Make It Big
George Michael once described the songwriting process on Wham!’s second album, 1984’s Make It Big, as more relaxed than it had been for the duo’s splashy debut. Which makes sense: While 1983’s Fantastic was written by scrappy youngsters vying for stardom, the creation of Make It Big was more considered. It began with Michael—now at the helm as principal songwriter and producer—retreating to the south of France just as Fantastic was storming the charts, leaving Andrew Ridgeley to soak up the press attention back home. As a result of Michael’s complete creative control, there’s a self-assuredness to Make It Big, especially when it comes to the album’s melodies and lyrics. You can hear it most distinctly on the pulsating “Everything She Wants”: Over quivering synthesizers and a deliberately repetitious drum loop, Michael dissects the anxieties of heteronormative expectations and the monotony of family-making (“They told me marriage was a give and take,” he spits on the second verse. “Well, you've shown me you can take, you've got some giving to do.”) Michael’s newfound maturity also extends to his vocal delivery. Gone is the playful (if novel) rapping and spitfire delivery of Fantastic tracks like “Young Guns (Go for It!).” Instead, Michael leans into the warm and honeyed textures of his voice. He draws out melodies on “Everything She Wants,” giving each note enough space to land. And the Isley Brothers cover “Like a Baby” feels like a precursor to the pillowy, soul-infused R&B that would anchor Michael’s 1996 solo album Older. Nevertheless, much of Fantastic’s youthful exuberance can be found on Make It Big: There’s energetic honky-tonk (“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”), upbeat Motown facsimiles (“Freedom”), and sheer big-band pomp (“Credit Card Baby”). Then comes “Careless Whisper,” the worldwide chart-topper that would define Michael’s career. Written when Michael and Ridgeley were in their late teens—Michael came up with the iconic saxophone riff while on a bus—it’s a song so wrought with guilt and regret that the pain of it throbs in your chest, the ache lingering long after its conclusion. “Careless Whisper” was also a sign of Wham!’s future as a band—or lack thereof. By the time of its release, Wham! mania had conquered the world (the band eventually became the first Western pop act to perform in China). But the success of “Careless Whisper”—which was released in many territories as a George Michael song, not a Wham! number—became a springboard for Michael’s solo career, and a sign that Wham! would soon disband. But few pop acts go out on such a high note. For some, calling an album Make It Big could be seen as tempting fate. For Wham!, and particularly George Michael, it turned out to be simply prophetic.