Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Everything I "Wants" In A Wham! Song AKA Remix Hijinx

Back when I had a record player in college, my friends and I found Make It Big in the dollar section of the record store and we bought it, mainly so that we could make fun of the album cover. But one day, on a whim, I put it on the turntable. I figured I knew only two songs from the album: the first ("Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go") and the last ("Careless Whisper"). I'd heard that "Freedom" had been a hit too, but aside from knowing that Oasis had cheerfully plagiarized its melody for a B-side, I didn't know what it sounded like. Suddenly, I got to Track #2, "Everything She Wants." I swiftly realized I had been mistaken. For there was a third song from Make It Big that I had heard repeatedly throughout my childhood. And it was a good one.

Funny, I'd never connected the song title with the music, possibly because the title was not in the chorus, but then again, the same is true of "Careless Whisper." (Side note: who did George Michael think he was, Bob Dylan? This was some serious "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35" shit).

Of the three US #1 hits produced by Make It Big, "Careless Whisper" may be more famous, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" may be more ... infamous, but, when push comes to shove, my favorite of the three is "Everything She Wants." It is, to lazily paraphrase the title, "everything I want" in an '80s pop song. It is five minutes of unfathomable perfection, 300 seconds of unquestionable magnificence, one twelfth of an hour of unending tastiness. If a terrorist group took me hostage and said, "Either we destroy 'Everything She Wants' from the universe, or we'll kill you," I mean, hey, it's been a nice life, but make it quick.

Bizarrely, AMG's ever-reliable Stephen Thomas Erlewine dismisses the song as "merely good bubblegum" (but for some reason drools all over "Freedom"). "Merely good bubblegum"? Yeah, and the Titanic was merely a big boat. I'm more inclined to agree with the author of the song himself. From Wikipedia:
Although Michael bemoaned much of Wham!'s material as he began his solo career, "Everything She Wants" remained a song of which he was proud, and he continued to perform it in his shows. Furthermore, Michael remarked in an interview (to promote 25 Live tour) that "Everything She Wants" is his favourite Wham! song.
Looks like George Michael and I agree on something, because it's my favorite Wham! song too. I have listened to "Everything She Wants" precisely 78,433 times, and yet I still wonder what it is that makes it so gooooooood. It doesn't sound like it could have been very expensive to make. It doesn't fully re-invent the time honored structure of the popular song. It just ... hits all my '80s sweet spots.

"Everything She Wants" starts out with a drum machine, but the drum machine continues to lope along for what seems like a longer than normal time period of about eight bars. It's the Pink Floyd method; George is testing the listener's patience, leaning back in the thrall of absolute studio power. Ah, but this just sets the stage for the main event at this freaky circus, for at the 0:17 mark, in comes...

1) The "squishy" synth. I don't know what he did to get it to make that "squishy" sound, but it's outrageous, simply outrageous. It sounds like someone sticking his palm on a giant pile of Play-Doh. Well, to be more precise, there are really two parts to the squishy synth: a high-pitched part on the far right channel, and a bass part in the center. Both parts are glorious. But one doesn't even have time to digest the wonder of the squishy synth before, at 0:20, the next epic element comes in:

2) The vocal echo. It has to be the cheapest effect in the book, but hey, Victor Hugo didn't need an iPad to write Les Miserables, you know what I'm saying? It works like this: George's initial, unprocessed vocal appears in the center, but then an echo of his vocal shortly appears on the right channel, and then another echo appears on the left channel! It's like he's singing a "round" .. with himself! Row, row your fuckin' boat, George, that's what I say. I also like his choice of introductory vocal ad libs, to get us warmed up: first there's a feathery "a-ha-ha," followed by a sultry "oh yeah," and topped off with a whispered and supremely aerobic "work!" But if you think he's about to couple this intoxicating musical puree with some cutesy, run-of-the-mill pop lyrics, you're in for a surprise.

"Everything She Wants" describes a situation. In real life, it is, I imagine, a common situation, but in the world of pop music, it is rarely captured in such detail. "Everything She Wants" is the story of a newly married couple who are quickly finding out that they may have ... jumped the gun. Perhaps their union ... was a mistake. George sings from the viewpoint of the husband, and given that, obviously, the song is not autobiographical, he does something fascinating with it. He turns the husband into ... kind of a jerk! This is an '80s pop song with an unsympathetic protagonist! It's like the Barry Lyndon of '80s dance-pop, the Five Easy Pieces of Top 40 fluff. Granted, I've never met this guy's wife. Maybe she's a pain, but last time I checked, no one forces you to get married, and no one forces you to stay married - at least not anymore. Nevertheless, I find this scenario 100% plausible:
Somebody told me
"Boy everything she wants is everything she sees"
I guess I must have loved you
Because I said you were the perfect girl for me

And now it's six months older
And everything you want and everything you see
Is out of reach, not good enough
I don't know what the hell you want from me
Oh, so you got more than you bargained for, hey buddy? Domestic bliss not all it was cracked up to be? So far so groovy, but then George shakes things up a little bit with:

3) A wordless bridge, dropping the echo effect but double-tracking several overdubbed mini-Georges who bounce around the stereo channels. Their words are words to live by: "A-ha-ha, a-ha-ha, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, a-ha-ah, a-ha-ha, doo-doo-doo la la la la la." George very obviously did not sing these overdubs in one continuous take. In fact, the "doo-doo-doo"s sound like one solitary "doo" that was electronically rewound Max Headroom-style, while the following "la la"s were quite clearly spliced in afterwards. This bridge seems to retain the feel of the verses, but all that changes with one magical chord at 1:24. This chord is like the moment in The Wizard of Oz where everything goes from black & white to color. This chord is like that moment when you finally get your car to start after seventeen tries. This chord is everything.

George comes in with a completely new melody that is bold but not cheerful, strong but not comforting. His voice soars into the upper register as he bemoans his doomed relationship situation: "Somebody tellll meeeee, oh-ooh-oh!" Yeah, but then he sneaks in another vocal overdub, this time in a much lower register, almost like a bass singer in a doo-wop song, adding in sing-songy fashion, "Won't-you-tell-me," which is pushed ever downward by what sounds like ... shimmering, synthesized bells! You can literally feel the song moving up and down. My head literally bounces back and forth every time I hear the "Won't-you-tell-me" line. And then "lead singer" George swoops right back in with a much higher "Why I work so hard for youuuu!" This chorus deserves the Nobel Prize. In what category, I'm not sure. Physics? All the different chord changes and melodic hooks interlock in perfect interstellar harmony, like the world's greatest Einstein equation ... but with synthesizers!

The squishy synth gives a squishy little solo, and then this "Jaded Yuppies In Love" scenario takes an even more bitter turn:
Some people work for a living
Some people work fun, girl I just work for you
They told me marriage was a give and take
Well you show me you can take, you've got some givin' to do

And now you tell me that you're having my baby
I'll tell you that I'm happy if you want me to
But one step further and my back will break
If my best isn't good enough, then how can it be good enough for two
I can't work any harder than I do
I give 'em about two years tops, but he better be prepared to pay some child support. My guess is, she'll take one more step and his back will literally break in half. He's pissed off that she's pregnant! The popular idea in our society of today is that, when your wife tells you she's pregnant, it's supposed to be this unsurpassed moment of unequivocal joy. But the reality for many couples is probably a lot messier. And I stand in awe (awe I tell you!) of George Michael for writing a pop song which, smack in the middle of the '80s, portrays a young man who is experiencing "everything" society tells people they should "want"  from their lives... but he hates it! He's like, "Bitch, you're draggin' me down!"

The exhausted protagonist vents one last time in the bridge, where George pulls most of the instrumentation back, turns the echo up even higher than it'd already been turned to, and presses the "bongos" button on the drum machine:
Why do I do the things I do? (I do I do)
I'd tell you if I knew (I knew I knew)
My God! (God God)
I don't even think that I love you
You "think"? You "think" you don't even love her? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you definitely don't love her. Better luck with Wife #2.

George spends the last minute of the song throwing everything that was already great about the song back into the pot. First he switches back to the verse melody, but adds some robust (and probably synthesized?) hand claps, coupled with some Richard Simmons-esque grunts of "Work! Work!," and sprinkles it with more of the aforementioned "doo-doo-doo la-la-la-la-la"s. But he wisely lets the song fade out to the minor key chorus melody, the doomed husband left wailing in the night, wondering how it all went wrong so quickly. At 4:47, George lets out an inhumanly falsetto "Sommmmmmebody tell me!" that adds an extra dose of poignancy to this cad's screed. Aaaaand "scene."

Except not. In a more perfect world, this would be the conclusion of the "Everything She Wants" saga. But no, there is the "remix." See, when Wham! put out "Everything She Wants" as a single in the UK (paired with "Last Christmas"), they decided to put it out as a remix. Why remix perfection? That's the question I have. But that would be fine if the remix had been treated like a silly remix. Instead, either George Michael, or the record company, (or both) have decided that this remix should now be the more widely available version of "Everything She Wants." You won't find the original version on any Wham! "best of" collection. When George performs the song live these days, he does it in the style of the remix. Most questionably of all, the official video produced for the song features ... the remix!

Stop this madness!

That spellbinding introduction? The remix totally fucks with it. There are these extra keyboard notes that come in too early. Way too early. There are extra drum hits that don't need to be there, extra synthesized horns that don't belong ... it's like remixing "Yesterday," and then adding a brand new verse in the middle. That's right, a new verse, with a whole different melody! I'm not even going to print out the lyrics to it.

Here's what I don't get. Every version of the song that I've ever heard on the radio, ever heard at a gas station, ever heard in a restaurant, is the 5:00 "album" version. Maybe in England the remix was the hit version, but in England they also still take the royal family seriously, so there you go. I don't even like to hear the remix by accident. I'm not even going to embed the video, but, for the curious, here's the link.

Interestingly, Prof. Higglediggle and I find ourselves entirely at odds on this subject:
In its inceptive album mix, "Everything She Wants" is a shockingly banal Wham! recording, an artistic misfire from a consistently trenchant and piquant act. While the casual Wham! fan might be impressed with its theme of domestic conflict, the subject matter here, normally an area of immense strength for the duo, is protrusive, meretricious, not at all as subversive and ironic as "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" or "Club Tropicana," vastly superior efforts at societal exposition. The musical arrangement is underdressed, weak, devoid of invention and appeal, a seemingly naked attempt at "catchiness" or "poppiness." The single's few desirable qualities are only brought to the fore by a redeeming remix, which rescues the au courant slant of the language via additional embellishments. The remix becomes an integral commentary on the married couple's evolution, as if the album mix were the husband's misguided effort, the remix now the wife's revision. The extra verse, evidently, represents the much-dreaded offspring, shoehorning its way into a composition which the husband clearly feels it does not belong, but in a fitting twist, is easily the most memorable element of this otherwise humdrum offering.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was listening to "James Murphy's record collection" on Songza a "hipper than thou" assortment of ultra-cool mostly obscure tracks and then this song came on. It made me listen to it in a way I never have and then I thought "well of course". Gorgeous pop song.