Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Wake You Up Before I Go-Go? Ever Heard Of An Alarm Clock, Asshole?

Some days, you're in the mood for Stravinsky. Some days, Thelonious Monk. Maybe a little Husker Du, or My Bloody Valentine. Other days, you're in the mood for "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go."

I mean come on. "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" is one of those songs that is everything it desires to be. Call it vapid, call it disposable, call it whatever derogatory term of your choosing, and it just doesn't care. In the words of another irrepressibly cheerful '80s hit, ain't nothing gonna break its stride, ain't nothing gonna slow it down.

Quick aside: I remember hearing "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" on the radio at some point in the '90s, feeling fairly confident that it was an old George Michael song, and then a DJ came on at the end and said, "And that was Wham! with 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." "Wham!"? Who the fuck was "Wham!"? You mean I'd been spending all these years believing, erroneously, that this was George Michael? Gosh, it was really uncanny. Their lead singer sounded just like him.

Like "A Hard Day's Night" or "Tomorrow Never Knows," the title arose from a moment of unintentional verbal whimsy. From Wikipedia: "Michael's inspiration for the song was a scribbled note left by his Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley for Andrew's parents, originally intended to read "wake me up before you go" but with "up" accidentally written twice, so Ridgeley wrote 'go' twice on purpose."

And inspiration struck. Here Wham! renders, in vivid terms, the terrifying scenario of a man wholeheartedly intending to go-go, but unable to do so as a result of the tragic oversight of his partner's refusal to interrupt his slumber:
You put the boom-boom into my heart
You send my soul sky high when your lovin' starts
Jitterbug into my brain
Goes a bang-bang-bang 'til my feet do the same

But something's bugging you
Something ain't right
My best friend told me what you did last night
Left me sleepin' in my bed
I was dreaming, but I should have been with you instead

Wake me up before you go-go
Don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo
Wake me up before you go-go
I don't want to miss it when you hit that high

Wake me up before you go-go
'Cause I'm not plannin' on going solo
Wake me up before you go-go
Take me dancing tonight
I wanna hit that high (yeah, yeah)
Geez, why didn't you just wake him up? The man can't wake himself. Also, note the irony in the line "I'm not plannin' on going solo," as that is exactly what George Michael was planning to do. He was a two-faced liar. Witness the line "You're my lady/I'm your fool." Lady? Lady? Oh really now. But like Elton John and Freddie Mercury before him, George Michael gleefully played with pop song conventions and it didn't matter whether or not he could really "be" the man singing here. It was a put-on, and the audience was (mostly) in on the joke. Hence the winking humor of the final verse, where, in a shocking twist, he attempts to turn his love interest's egregious mistake into an unexpected opportunity for romance:
Cuddle up, baby, move in tight
We'll go dancing tomorrow night
It's cold out there, but it's warm in bed
They can dance, we'll stay home instead
That's some quick thinkin' there, Georgie boy.

Oh, and NEWSFLASH: this is a catchy song. Right off the bat, you know Wham! is not trying to compete with "This Charming Man" for British indie cred; there's a bouncy keyboard, fingersnaps, and a comical bass voice emitting the word "jitterbug." He even rhymes "go-go" with "yo-yo," for God's sake! I have seen the future of rock and roll, and its name is Wham! The backing "woo hoo" vocals were probably an homage to the Supremes' "Come See About Me" ("I've been crying"/"Woo hoo"/"'Cause I'm lonely"/"For you"), but I think some stray horn players from a Phil Collins session accidentally stumbled into the wrong studio, because I'm not sure if they're in the right place.

For all its status as the epitome of '80s pop fluffiness, to me, "Wake Me Up" doesn't really sound dated. I guess it's no surprise that a Wham! homage to '60s Motown has aged a little better than, say, a Wham! homage to early '80s hip-hop. But plenty of '80s bands ripped off the style of '60s pop. I think George Michael almost captured the sound of '60s pop. And if you can capture the sound of '60s pop in the '80s, then obviously your song is still going to sound good in the '00s. It's like how The Graduate (great movie, don't get me wrong) feels a little more dated than Bonnie and Clyde, because while both movies were made at the same time, The Graduate was set in the '60s, and Bonnie and Clyde was set in the '30s. Yes, I just compared "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" to Bonnie and Clyde ... and it worked.

Also, without references to the DHSS and trilby hats and the like, "Wake Me Up" sure was a lot less "British" than Wham's earlier material, and I guess it just tapped into the Yankee zeitgeist, because it broke them wide open in the US (or perhaps I should say "him"), becoming the first of ten #1 singles for George Michael in America (all right, I'm counting Wham! and all those duet things in there). I mean, the Rolling Stones only had eight. The video wasn't particularly "British" either, though it did smack of something else that usually didn't appeal to mainstream America in those days.

Now, I really don't mean to keep sticking with this angle, but I'm sorry, the video for "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" has got to be gayer than Liberace's bathtub. First of all, "Choose Life"? Were Wham! trying to make an ill-advised anti-abortion statement here? Apparently not. According to Rolling Stone, "the shirt's designer is pro-choice and it relates to respecting life by shunning violence and war," and another website claims it was trying to promote an "anti-drug, anti-suicide message." Uhh ... first of all, I don't know about how this came across in 1984, but that slogan suggests something very different today. And secondly, I'm sure the gravity of the message really came across in a fucking Wham! video.
And look how everything is so white and clean! Are we in heaven? I know we're not in Iowa. Naturally, at about the one minute mark, Wham! magically switches from hideous white outfits to ... hideous day-glo outfits! George is now wearing a blindingly pink long-sleeve top, blue and white athletic shorts (which are disturbingly short), and yellow fingerless gloves. This was staying in the closet? Meanwhile, Andrew thinks he's on safari. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, "He shot an elephant in a music video; how he got into a music video, I'll never know." Finally, around 2:34, I believe somebody screwed up in the film lab and failed to develop the footage properly, as George, Andrew & Co. become evil black-faced sand people.

So yes, I know "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" is mindless pop trash, but I love it anyway. Or is it? Professor Horton J. Higglediggle writes:
Initially reduced to the status of an inane retro Motown homage, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" nefariously doubles as an exegesis on language duality in the ontological mode. The unnerving echolalia of the title serves as a rhetorical motif for the contemporary youngster, yearning to disavow himself from the sociological binds of the prior generation, and yet proving himself unable to (re)negotiate the cultural signifiers of the symbolic "father." He cannot be "woken up" before he "go-goes," for to do so would undercut the patriarchal structure of the modern dance (sub)culture. "Hitting that high," would, in this instance, be a severe negation, deflation, subjugation, and appropriation of the dominant form of the preceding generations, i.e. "jitterbugging." He is caught in between the slipperiness of language and the fixed meaning of dancing. Therefore, the singer finds himself in an irrevocable bind, both desiring not to be "left hanging on like a yo-yo," but not entirely pleased to be "staying home instead."
Well I'll be.

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