Monday, February 2, 2015

The Fantastic Two AKA The Curious Case Of Andrew Ridgeley

Eurosleaze, thy name is Wham!

Seriously, has there ever been a group more flagrantly sleazy than Wham!? They even had an exclamation mark in their name! Wham! were so Eurotrashy they made Bryan Ferry look like Donny Osmond. But while I will freely admit that, on the one hand, the material on their debut album is absolute throwaway '80s crapola, on the other hand ... gimme all you got, boys. I don't know what it is. You just can't keep a good Wham! down. Come on AMG, that one-and-a-half star rating was a total overreaction. I mean, I have heard one-and-a-half star albums. I served with one-and-a-half star albums. One-and-a-half star albums were a friend of mine. Senator, you're no one-and-a-half star album.

Despite my better judgement, I feel like every track has at least ... something going for it. Take "Love Machine." At first I thought, "Hey, this is an impressively silky slice of string-laden sophisti-pop, I can't believe this gem is such an obscurity," and then I realized it was actually a cover of a 1976 #1 hit by the (post-Smokey Robinson) Miracles. Whoops! Well, even if George Michael didn't write it, Wham!'s version still has an entrancing British R&B vibe, anticipating, if by accident, the likes of Soul II Soul and Lisa Stansfield.

Face it, for any other shitty British dance-pop act, a tossed-off album track like "A Ray Of Sunshine" could have been their biggest hit. Sure, the chorus makes no sense, but neither does the Bible, and look how many people love the Bible: "Sometimes you wake up in the morning with a bass line/A ray of sunshine/Sometimes you know today you're gonna have a good time/And you're ready to go." Sometimes, I wake up in the morning with a giant impression of a pillow stitch on my face, but same difference. Another sleeper cut, "Nothing Looks The Same In The Light" has the kind of eerie downtempo groove that Air or DJ Shadow have desperately been trying to replicate ever since. You heard it here first.

Aside from the previously discussed "rap" songs, Fantastic boasted two other monster UK singles. "Bad Boys," not to be confused with later hits by The Miami Sound Machine and Inner Circle, respectively, is more or less gloopy dance club garbage, but like an alluring Upworthy headline, I just can't keep myself away. Here George plays the rebellious teenage scion:
Dear mummy, dear daddy
You had plans for me, I was your only son
And long before this baby boy could count to three
You knew just what he would become
"Run along to school
No child of mine grows up a fool
Run along to school"
When you tried to tell me what to do
I just shut my mouth and smiled at you
One thing that I know for sure

Bad boys
Stick together, never
Sad boys
Good guys
They made rules for fools, so
Get wise
I feel like probably the worst thing George Michael ever did as a teenager was steal a grape from the produce section, but in this video, he is bad, bad, bad. There's even a scene at the end where Michael and Ridgeley dance in an alleyway while wearing leather jackets and sunglasses. Somebody call the cops.

The first time I watched the video for the album's fourth hit, "Club Tropicana," I wondered who smeared a jar of vaseline onto my computer monitor. Then I realized, "Oh, wait, that's how they wanted it to look." Seriously, was this video just a giant excuse for George Michael to cavort around a pool while wearing as little as possible? Some choice YouTube comments:
If these chicks were looking to get laid they came to the wrong place

I'm a construction worker. We listen to this song all the time on the jobsite. I just hired three new guys on my crew - an Indian Chief, a Sailor, and a Cowboy.

George must have waxed as he's a hairy fuck. Smooth as silk here.

When you are George Michael you are allowed to throw drinks into the pool.

A big shout out to Mexican Burt Reynolds working the bar!

Ah, but now we come to the crucial question of our age: can Wham! really be considered a band if it only consisted of two members, and one of them didn't actually do anything?

No, seriously, what exactly did Andrew Ridgely do? Did he play any instruments? Guitar, apparently. Because that's the first thing I think of when I think of Wham! Did he sing? On the first album, he's not even credited with "shouts." Did he co-write songs? Yeah, about four of them. In the history of popular music, I don't think any man has been able to get away with doing so little while being one half of a duo. It sounds like he was there mostly so that George Michael could have someone to hang out with. Although a few YouTube commentators claim to find him attractive, to me he seems like he's playing the role of Robin Gibb to George Michael's Barry Gibb. The befuddled cries of YouTube commentators echo in the night:
Still struggling to understand the point of Andrew Ridgeley in this duo. Did he make the tea, or something?

Is there a Wham! song where Andrew ever has a line?

Great mysteries of the twentieth century. Who Shot JFK. What Happend to Amelia Earhart. What was Andrew Ridgleys contibution to Wham.
However, at least according to this random post I found on a blog called Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict, Ridgeley was essentially George Michael's svengali, his Henry Higgins, his Colonel Tom Parker, his Berry Gordy. As the author Sam Tweedle surmises, "without Andrew Ridgley there most likely would have never been a George Michael nor a Wham!" The thing is, the svengali is usually not an actual member of the band:
In the early days they were an odd pair. Andrew was the good looking, confident, popular and stylish of the pair, while George was chubby and shy with an acne problem. However, through his mother, who was one of the most feared teachers in the school, Andrew was given the chore of taking George Michael under his wing. It was in this forced pairing that Andrew and George learnt that they had something in common. They both had a love and passion for music. George was a talented song writer and musician while Andrew…well…. Andrew liked to listen to it. Andrew knew that, together, George and he had what it took to be a pop star. I mean, George was an incredible song writer and a capable singer, and Andrew could dance and look good.

Andrew took it upon himself to teach George how to style his hair, how to dress, how to have that winning personality and how to be charismatic on stage. I mean, if Andrew was going to look good, George was going to have to as well. Within months Andrew had successfully turned George Michael from a nerdy introvert into a charismatic lead singer.
You mean to tell me that, back when it all began, George Michael was the ugly one? George Michael, with his atrocious lack of charisma, was the one who was going to drag this duo down? I guess bad boys really do stick together. That is, until the obvious occurred:
The idea was that George would write the songs while Andrew would deal with the public. Traditionally, Andrew was the more charismatic and well spoken of the pair. However, by being the voice and face of Wham! the public became more and more interested in George instead of Andrew. They wanted to know what he had to say and as his confidence as a performer, song writer and public figure grew, George naturally began to eclipse Andrew.
Or, in the parlance of Mel Brooks, Ridgeley was the Schwartz-ring. George Michael thought he needed the ring in order to defeat the Dark Helmet of pop music competition, but then one day he realized that, as Yogurt so eloquently put it, "The ring is bupkis! I found it in a Cracker Jack box!"

Perhaps Wham!'s ability to contain a prominent member who quite transparently did nothing is the duo's greatest achievement. Professor Higglediggle writes:
Mr. Ridgeley's negligible contribution to Wham! was, ingeniously, the band's decisive artistic masterstroke. As pop music performers, rising to the top of a facile and frivolous profession, Wham! managed to critique the shallow mores of the star-making apparatus by achieving this simple coup de grace. To those who posed the query, "Does it take genuine talent to become a pop star?," Wham! provided the unsettling riposte with Andrew Ridgeley, being, "Apparently not." As Baudrilliard spoke of the "simulacrum," a creation so far (re)moved from the organic article that it then becomes mistaken for the very item it was designed to (re)place, so Andrew Ridgeley, ipso facto, served as a "simulacrum" of a pop star. One knew he was a star, and yet one could not recall exactly why.

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