Wham! – Wham Rap!
Pairing pop and politics has never been easy. Not even in the 1980s, I’d say, although we’ve still had some excellent examples. After all, the world came out of ’68 and the ’70s, periods when songs were often expressions of political passions or wishes. The trend was quite global, let’s think for example of the figure of John Lennon.
In the 80s, however, pop music was becoming more electronic, more refined and thanks also to the advent of videos it was perhaps more suitable for describing teenagers youth torments rather than political afflictions. Of course there have been great examples of political pop, like Everything But the Girl’s When all’s Well or Tears for Fears’ Sowing the Seeds of Love, for example.
Then, there have been songs that may have arisen from political or social aspirations or considerations, but where the pop component definitely took over, so in fact they are not considered political songs. Let’s say they refer to particular situations but they are mostly pop songs. A clear example is Human League’s The Lebanon, which almost brought criticism to the group for tackling the issue with simplicity.
And then of course there are Wham! Now, history has crowned Wham! as the absolute kings of lighthearted pop, of sweatshirts with pastel colors, of lovers’ choruses, yet their story began with an almost political song.
George and Andrew had played together in a couple of bands. When the experience of The Executives, founded by themselves, came to an end, they decided to found a new group of their own. They had three songs on a demo tape, or three ideas for a song, and they had the desire and energy of their twenties. They also had a classmate who had founded an independent label, and in short, they were looking for a record company, he was looking for songs to release, so they decided to try the adventure together.
One of the three songs was Wham Rap!, with the exclamation mark at the end of the title, and not after the group name. To tell the truth, it was never clear whether the chicken or the egg was born first, that is, if the song takes its name from the group, or vice versa. Perhaps they were born together, and in this case they would have risked facing the famous curse of the eponymous. In fact, we know that when a group debuted with a song that was named after the group, well, the experience was not meant to last. This was the case, for example, of Living in A Box or A Caus’ Des Garçons.
But that wasn’t the case with Wham!, perhaps because the song title was slightly different.
Wham Rap! however, was born as a protest song. There is mention of youth unemployment and the anger of not finding a job, but instead of leading to the denunciation or political proposal, or even just to a protest, the song results in a paradoxical invitation to enjoy this period of great free time financed by state subsidies and by the DHSS, Department of Health and Social Security, quoted in the choruses of the song.
Even musically, although it is undeniable that the song is a rap, however, some classic elements of rap music are missing such as scratches, samples, and maybe some vulgarity in the text (however there was something, in the various versions that came out). On the contrary, the music is absolutely pop, with claps, choruses and choirs.
Even the video, certainly pleasant even after so many years, shows us a rather glossy anger. George and Andrew (in their natural hair colors) are still flawless in style, however youthful, and are by no means scruffy. And also in the video, thanks to the presence of the backing singers, the legendary Shirlie Holliman who later married Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet, and Dee C. Lee, who shortly after will give way to Pepsi DeMacque, the 80s pop component definitely takes the lead and prevails over the component of anger and political denunciation.
Wham Rap! was not very successful when it came out in mid-June 1982, it certainly paid for the fact that it was launched from a not very famous label. However, it was relaunched a few months later, also following the success of Young Guns (Go For It) and this time the song managed to enter the English charts.
Wondering what were the other two songs on the tape they played for their producer friend? They were the draft versions of Club Tropicana and even than Careless Whisper!
Wham! on Wikipedia