Wham! - Make It Big

Extended Play: Wham! – Make It Big

In the autumn of 1984, two of the year’s hottest acts released albums a week apart. With the furore over Relax and Two Tribes yet to die down and Frankie Say having replaced Choose Life as the year’s essential T-shirt slogan, the clamour for Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Welcome To The Pleasure Dome was enormous by the time it was finally unleashed at the end of October. One week later it was followed into the shops by Make It Big, Wham!’s second long player and an altogether more concise set than Frankie’s sprawling début.

George and Andrew’s own début, the previous year’s Fantastic, had been steeped in white soul and satirical social comment; its four hit singles, from the unemployment anthem Wham Rap! to poseur-baiting Club Tropicana, had been written and performed with tongue firmly in cheek. To George’s disgust, the irony of lyrics such as “You got soul on the dole/You don’t take no shit from the benefit” was largely lost on the general public and earned Wham! unwanted attention – both good and bad – from those who took the songs’ messages at face value. Even the record’s title had been misconstrued as a display of the typical pop star arrogance it was supposed to be mocking.

Make It Big represented a complete rethink of everything Wham! stood for, a product of George’s decision to adopt a more mainstream approach, both lyrically and musically. This approach paid off; the album entered the UK chart at number one – condemning Frankie to only one week at the top – and proved to be Wham!’s breakthrough album in North America and other territories where the subtleties of Fantastic had been overlooked. In many ways, however, it was also the death knell for Wham! as anything other than a pseudonym for George’s solo efforts; Andrew’s guitar is conspicuous by its absence on several tracks and his only co-writing credit is for Careless Whisper, one of the duo’s earliest compositions which pre-dates much of the material on Fantastic and was eventually released as a George Michael solo single.

With both Welcome To The Pleasure Dome and Make It Big approaching their thirtieth anniversaries, it’s interesting to see how the albums have made the transition from hot new releases to enduring catalogue titles. Pleasure Dome has been revamped and repackaged numerous times, from a CD reissue with two bonus tracks to a full-blown double CD deluxe edition and even a crowd-funded “ultra-deluxe” box set selling for the best part of £100. At the other end of the scale, while Make It Big has seen a remastered CD edition and releases on ephemeral formats such as MiniDisc and Super Audio CD, it has only ever consisted of the same eight tracks.

This seems like a very strange situation, so we decided to put together our own – entirely hypothetical – deluxe edition of Make It Big using additional tracks from the same era. It’s not as easy as you might think.

Preceding singles

Wake Me Up Before You Go GoAs soon as we start looking for Wham! B-sides, the reason for the lack of deluxe editions rapidly becomes clear. It’s fair to say that George Michael has never been the most prolific of artists; in the twenty-eight years since Wham! split he has released only four albums of new, original material – only three more than Andrew Ridgeley. This “quality over quantity” approach extends right back to the beginning of his career, so non-album Wham! songs are pretty thin on the ground. By the time Make It Big hit the shops, it already contained three number one hits in Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Freedom and Careless Whisper, but all of these had been released with just an instrumental version on the B-side.

Even the 12″ versions offered little in the way of additional material. Wake Me Up… wasn’t even given the dignity of an extended mix, the only enticement to shell out for the larger version of the single being an exclusive version of A Ray Of Sunshine, a song originally released on Fantastic. This version claims to have been “exclusively recorded for The Tube“, Channel 4’s Friday teatime pop music show, but as a track from album 1 it’s hard to justify its inclusion on an expanded edition of album 2.

Nominally George’s solo début, although released in some places with the bet-hedging credit “Wham! featuring George Michael”, Careless Whisper was granted an extended mix, but this longer version was included on Make It Big in an attempt to bump up the overall running time to a vaguely respectable 38 minutes. A few weeks after the single’s release, having managed to depose Two Tribes from the top spot after nine long weeks, Epic took a leaf out of ZTT’s book and released a second 12″ version of Careless Whisper. Unlike the multitude of mixes which kept Frankie at number one for most of the summer, George’s second 12″ used the same extended mix on the A-side but included a bona fide rarity on the flip – the original version of Careless Whisper recorded at the iconic Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama with legendary Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler at the controls. Despite Wexler’s credentials as a producer for artists as influential as Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett and George’s future duet partner Aretha Franklin, not to mention Dusty Springfield’s hallowed Dusty In Memphis album, his treatment of Careless Whisper is somehow unsatisfying, as if unfinished, justifying George’s audacious decision to produce the hit single version himself. Nevertheless, it’s the closest we get to an officially released out-take from Wham!’s entire catalogue.

As Careless Whisper dropped out of the chart, Wham! finally released the follow up to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. Freedom was another number 1 hit and gained a “Long Version” on the 12″ release. In the US, however, Freedom wasn’t released until 1985 by which time it had been given an alternative single mix (with additional trumpets in the coda) and a different “Long Mix” – shorter than the UK “Long Version” – on the 12″.

Just in time for Christmas…

Last ChristmasReleased on the last day before Freedom relinquished the UK number 1 slot to Chaka Khan’s I Feel For You, Make It Big followed a similar pattern to Fantastic: three hit singles, one ’70s soul cover version and four new original compositions, clocking in at a shade less than forty minutes overall. Whereas Fantastic had attempted to compensate for the short running time with a brace of bonus remixes on the cassette and CD formats, Make It Big made no such apologies. The eight tracks were allowed to stand on their own, defiantly unenhanced with remixes or bonus tracks to entice casual cassette purchasers; the original UK vinyl pressing didn’t even include the act’s name or the album’s title on the front cover. As one of the biggest bands in the world and with Christmas fast approaching, any such adornments were deemed unnecessary.

The festive period does, of course, provide us with a very obvious bonus track. Released three weeks after the album, Last Christmas was George’s attempt to top off a hugely successful year by capturing the coveted Christmas number 1 spot from under Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s very noses. As with the album, it hit the shops a week after Frankie’s The Power Of Love, but despite selling over a million copies Last Christmas (coupled with the album track Everything She Wants) stalled at number two, powerless to shift Band Aid’s all-conquering Do They Know It’s Christmas? from the top of the chart.

As the UK’s biggest selling single that never reached the number 1 spot you may think you know Last Christmas like the back of your hand, even the 12″ “Pudding Mix” which appears on all of Wham!’s official compilations: 1986’s The Final, its North American equivalent Music From The Edge Of Heaven and If You Were There – The Best of Wham! from 1997. What’s now forgotten is that in the rush to get the single in the shops, the first pressings of Last Christmas used an earlier and now unfamiliar mix of the song, with noticeably different backing vocals and more prominent synthesized handclaps which, to modern ears, sound laughably primitive. The original 12″ mix, while still labelled the “Pudding Mix”, omits the second verse altogether, which may explain why the larger format was re-pressed using the now familiar 12″ mix. After Christmas, in a last, desperate attempt to get the record to number 1, the single was flipped over and re-pressed again with Everything She Wants taking top billing and Last Christmas relegated to the B-side; it was at this point that the original mix was replaced by the more polished version we’re familiar with today. The original 12″ mix occasionally crops up on Christmas compilation CDs – presumably in error – but, to our knowledge, the first 7″ version has yet to see a digital release.

This post-Christmas revamp of the single also introduced a new remix of Everything She Wants, complete with a lengthy new middle section which lifted what was a rather flat album track to considerably greater heights. The additional vocal section only appears in full on the 12″ – it was chopped down to a mere four lines in order to keep the 7″ version under five and a half minutes, although it’s the 12″ mix which has become the canonical version. This enhanced version remains one of the few Wham! songs which George hasn’t tried to disown; he still performs Everything She Wants in his (increasingly infrequent) live shows and a shimmering disco remix of the track was commissioned in 1997 to promote If You Were There – The Best Of Wham!. This 1997 mix is unusual in that it attempts to make the song sound older instead of newer, stripping away the ’80s synths and drum machines in favour of a more organic sound with strings and rhythm guitar.

Chinese whisper

Wham! in China: Foreign SkiesEverything She Wants would be the last single pulled from the album and the last Wham! release until the end of 1985. Much of the year was spent touring, with the group playing shows in Japan, Australia and the US in January and February before returning to the States for the Whamamerica! tour in August and September. Between these two stints, the group’s manager Simon Napier-Bell pulled off one of the biggest publicity stunts of the decade by arranging for Wham! to become the first Western pop group to perform concerts in China. This was no small feat in a country where pop music was an alien concept and the tour only came to fruition after eighteen months of negotiations, during which Napier-Bell claims to have taken the entire Chinese government out to lunch three times over. During their ten day visit to China Wham! performed two concerts, in Beijing and Canton, to generally positive reactions, especially from those in the crowd who weren’t intimidated by strict governmental instructions to remain seated at all times.

As part of Napier-Bell’s plan to make Wham! the biggest group in the world, the music became secondary to media coverage of the Chinese trip itself. This can be seen all too clearly in the official documentary of the tour, Wham! in China: Foreign Skies. Under the guidance of esteemed film director Lindsay Anderson, the hour-long film contains many long, wordless scenes of George and Andrew undertaking photo shoots, meetings with local dignitaries and very public sightseeing trips, but only four songs from the concerts. Issued on VHS, Betamax and Laserdisc in 1986, the film has yet to make it to DVD and only one song from the soundtrack has ever been officially released. The song in question, Blue, has an odd history: an early, largely instrumental, version of the song appeared on the B-side of Club Tropicana in 1983 before the live version (now with additional verses) was issued as the flip to the 1985 reissue of Last Christmas. In the US it served as the B-side to The Edge of Heaven and appeared on the accompanying Music From The Edge of Heaven compilation.

The Chinese tour makes a clear jumping off point for the Make It Big era. The next time George and Andrew appeared in public was at Live Aid, by which time George had lost his razor but found the confidence to take centre stage for a performance of Elton John’s Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, relegating Andrew to the status of backing singer. The few remaining tracks to appear under the Wham! banner were little more than thinly disguised solo efforts and it came as no surprise when the duo announced their split the following Spring.

Making it bigger

While there are, at most, only two songs from the Make It Big era which aren’t already on the album, there are enough remixes and alternate versions to flesh out an expanded CD edition. Unless there turns out to be a warehouse full of forgotten unreleased material from the album sessions it seems unlikely there could ever be a super-deluxe box set of Make It Big, but it’s just conceivable that the various mixes, instrumental B-sides and the missing tracks from the Foreign Skies soundtrack could form a double CD for rabid completists. Indeed, the Foreign Skies film could serve as the main feature on an accompanying DVD, with promo videos and Top Of The Pops appearances as bonus features. Here, then, are our entirely hypothetical deluxe editions of Make It Big.

MAKE IT BIG 1CD Expanded Edition (75:02)

1. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (3:52)
2. Everything She Wants (5:03)
3. Heartbeat (4:44)
4. Like A Baby (4:15)
5. Freedom (5:03)
6. If You Were There (3:39)
7. Credit Card Baby (5:10)
8. Careless Whisper (6:32)
9. Last Christmas (Pudding Mix) (6:49)
10. Everything She Wants (Remix) (6:29)
11. Freedom (Long Version) (7:05)
12. Careless Whisper (Jerry Wexler Version) (4:42)
13. Blue (Live In China) (5:37)
14. Everything She Wants ’97 (6:02)

MAKE IT BIGGER 2CD + DVD Deluxe Edition

CD 1 (72:07)
1. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (3:52)
2. Everything She Wants (5:03)
3. Heartbeat (4:44)
4. Like A Baby (4:15)
5. Freedom (5:03)
6. If You Were There (3:39)
7. Credit Card Baby (5:10)
8. Careless Whisper (6:32)
9. Last Christmas (Original 7″ mix) (4:26)
10. Everything She Wants (7″ Remix) (5:30)
11. Careless Whisper (7″ Version) (4:54)
12. A Ray Of Sunshine (Specially Recorded for The Tube) (4:52)
13. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (Instrumental) (4:02)
14. Freedom (Instrumental) (5:05)
15. Careless Whisper (Instrumental) (5:00)

CD 2 (71:19)
1. Freedom (US 7″ Remix) (5:19)
2. Careless Whisper (Jerry Wexler Version) (4:42)
3. Freedom (Long Version) (7:05)
4. Last Christmas (Pudding Mix) (6:49)
5. Everything She Wants (Remix) (6:29)
6. Freedom (US Long Mix) (6:16)
7. Last Christmas (Pudding Mix – Original 12″ Version) (4:45)
8. Blue (Live in China) (5:37)
9. Love Machine (Live in China) (3:12)
10. Everything She Wants (Live in China) (6:28)
11. Careless Whisper (Live in China) (8:35)
12. Everything She Wants ’97 (6:02)

DVD

Main feature

Wham! in China: Foreign Skies watch

Promo videos

Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go watch
Careless Whisper watch
Last Christmas watch
Everything She Wants watch
Freedom watch

Top Of The Pops appearances

Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (24 May 1984) watch
Careless Whisper (23 August 1984) watch
Freedom (11 October 1984) watch
Everything She Wants (3 January 1985) watch

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