Category Archives: 1983

Wham! – Fantastic

July 9, 1983
Innervision/ Columbia/ SME
Wham! - Fantastic
1. Bad Boys // 2. A Ray of Sunshine // 3. Love Machine // 4. Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do?) // 5. Club Tropicana // 6. Nothing Looks the Same In the Light // 7. Come On // 8. Young Guns (Go For It!)

Fantastic, the debut album of UK-based 1980s blue eyed soul duo Wham! is one of those albums that is uniformly shitted upon, not only by music connaisseurs but especially by its creator (the guy who wrote, composed, sang and produced everything on this record) George Michael. Three of the singles released, as well as that album-title seem to indicate that it was meant to play as a sort of practical joke on the listener. Wham! Rap (Enjoy What You Do?) and Young Guns (Go For It!) appear to be a parodies of sorts of topical Kurtis Blow rap-disco songs. The former glorifies unemployment and mooching off ones parents, the latter laments the concept of early marriage. Then there’s Bad Boys which is a whiny synth-pop ditty about the joys of defying ones parents hopes and expectations of you becoming a functioning member of society, a sentiment which is also an undercurrent on the former two songs.

It’s a shame that these dated, goofy travesties of songs are the songs best remembered off Fantastic because there’s more positive, less gimmicky hedonism to be found on this record. On the one single that actually sounds like Wham! gave a fuck about what they were doing; Club Tropicana, there’s silliness a plenty, but this cheese is less stinky. And the faux-latin disco instrumental and catchy-as-ebola hook make this one a summertime jam for the ages.
A Ray of Sunshine and Come On are more generic, but no less fun in their rubbery throwaway funk-lite vapidness. The same goes for the Miracles-cover Love Machine, which sounds pretty much exactly like the original version, except caucasian. These, and especially the atmospherically hungover/blue ballad Nothing Looks the Same in the Light, in retrospect appear to indicate of Michael’s future one-hundred-million+ records sold. They also make up over half of this half hour-album’s running time, so while Fantastic is far from perfect, (even calling it good would be a bit of a stretch) it’s not complete shit as George Michael would have you believe.

Best tracks
A Ray of Sunshine
Club Tropicana
Come On
Nothing Looks the Same in the Light

1980s post-disco aficianados may want to give the above four tracks a spin.

New Edition – Candy Girl

New Edition
Candy Girl
March 15, 1983
Streetwise/ Warlock
New Edition - Candy Girl
1. Gimme Your Love // 2. She Gives Me a Bang // 3. Is This The End? // 4. Pass the Beat // 5. Popcorn Love // 6. Candy Girl // 7. Ooh Baby // 8. Should Never Have Told Me // 9. Gotta Have Your Lovin’ // 10. Jealous Girl

Few guessed in 1983, when Candy Girl dropped, that this rather literal 1980s appropriation of the Motown-era Jackson 5’s career would in fact take off and never really die out (not even today, even if they’re not as big as they used to be). Since ’83 they have released seven group albums and every member has found some form of succes outside of the group. Bobby Brown being the best example, selling eight million copies of his sophomore Don’t Be Cruel. And every time the guys regroup they manage to rack up some interest with music audiences worldwide.

Few guessed that under the pressure of fame and fortune these kids would go on to hate one another’s guts, use lots of drugs, fight each other over lead vocal parts in songs, marry R&B divas, go K-Fed on said diva’s ’til divorce, and that in ’86 the “Bad Boy of the group” Bobby Brown would split from the group to succesfully start his own solo career by beefing up his sound and his image, setting the template for future male vocal groups and indivual members’ solo careers (see Take That and *NSYNC). Yet when his solo albums stopped selling simultaneously with Ralph’s, Bell Viv DeVoe’s and Johnny Gill’s (Bobby’s replacement in the group 1987-’88) they could all keep being rich R&B stars by putting their differences aside, reuniting and putting out a brand new New Edition album. (And when the money started coming in again, dropping the humility acts, picking up where the group left off, settle some scores and break-up again. Oh well.)

Yet all of these things were direct and indirect results of Bobby Brown, Michael Bivins and Ricky Bell (who lived in the same Boston housing projects) taking part in a talent show as Jackson 5 imitators. Producer Maurice Starr thinking that the boys could actually work as a profitable early eighties J5 equivalent and him signing them on the spot. At some point Ralph Tresvant came in and became the lead singer of the group (because he had that Motown Michael vocals down) and the cousin of their choreographer: Ronnie DeVoe would also parttake in what was supposed to be a New Edition of the Jackson Brothers mid-sixties incarnation.

Back to this album. As for updating the J5 soun for 1983, this is probably indeed what Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Michael and Marlon and/or Randy would’ve sounded like in ’83 if none of them had gone through puberty by that time. However, with the production clearly placed in the early ’80s through the incorporation of Zapp-esque basslines, melodies and vocoder parts, as well as the boys breaking out the occasional rap NE sported a sound that was instantly identifyable as being something new, rather than a dusted-off J5 album.

Most of these songs are sunny, mildly funky electronic pop-soul concoctions that may be a bit too cheerful, saccharine and exuberant for some people’s tastes (New Edition was after all the world’s first manufactured, producer-groomed boyband) but as far as teen-pop goes this is pretty terrific stuff. Hooky hooks, danceable instrumentation and lyrics that are simple but never nonsensical. Gimme Your LovePop Corn Love and Candy Girl stand out in particular, although Got to Have Your Lovin’ and She Gives Me a Bang (can you guess the recurring theme in these songs?) don’t fall far behind.

Is This the End? and Jeaulous Girl are pretty sweet dramatic-death-of-puppy-love ballads, and although Ralph can’t really fuck with mid-’70s Michael in this type of song (who can really?) he’s still got a lot more soul than your average teen heartthrob in the Justin Bieber/ Donny Osmond category.

The best thing on here however is Pass the Beat, a minimal Axel F-rip off of an electronic party groove that has all the boys passing the mic around and rap-singing their way past it. It’s the one song that in no way sounds like you know who and should get some people to “shake it, don’t break it” on the floor, were you throw it on at the house-party.

Candy girl is, like most teen pop albums, pure uncut fluff. It is however pretty good fluff. And while it doesn’t even hint at the greatness what was  to come in the form of follow-up albums and solo projects by its various members(bar maybe Pass the Beat)  it is more often than not bouncy, groovy, catchy music that’ll get you to tap your foot or nod you head or do whatever your music listening tic forces you to do. And for that it warrants a revisit.

Best tracks
Gimme Your Love
Popcorn Love
Candy Girl
Is This the End?
Pass The Beat

Pick this up if you find it for a reasonable price. It isn’t very substantial or very original, but the guys have nice voices and Maurice Starr gave them catchy songs. And if you don’t take it too seriously and don’t over-analise it you can have a lot of fun with it.

Johnny Gill – Johnny Gill

Johnny Gill
Johnny Gill
January 16, 1983
Cotillon Records/ Atlantic Records/ WMG
Johnny Gill - Johnny Gill (1)
1. Super Love // 2. Thank You // 3. Show Her Love // 4. Guilty // 5. When Something Is Wrong With My Baby // 6. Every Radio // 7. I’m Sorry // 8. I Love Making Music // 9. You // 10.  Half Steppin’

If you can spot the crime against style on this album cover please leave a comment, hint: it isn’t the Jheri curl.

Johnny Gill the singer was always something special, even though Johnny Gill the album wasn’t, well not his 1983 debut anyway. His 1990 album, confusingly also titled Johnny Gill is actually quite good.

What’s most striking about this album is how little the teenager on the album cover resembles the man one would imagine the voice you hear on record to belong to, indeed the powerful soul vocals sounds really mature. And not in a preteen Michael Jackson way either, Michael just sounded extraordinairily skilled and experienced for someone his age, Gill actually sounds like a thirty year old.

Not that he sounds gimmicky, au contraire, he’s one of the top R&B vocalists of his era when it’s reach and power that is concerned, not unlike Whitney Houston, with whom he would in the future affiliate through New Edition.

Also not unlike Houston’s Gill’s debut album suffers from a serious case of professionally made but generic sounding ’80s pop/ R&B material the boy had to sing his way through. And not in a trashy fun sense the way his future group New Edition’s debut Candy Girl was.

Props to Gill for making the ride as enjoyable as it actually is. Shame on Cotillon for not getting him the musical collaborators he deserved. Not that they didn’t get Johnny a prefessional producer, Freddie Perren is a former member of Motown Record’s production company The Corporation, which produced hit singles for the Likes of the Jackson 5, Gloria Gaynour, the Sylvers and many other Motown Greats, but he brings none of that heat here.

That is; He doesn’t land a classic record but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely useless, Super Love and Guilty are passable post-disco stabs at electro funk. Show Her Love is an okay drum-less R&B ballad in the vein of MJ’s She’s Out of My Life. These songs certainly aren’t bad and should satisfy fans of early-to-mid ’80s R&B.

Best of all is Johnny’s cover of Sam & Dave’s When Something is Wrong With My Baby, which is actually a ’60s soul song, and showcases Johnny’s range really well.

I’m Sorry and Every Radio are some cornball bullshit, though. I Love Makin’ Music and Half Steppin’ fall flat in their attempts at funky. And You wants to be classic Motown-ish slow jam, but is too flaccid to compete.

So, one good track, four okay ones and five terrible ones. That leaves this one at barely passable. Luckily Johnny got another shot at recording an album, because the boy certainly would eventually turn out to have good music in him, not now though, since this was not only a critical failiure but also a commercial one.

Best track
When Something is Wrong With My Baby

Nothing on here warrants a purchase.