwriting and production. Andrew Ridgeley did play guitar on many of the tracks, but even that role was somewhat diminished as their sound is mostly keyboards, horns, and bass, like a lot of dance-pop music from that era.
As an aspiring rocker of this time frame, I was originally somewhat dismissive of Wham! as a ridiculous boy-band pop act with minimal substance, but with time, maturity, as well as some encouragement from my son, I have really come to fully appreciate how remarkably talented George Michael was. Listening through this album, in addition to the obvious hits, most of the other tracks are really well constructed, catchy pop songs. “Heartbeat” has a great Go-Go’s feel to it, and “Like a Baby” is a very soulful track with a long keyboard intro that has a nice yacht-rock groove. “If You Were There” is the one cover song on the album, with Wham! adding their own spin on an Isley Brothers song. “Credit Card Baby” is another really infectious song that could have been a big hit if they had pushed this track as a single. It really sounds like it could have been a #1 single for Diana Ross & the Supremes.
Of course, there are four major hits from the album, and it was the first single, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, that was our first introduction to George Michael. One of the most memorable videos from that era, it was this image that polarized initial reactions to the act, and even served as a template for what George Michael ultimately tried to distance himself from later in his career in the song “Freedom ‘90”, which while not on this album, is one of his very best.
“Freedom” was another Top 10 single for the band, and also has that Motown feel to it. “Careless Whisper” was actually released as a George Michael single, even though it was included on this Wham! album, and it is probably his most memorable ballad ever. My personal favorite, by far, both then and now, was the song “Everything She Wants”. My friend Shane and I both really took to this song, and if there had been one more air guitar contest in my future, we were fully committed to perform this song together. (I’m pretty sure I was relegated to the Andrew Ridgeley role). It is one of those songs that today I could sing all the way through without any help, that is how well I still recall the lyrics.
Overall, this is a great album, and one I ultimately felt compelled to add to the list as an essential timepiece of from this decade. My friend Jim, as with most new turns in music, was the first to really hop on the George Michael bandwagon later in his solo career, but we all have come a long way in learning how much of a talent Michael was, even as he is yet another name on that way-too-long list of artists we lost much earlier than we should have.