“He has a huge reputation as a real asshole and there’s no doubt that Simon will make a lot of money out of us,” said George Michael in 1985 about new Wham! manager Simon Napier Bell. “But what he really wants out of it is to be responsible for managing a group that is one of the biggest in the world.” Part of getting Wham! that kind of star status meant getting them released from their contract with Inner Vision, and Mark Dean held Napier Bell responsible for driving the final wedge between his label and the Wham! duo. But strong management from an experienced music industry professional like Napier Bell was exactly what the group needed at this point. He got them a lucrative deal with CBS records, and Michael and Andrew Ridgeley now received proper reward and remuneration as artists on the Epic subsidiary which helped motivate them to focus their efforts on scoring their first #1.
Napier Bell couldn’t work miracles all the time though. He couldn’t prevent Inner Vision’s issue of the dreadful Club Fantastic single, an awful medley of tracks from the Fantastic album released at the end of 1983. Inner Vision won an injunction to prevent Wham! recording for another company on 11 November 1983, and the single was released two weeks later. (Michael and Ridgeley urged fans to treat it as the cash-in it was and not to buy it, but even so it went to #15, such was their popularity.) But, while he negotiated the out-of-court settlement that would release Wham! from Inner Vision in March 1984, Napier Bell did ensure that Inner Vision had no right to release Careless Whisper in that period, a track already written when Wham! joined the label, but one not appearing on Fantastic. This song was to be reserved for Wham!’s next record company and, as it was to play out, for Michael’s first solo record.
But before that, there was Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, the first release under the Epic deal. Dee C. Lee had left the group by this point, although she had also signed to CBS (shortly before Wham!) as a solo artist. (She also started to work regularly with the band she was later to join, The Style Council.) She was replaced by Pepsi Demacque, and this new line-up on their new label came with a new attitude and new look. The Club Tropicana atmosphere was preserved for ‘Go-Go’: it was a party record, a full-of-energy contemporary take on mid-century pop classics with its “pa-pa” backing vocals which mentioned the dance-craze jitterbug. Unlike Club Tropicana the video for the song was studio based this time, but it again depicted Wham! with other fun-seekers, this time an audience of adoring fans. Wham! were depicted as a band for the first time with a full set of musicians on stage with Michael and Ridgeley, the latter cast as guitar player. Famously, they wore Katharine Hamnett T-shirts with the legend CHOOSE LIFE for the first half of the film, changing into day-glo colours in the second; Michael came to despise the luminous gloves he wore when this image of him was over-used.
So strongly did ‘Go-Go’ come to identify Wham! in the weeks following its release, it is probably just as well that the follow-up, issued just over two months later, was done so in Michael’s name rather than the band’s. The previously mentioned Careless Whisper was a mature ballad with sensitive lyrics (Michael didn’t think so, dismissing the song as frivolous in later years) and a memorable sax solo. It was a sensible move to issue it as a solo single because it is difficult to see how Ridgeley could have contributed to its promotion, but it should be noted that he is credited as co-writer. Also, Michael made it clear at the time though that this wasn’t the start of his solo career: work on a second Wham! album was to continue, and tours were planned. But the music industry was starting to take him more seriously. He’d just taken two singles to #1, the second of which had given Epic their first million-seller, and in addition to records the mention of his name could sell concert tickets, clothing, magazines, and more: when people copied his Careless Whisper haircut (dubbed the most expensive in history, as he had it re-styled during the video shoot for the single meaning for continuity reasons expensive scenes had to be re-shot) he became a trend-setter in fashion circles too. All this, and it was only half-way through 1984: he was still yet to truly make it big.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Jul. 23
The ASSOCIATES 18 Carat Gold Love (Associates ACS3)
CHINA CRISIS African And White [re-issue – check label] (Virgin INEV011)
The FUN BOY THREE Summertime (Chrysalis CHS2629)
George MICHAEL Careless Whisper (Epic A4603)