The second half of 1984 for Wham! was just as rewarding as the first. Talking to Record Mirror (3 November 1984) shortly after the band’s third #1 single, George Michael said: “When we started at the beginning of the year with ‘Wake Me Up’, that was the first surprise of the year for me because I could see that in commercial terms it was a great leap. We already knew we had Careless Whisper to come out, also we already knew about … our next single, ‘cos I’d written that in February… We knew we had three singles that were potential #1s and that we’d take one single off the album, which hadn’t been written then. Our goal was, all things being perfect, we’d get four #1s this year. Freedom was the least likely to get to #1. When we released that I always considered it a bit of a risk but I really wanted us to put it out. The fact that Freedom has got to #1 is great because it means with a very commercial one as the fourth single we might just do it.”
That fourth one was Last Christmas (“It’s real slush, sleigh bells and everything,” he said) and it fell short of the #1 target Michael had in mind for it by one place. Nevertheless, he got his fourth #1: he was a soloist on the single that kept it off the top, Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?. And Last Christmas did ultimately achieve another ambition Michael had for it: “My aim is for our Christmas single to sell a million and a half,” he had told Smash Hits (27 September – 10 October 1984) – to date it has sold over 1.7m copies in the UK alone. Still ambitious at this stage, he wanted these kind of sales every time. “I would like every record I write to be a #1. Careless Whisper and Wake Me Up Before You Go Go sold more than we ever sold before because they are very, very good pop records. A lot of people who don’t like us were even shaken a little by Careless Whisper. But it’s so grudging! They say, ‘we like Careless Whisper but we don’t like Wham! so help, what can we say? Oh, let’s say, what a great sax solo.’ It’s as if I had nothing to do with it. It’s a great sax solo because I wrote it.”
Comments like that last one were the sort of thing that got Michael in trouble with his critics, and he recognized at the time that some of what he said could be construed as arrogant. But false modesty can be equally nauseating, so why not just speak his mind? There were some sections of the music press that simply wouldn’t accept him or his talent regardless of how he presented himself, denying him even the ‘grudging’ respect he had already alluded to. The one piece of unequivocal evidence in his favour was the sales return report. “There’s a certain credibility in selling a million records,” he said. “In the last twelve weeks we’ve sold nearly 2 million singles. When you’re selling those amounts, why do you need people who don’t understand what you’re doing? Like the miners’ benefit we did recently. We were there to do people some good, and all we got were insults. We did it to make money for the miners. It’s so pathetic.” He commented in more detail about this in the Record Mirror article. “It was final proof that we don’t appeal to a market that reads Sounds, NME and Melody Maker, they’ve got such a self-righteous attitude. Although the majority of the people at the gig were all right, there were some really blind, intolerant, self-righteous people out there… the actual gig itself I’m really glad we did. If they did another one, we’d do another one. Just to show people that the only reason we’re there is that 300 or 400 kids who pay £5 a time make money that goes towards the benefit.”
There was one other #1 for Wham! in 1984: album number two, Make It Big. “With the first LP we were kind of looking for a market, with the second LP I’ve just written what I liked and got rid of my influences in one go,” Michael said in Record Mirror. “I suppose the next LP will be more or less a case of us having to find our own sound or me as a writer having to find my own niche. Not so much putting more thought into it, but not having to depend so much on being derivative. Not that I think there’s anything wrong in being derivative – but this is a very derivative LP – it makes the next LP a challenge. Make It Big has been derived from so many different areas that it hasn’t left me very much that I know.” In fact, there would be no next LP for Wham!, but the end of the group was still some way off.
If 1984 had been about record sold, 1985 was about ticket sales. The two most notable events of the year for Wham! were a tour of China early in 1985 (the first western band to tour there, which attracted a huge amount of publicity), and Live Aid in July. At the latter, Michael and Andrew Ridgeley did not perform as Wham! as such, although Ridgeley was in a chorus of backing singers for Michael’s solo performance of Elton John’s Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. (John himself was another of the backing vocalists; Michael returned the favour later in the year when he provided vocals on John’s hit single Nikita.) British director Lindsay Anderson was engaged to make a film about the China tour which he intended to call ‘If You Were There’, but in the end his film was rejected and the footage recycled for an alternative package released on VHS called ‘Foreign Skies: Wham! In China’. With these activities, studio time to record another record was limited. There was just one new record from Wham! that year, the single I’m Your Man, the promotional clip for which continued the emphasis on live work: it was filmed to look like a gig at the Marquee Club.
Speaking to Smash Hits (20 November – 3 December 1985) at the time of the single’s release, Michael seemed a little less hungry for fame than he had in the interview he had given the magazine twelve months earlier. “I always thought I was incredibly ambitious. I thought nothing could stop us becoming the biggest stars in the world. But you get to the stage where you realise you’re chasing your own tail.”
NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 11
Julian COPE Sunshine Playroom (Mercury COPE1)
The STYLE COUNCIL A Solid Bond In Your Heart (Polydor TSC4)
THOMPSON TWINS Hold Me Now (Arista TWINS2)
Paul YOUNG Love Of The Common People [Re-issue] (CBS CBSA3643)
Sal SOLO Forever Be (MCA MCA1012)
WHAM! I’m Your Man (Epic A6716)