Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we take a look back at notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. Twenty-five years after one of pop’s guiltiest pleasures said goodbye to a packed live audience, we wonder what a release of that show would look like.
On June 28, 1986, twenty-five years ago today, WHAM! became a past-tense pop act. It wasn’t your typical pop meltdown, however; it was a breakup for the ages. What other group bids their fan base (80,000 attendees worth) farewell with a handful of guest megastars and a lengthy, sugar-sweet set list?
Of course, that was par for the course for WHAM!, who had entered 11 of their 12 singles into the U.K. Top 10 (six of which were chart-toppers) and would sell about 20 million albums worldwide when all was said and done. From the beginning, when a lucky scheduling conflict got them a spot on Top of the Pops in 1982, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley were two of the flashiest stars on the pop scene.
As an unironic fan of WHAM!’s effortless bubblegum pop, it would give this writer great pleasure to see some sort of catalogue activity occur for the boys. And this final show at Wembley Arena might be the flashpoint for any such product. Hit the jump to read up on how everything in the band’s career culminated in that show – and how we’d present the concert for fans, Reissue Theory-style!Despite all the mugging for the camera and good-time grooves offered by WHAM! in their three-year run, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley were all business. Unlike other pop idols of the day, they were heavily involved in the creation of their own music; Michael (along with Ridgeley, often unfairly relegated to “other guy” status in retrospect) wrote and co-produced the band’s debut, Fantastic (1983) and fully produced the follow-up, 1984’s Make It Big.
The boys also crafted a pretty unique sound all their own, thanks to assistance from some crack musicians backing them up. Childhood friend David Austin backed the boys up on keyboards, Deon Estus laid down some seriously funky bass tracks, saxophonist Andy Hamilton laid down his second-best work for an ’80s U.K. pop band (Duran Duran’s Rio remains a high point for the sax in general) – and who could forget the bubbly presence of backing vocalists Pepsi & Shirlie?
Although some hardcore fans have credited Ridgeley with a fair amount of the band’s progress – it was he who spearheaded the band’s move from royalty-stingy Inner Vision Records to Epic, the change in image from leather-wearing party-boys to white-soul idols and was responsible for two of the band’s biggest hits (one, by leaving a jokey note for his parents asking that they “wake [him] up-up before [they] go-go”; the other by co-writing the immortal “Careless Whisper”) – it’s clear that Michael was destined for big things. “Careless Whisper” and “A Different Corner” were credited to Michael alone, and a chart-topper with Aretha Franklin in 1987 would only be the beginning of a sterling few years in the pop spotlight.
So the duo announced in the spring of 1986 that they would amicably split, following a farewell single (“The Edge of Heaven,” subsequently included on the band’s compilation The Final and its American counterpart Music from the Edge of Heaven) and a grand finale show at Wembley Arena in London. The eight-hour event (including the premiere of the band’s Foreign Skies documentary, chronicling their unprecedented trip to perform in China) featured all the hits and guest appearances from two of the U.K.’s biggest musicians: Elton John (who had featured Michael on his 1985 single “Wrap Her Up”) and Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon, making a rare guest appearance away from the band (who were in the final stages of recording Notorious).
All in all, a strong show, but not one widely represented in bootlegs, either audio or visual. Arguably, an official release would be best served as a DVD (pro-shot footage, though rare, surely exists), in order to capture the scope of the show (and the photogenic nature of the band).
WHAM!, The Final: Live at Wembley 1986 (Epic/Legacy)
- Everything She Wants
- Club Tropicana
- Bad Boys
- If You Were There (a cover of the Isley Brothers song)
- The Edge of Heaven
- Candle in the Wind (with Elton John)
- Credit Card Baby
- Like a Baby
- Love Machine (a cover of The Miracles song)
- Where Did Your Heart Go?
- Why (a cover of the Carly Simon song)
- Last Christmas
- Wham! Rap (Enjoy What You Do)
- A Different Corner
- Careless Whisper
- Young Guns (Go for It!)
- Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
- I’m Your Man (with Simon Le Bon)