Sunday, February 22, 2015

While You See A Chance (For A Slick '80s Career Re-Boot), Take It

OK, so that first solo album didn't work out so hot. What was a Winwood to do?

How about retreat to his farm (where he'd already built his own private studio), and start hatching a plan? I suppose desperate times called for desperate measures. I mean, here was a man who could have invited a Dream Team of British studio musicians to join him in making a follow-up. He invited ... no one. Sometimes a Yuppie Rocker needs to make a solitary sojourn into the unknown, needs to confront his inner A&R man, needs to strip himself down to the bare wannabe-New Wave essentials.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Arc Of A Diver. Yes, Winwood's second solo album was truly a "solo" album. He and Stevie Wonder already shared the same initials, but did that really mean they needed to start sharing the same recording methods? According to Wikipedia, Winwood played "acoustic & electric guitars, bass, drums, percussion, drum machines, keyboards, synthesizers, organ, lead & backing vocals." What, no zither?

At the start of "While You See A Chance," whatever instrument he's playing sounds like an elephant seal's queef, but once the drums kick in, that queef turns into a jet engine, spewing synthesized elephant seal love all over your eardrums. Sound a little gross? Steve Winwood doesn't know the meaning of gross. But that's not quite the best part. Yes, like "In The Air Tonight," "While You See A Chance" has a universally agreed-upon "best part." A tambourine is a simple instrument, but deployed strategically, it can turn a catchy song into a life-affirming gust of wind. Right at 0:40, when Winwood really lets that tambourine fly (better heard on the stereo album mix), "While You See A Chance" becomes that gust. It's like that moment (to use a Bay Area example, although I will neither confirm nor deny that I live there) when you're driving south on Highway 101 through the Waldo Tunnel, and suddenly out of nowhere the entirety of the Golden Gate Bridge comes into view. Or when you're driving west on Interstate 80, and you pop out of Yerba Buena Island, and boom!, there's the western span of the Bay Bridge. You're sitting in a drab, ugly, shitty tunnel, and then the brightness creeps into your eyes, and this world-class vista just hits you. The elephant seal queef synthesizer is that tunnel, and the tambourine is that vista. Wait. That's not it. Yeah. I'm moving on.

"While You See A Chance" is like the "I Have a Dream" speech for white yuppie people. It's like a synth-pop PSA. Believe in yourself, and you can do anything - even resuscitate your solo career!
Stand up in a clear blue morning until you see what can be
Alone in a cold day dawning, are you still free? Can you be?

When some cold tomorrow finds you, when some sad old dream reminds you
How the endless road unwinds you

While you see a chance take it, find romance make it
Because it's all on you

Don't you know by now no one gives you anything
Don't you wonder how you keep on moving one more day your way

When there's no one left to leave you, even you don't quite believe you
That's when nothing can deceive you

And that old gray wind is blowing and there's nothing left worth knowing
And it's time you should be going
"Even you don't quite believe you?" Uh, Steve, don't you mean "even you don't quite believe yourself"? I guess the grammatically correct version didn't scan so well. Forget it guys, he's rolling. The video finds Winwood stuck on the set of Tron with, it appears, Cirque du Soliel's minor league affiliate. The humans of this particular world (if they're humans at all) worship the Plywood Pyramid God, and only speak to each other by reflecting light off their hand mirrors. Personally, I wouldn't want to live there, but obviously Winwood feels right at home. Several YouTube commentators have compared his appearance to Conan O'Brien, but I'm going to go a little more contemporary and say ... Benedict Cumberbatch?

You know, for a boring white guy, Steve Winwood really knew how to groove. He was like a one-man Hall & Oates! I've recently discovered Arc Of A Diver's title track, which has a haunting melody worthy of the Bee Gees but a funky rhythm track worthy of Earth, Wind & Fire - or vice versa. Also, the lyrics make no sense:
She bathes me in sweetness I cannot reveal
For sharing dreams I need my woman
This humble expression meagerly dressed
My eyes so mean it has no meaning

But jealous night and all her secret chords
I must be deaf on the telephone
I need my love to translate

I play the piano no more running, honey
This time to the sky I'll sing if clouds don't hear me
To the sun I'll cry and even if I'm blinded
I'll try moon gazer because with you I'm stronger
"Bathes me in sweetness"? "Moon gazer"? He sounds like he's been listening to too many Donovan records. These lyrics don't even rhyme! Besides, if the sun blinds you, looking at the moon isn't going to help ... because you'll be blind. "I need my love to translate"? Great, now he's using his girlfriend as his foreign language interpreter? Just get a software program for that, Steve. Oh yeah, then his rock 'n' roll starts overeating, and he tops it all off by threatening to rob the past, present, and future at gunpoint:
Arc of a diver effortlessly
My mind in sky and when I wake up
Daytime and nighttime I feel you near
Warm water breathing, she helps me here

Lean streaky music spawned on the streets
I hear it but with you I had to go
'Cause my rock 'n' roll is putting on weight
And the beat it goes on

With you my love we're going to raid the future
With you my love we're going to stick up the past
We'll hold today to ransom 'til our quartz clock stops until yesterday
Whatever, it's got a good beat, and I can drive my Volvo to it.

Although "Night Train," arguably the world's greatest Giorgio Moroder homage, deserves a mention, the real hidden gem of Arc Of A Diver has got to be "Spanish Dancer," where Winwood funks it up harder than Rick James and George Clinton in Patti LaBelle's backyard hot tub. He programs the synthesizer to what sounds like its "Japanese harpsichord" setting, and then for six minutes he just goes to town. It kind of sounds like a laser beam trying to perform Swan Lake, but hey, I'd pay to see that. I wouldn't call it much of a "composition': there's a nice bridge, but there's either no chorus, or no verse, I'm not sure which. He probably thought, "I don't need no chorus or verse, I'm fucking Steve Winwood." Well, when released as a single, it flopped like a Spanish dancer, but don't worry '80s: Steve Winwood, Yuppie Rocker, had seen his chance, and he was only just beginning to take it.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

I Can Smell It Coming In The Air Tonight AKA Phil Goes Solo, Holds Nothing Back (And I Mean Nothing)

It's lying there. In the darkness. Out beyond the shadows, unspoken and unknown. It comes creeping silently, seductively. That irrepressible dread, that demonic '80s spirit. It's been hiding in the cracks and crevices for too long. It's time for it to emerge.

First there is a drum machine. It is slow - unnervingly slow. Why isn't it faster? Why does it not rush? What is it waiting for?

Then the guitar. But not just any guitar. It's an eerie "only plays one note at a time" guitar. You don't want to mess with this guitar.

Now an organ. It's a low note. It's like a frightened orphan, curled up in a ball, alone in the alleyway while the monsters close in. It doesn't belong out here - out here in the valley of the forsaken. Then more organ. This one is playing higher notes. Who knows, it might even be the same organ. This one is at least capable of playing a melody. It's bringing a little comfort to the afflicted. Does anyone even live out in this place? Are there any humans who dare to make their presence known?

Yes, there is one. These are his words:
I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
I've been waiting for this moment, all my life, oh Lord
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord, oh Lord
In this post-apocalyptic wasteland, there is only one man left standing. And that man ... is Phil Collins.

"In the Air Tonight" isn't just a Phil Collins song. It is a silent vortex within the mind. It is an interstellar wavelength of doom and despair. It is an ocean of sound, filled with the blood of 70,000 virgins (as opposed to, I don't know, salt water?). "In the Air Tonight" is somehow Phil Collins' very first solo single, and yet it is also his last will and testament. He could have died in a car crash the day after completing it, and yet his name would have lived on far outside the realms of Genesis lore.

"In the Air Tonight" is Phil Collins' ultimate statement of purpose. Those who laugh at "Sussudio," those who spit in the face of "Another Day in Paradise," must nevertheless pause and kneel before the great stone god that is "In the Air Tonight." It has something that no other Phil Collins song has. It has ... como se dice? It has ... cojones. From Wikipedia:
Collins wrote the song in the wake of a failing relationship with his wife. Collins has described obtaining the drum machine specifically to deal with these personal issues through songwriting, telling Mix magazine: "I had to start writing some of this music that was inside me." He improvised the lyrics during a songwriting session in the studio: "I was just fooling around. I got these chords that I liked, so I turned the mic on and started singing. The lyrics you hear are what I wrote spontaneously. That frightens me a bit, but I'm quite proud of the fact that I sang 99.9 percent of those lyrics spontaneously."
Dude must have been going through some serious shit. If this is what divorce is like, I'd rather just settle for a separation or something. Whatever kind of pizza Phil ate that morning, I wouldn't want a slice of it.

Some lead singers of established groups go off and record a "solo album," but it basically sounds like their groups' usual albums. "In the Air Tonight" is truly the sound of Phil Collins sitting in an empty room with only his twisted psyche as companionship. This vocalist isn't just Phil Collins: it's RoboPhil Collins. This is Hal-9000 Collins. This is a sentient operating system isolated on the furthest satellite outpost in the galaxy. Or maybe it's just Phil Collins with a cool echo effect. Whatever. On the second chorus, his circuitry starts to melt and bleed into itself, as the main Phil is joined by an unnervingly higher-pitched Phil and a menacingly lower-pitched Phil in the left channel, and the words "night" and "lord" start to bounce down the great steel corridors of this mostly abandoned space ship, never to reach another's ears until the next alien race stumbles upon the sound waves in approximately 15 million years. At the start of the second verse, I'm pretty sure RoboPhil's eyes glow a hideous red as he turns to the camera and inhumanly shouts, "Well I re-MEM-BAH!"

All fine and dandy, but that's not the best part. You see, "In the Air Tonight" is one of those rare pop songs with an actual, official, federally sanctioned "Best Part (TM)." Usually, when someone says, "This is the best part!" they're full of shit. But when you're talking about "In the Air Tonight," there really is a universally agreed-upon "Best Part," from which no observer is allowed to deviate. The "Best Part" occurs precisely at the 3:40 mark. It is not up for debate. It is not a matter of opinion. It is true in the sense that 7 being the square root of 49 is true.

The Best Part ... is the entrance of the drums.

You know what moment he'd been waiting for all his life? The entrance of the fucking drums. That's what he'd been waiting for all his life. And it was worth it.

"In the Air Tonight" may the only pop song in which the entrance of the drums is genuinely the Best Part. Sometimes they can be a great part, or a memorable part, but rarely are they the Best Part. However, according to his suspiciously obscure memoir (that shares its name with this song), Collins reveals that the distinctive debut of his "gated drum sound" was, if you can believe it, something of an accident:
When we were originally recording the song, there wasn't supposed to be any drums. Any. What happened was this: I was laying down a vocal overdub, when I looked over at the drum kit. There was the nastiest cockroach you'd ever seen. He was an ugly little fucker. I thought I could get him with my drumsticks. So I sang, "It's no stranger to you and me," and I figured, "Well, the take will probably be ruined, we'll just do it over again," but I really wanted to smash this guy. He was a wily one, all right. I hit my snare, and the tom-tom, and then the snare again, but fucking hell, he crawled away! So then I figured, all right, might as well keep drumming. When we played the track back, it sounded good, so we left it in.
What is it about this drumming moment that is so great? Let me tell you. It's ... the tension. For the first three and a half minutes, you just know something is going to happen, but you don't know what. It's like being locked in that massive space station, and the oxygen is slowly, slowly leaking out of the cabin, and then BAM! A thousand air ducts all burst open at once. You can breathe again, but God damn, did it have to be so startling?

Apparently, what was hiding in those sealed air ducts was an army of flesh-eating spiders, because that might explain the ever-increasing intensity of Phil's singing as the song fades. He lets out a fairly nasty "awwwl mah lyyyfe!!" around 4:37, followed by a particularly harrowing "oh laww-huh-oh-oh-awwd!!" around 4:50. I think the space arachnids are finally chewing his eyeballs out at the 5:10 mark.

According to Wikipedia, the sound of "In the Air Tonight" was so unprecedented that when Phil played the track for legendary Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun, the label boss listened to the first minute or so and said, "Where's the drums? I can't hear the drums!" Phil said, "Just wait, they're coming." Ahmet said, "Well the kids don't know that! You gotta put some drums on earlier!" So on the original single mix, Phil added some quiet drums to go along with the drum machine. I didn't know what the hell Wikipedia was talking about until I saw the video, which features this mix. I actually don't think it alters the feel of the song in a particularly detrimental way, but if this was the single mix of the song, I certainly never heard it on the radio in the '80s, nor have I heard it on the radio since. The kids could wait for the drums after all, Ahmet.

Although the video doesn't take place on an abandoned space station, it's creepy enough, I suppose. It's a gigantic close-up ... of Phil Collins' face! In black & white! Then he's sitting in an empty room, apparently re-enacting the children's book Goodnight Moon. Then he ends up in some abandoned laboratory with more doors than anyone could possibly need. Then his face turns into a blotchy infra-red blob. Check, and mate.

Oh, there's one more piece of business I've neglected to mention: the "urban legend." You know which one. Let's take a look at the verse in question:
Well if you told me you were drowning
I would not lend a hand
I've seen your face before my friend
But I don't know if you know who I am
Well, I was there and I saw what you did
I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off the grin, I know where you've been
It's all been a pack of lies
From Wikipedia:
An urban legend has arisen around "In the Air Tonight," according to which the lyrics are based on a drowning incident in which someone who was close enough to save the victim did not help them, while Collins, who was too far away to help, looked on. Increasingly embroidered variations on the legend emerged over time, with the stories often culminating in Collins singling out the guilty party while singing the song at a concert. Collins has denied all such stories; he commented on the legends about the song in a BBC World Service interview:

“I don't know what this song is about. When I was writing this I was going through a divorce. And the only thing I can say about it is that it's obviously in anger. It's the angry side, or the bitter side of a separation. So what makes it even more comical is when I hear these stories which started many years ago, particularly in America, of someone come up to me and say, 'Did you really see someone drowning?' I said, 'No, wrong'. And then every time I go back to America the story gets Chinese whispers, it gets more and more elaborate."
Yes! As it should! (Also, I'm assuming Chinese whispers is the British version of Telephone?). I will never fail to get a kick out of this legend, which has taken on such prominence, even Eminem referenced it in "Stan." But honestly, how is this supposed to work? Phil sings "if you told me you were drowning," meaning if. He's suggesting a hypothetical, not saying he's actually watching someone drowning. Plus, he sings those lines in the first person, and he also sings the "I was there and I saw what you did" lines in the first person. So how could he have been the guy who let someone drown, and also be the guy who watched that guy?? It doesn't add up. It just doesn't add up.

But hey, I never thought the whole Dark Side of the Moon/Wizard of Oz thing worked either. The truth is, the song isn't actually about a guy drowning, or Phil Collins getting a divorce, or any one of the number of things you might have heard in the school yard. All those interview quotes are just a red herring. Rather, in a shocking passage from In The Air Tonight, Collins finally sets the record straight:
A month after my fifteenth birthday, I began to experience a terrible abdominal pain. Imagine feeling as though you dreadfully needed to pass gas, but could not. For whatever reason, I simply could not leak the necessary air. This went on for weeks. I finally visited the hospital, and was diagnosed with a rare intestinal condition named gastronitious pluggedupitious: the inability to fully pass gas. They told me there was no known cure as of yet, but with medication, they would be able to mollify the symptoms. There was one more bit of hope: many sufferers, at a certain point in adulthood, would suddenly experience a natural cure, but there was no way to know when that moment would come. In the meantime, I needed to simply tolerated the discomfort.

Oh, I could let out a tiny toot here and there, but for the life of me, I couldn't quite get that one solitary oomph I was ultimately longing for. It was that way all throughout the early years with Genesis, the grueling tours, the endless cans of beans, the long nights in the airport, trying to twist this way and that, hoping that precious bubble would finally squirm its way out into the open. I never told my wife, I never told Peter or Tony or Mike. I bore my burden with silent dignity.

It was August, 1979. We were staying in our country estate. I was relaxing the in den, while Mrs. Collins was in the bedroom. Suddenly, I felt a tremendous gurgle. I knew it was no ordinary rumbling of molecules. It slowly traveled downward, pushing up against my rear passageway. I shifted awkwardly in my chair. Was this the moment my gastronitious pluggedupitious would finally subside? I didn't know what the consequences of my rude gesture would be, but I felt I was prepared for the fallout.

With a sonic crack reminiscent of thunder, the fart to end all farts escaped my body. Mrs. Collins, caught unawares, was so appalled by the lifetime of rancid odor filling her abode, she immediately demanded a divorce. And so I lost a spouse, but gained an intestinal tract. Not to mention, my greatest solo recording.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

All Over The Place: All Bangles Are Equal (But Some Bangles Are More Equal Than Others)

World's greatest pop culture myths:
  1. Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen in a chamber beneath Disneyland
  2. Mama Cass choked to death on a ham sandwich
  3. Susanna Hoffs was the lead singer of the Bangles
"Could've fooled me," you're inclined to say. "Then what the hell was she, the maid?"

When the Bangles originally started out, Susanna Hoffs was not the lead singer. See, the Bangles didn't believe in a lead singer. They were a utopian collective, a four-woman Woodstock Nation, where everyone played a part, and where all those rigid patriarchal roles were for losers. Well, Susanna was one of the lead singers, along with Vicki Peterson, although Michael and Debbie occasionally sang lead and often chipped in on harmonies. The point is, in the early days, it was definitely not "Susanna Hoffs and these other chicks" (by contrast, Belinda Carlisle was, is, and will always be, without question, the lead singer of the Go-Go's). You'd think the public would've just let the Bangles be.

At the time of their debut long player, however, no one cared. The general consensus is that, as with the Go-Go's, the Bangles' first album was their best, but unlike the Go-Go's, it wasn't exactly their most ... commercially successful. Nope, All Over the Place peaked at #80 instead of #1, but for many fans of the Paisley Underground sound, All Over the Place is the Bangles' only real album; to these hardcore party liners, everything after this was just shameless pop sleaze. Unfortunately for them, I like shameless pop sleaze. But yes, even though I haven't actually listened to the Bangles' other albums, I doubt they're better than this one.

All Over the Place works as an album. It does contain a couple of singles, but it doesn't feel like it was conceived with singles in mind. Mostly it's just a non-stop retro '60s Hofner and Rickenbacker fiesta, with the band aping every Standells and Easybeats B-side they could get their hands on. That said, it still has a punchy New Wave/power-pop production that sounds very much like its time, i.e. it's obvious what kind of music the Bangles were into, but they updated it and gave it their own energetic twist. I do wonder, however, if there are bands who were genuinely influenced by the Bangles. Wouldn't you just be influenced by the Bangles' influences? It's like a band being influenced by Coldplay instead of Radiohead.

For all its charms, I feel like All Over the Place is more about the surface pleasures. If the lyrics don't exactly blow me away, they're effective enough, but I don't quite get a sense of the Bangles as people: what are their struggles, what drives them to make music, etc. I mean who are the Bangles, really? That said, one of the more appealingly enigmatic songs is the album's leadoff track and first single, "Hero Takes a Fall," which, incidentally, is one of the tracks where Susanna sings lead.  She sounds like she's anticipating a nice plate of schadenfreude for a serial womanizer:
The hero is exposed when
His crimes are brought to the light of day
Won't be feeling sorry, sorry, sorry
On the judgement day
Wasn't it me who said
There'd be a price to pay

And I won't feel bad at all
When the hero takes a fall
When the hero takes a fall

Your mother told you stories
You substitute with girls who tell you more
Suddenly your sycophants are chanting
Slogans at your door
We're seeing through you now
I saw it all before

Emotion is a virtue
For you it is the one fatal flaw
Sittin' on your throne and drink and think and
Should return your call
And the story's got an ending
Look out, here it comes, here it comes
In the video, the girls are playing for alms on the street corner, and Susanna is wearing triangles for earrings. No, I mean, like, actual triangles - the musical instrument. Vicki probably could play "Hero Takes a Fall" on Susanna's earrings. As Ms. Hoffs bemoans in the band's Behind the Music episode, "How did I put on the high heels with the bobby sock lace things in the 'Hero Takes a Fall' video? What were we doing? We're wearing like a thousand pounds of junk jewelry, but at the time we felt like we had a look." Oh, and each of the girls stars in a little "side bit" where they do something untoward to a mannequin (making this video perhaps my second-favorite '80s video to feature mannequins, after the Alan Parson Project's "Prime Time"). Vicki plays a cowboy, Michael plays a businesswoman, and Debbie plays a socialite, respectively. However, at the 1:04 mark, we are treated to the wonderful sight of Susanna Hoffs dressed in a French maid's outfit. Yowsers! Her sultry power is so intense, it literally makes a mannequin's head fall off. As the YouTube cognoscenti puts it: "Hoffs as a French maid, i need a cold shower!" Or "I think Susanna's kiss would have done the same effect on me :p"

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.