The Number Ones

The Number Ones: Wham!’s “Everything She Wants”

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.

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Wham! – “Everything She Wants”

HIT #1: May 25, 1985

STAYED AT #1: 2 weeks

When it all came to an end, Andrew Ridgeley couldn’t have been surprised. By the fall of 1985, Wham! were coming off of an incredible run. In a six-month span, the duo had launched three singles to the top of the Hot 100. All those singles came from their sophomore LP Make It Big, making Wham! the first artist to land three #1 singles from the same album since the Saturday Night Fever-era Bee Gees. Even Thriller only got Michael Jackson to #1 twice. Wham! were breathing rarefied air. Usually, when a group is on a roll like that, they do everything it their power to keep that roll going. That’s not what Wham! did. Wham! ended.

There’s a fascinating tension at the heart of the Wham! narrative. Early on, the duo was just two young school friends setting out to conquer the world together. Early on, the two really did contribute equally — or, in any case, somewhere close to equally. But when they did conquer the world, it was almost entirely because of one of the two members. George Michael was the engine of Wham! Michael was the guy with the the drive, chops, and instincts. And while Andrew Ridgeley was a devastatingly handsome kid, Michael was still the better-looking of the two. This was not an even divide. It was an untenable arrangement.

By the time they made Make It Big, George Michael was Wham!’s lead singer, producer, and primary songwriter. “Careless Whisper,” Wham!’s second #1 single, was sold around the world as a George Michael solo song, even though it was one of the few that Ridgeley actually co-wrote. At Live Aid, Wham! weren’t billed as performers. Instead, Ridgeley sang backup while Michael and Elton John sang together, performing a duet that will eventually appear in this column. A few months after Live Aid, Michael told Ridgeley and the group’s managers that it was time for Wham! to end.

So that makes “Everything She Wants,” Wham!’s third and final American #1, a kind of victory lap. It’s a weird sort of victory lap, though — an anguished, panicked, panting lament about not wanting to have a family. Wham! showed up in the US as the silly and cheerful and cute boys of the “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” video. A few months later, George Michael was howling on MTV about how pissed he was that he was about to become a dad. That must’ve been weird!

George Michael was not, as it happens, about to become a dad. From the beginning, Michael made it clear that “Everything She Wants” was a song written from the point of view of a fictional character — albeit one who was expressing the sorts of frustrations and fears that millions feel. The setup of “Everything She Wants” could’ve easily fueled a country song. Michael sings it from the perspective of a guy who’s already struggling with money and who greets the news that his wife is pregnant as a portent of absolute doom. On the Make It Big tracklist, “Everything She Wants” shows up right after the opener “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” — a strange choice and a sign that we’re not in jitterbug territory anytime soon.

George Michael came up with the beat first — a nervous metronomic pulse with a squelchy synthetic bassline. Michael must’ve been thinking about Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” since that track has the same kind of relentless thump to it, and since both songs are bleats of terror about impending fatherhood. But where “Billie Jean” is about denial and existential dread, “Everything She Wants” makes the situation a whole lot more concrete by making it all about money.

Lyrically, “Everything She Wants” is an elegantly constructed bit of business. On the first verse, Michael lays out all his frustrations. His narrator has been with this person for six months, and he finds her demanding and impossible to please: “Everything you want, and everything you see is out of reach, not good enough.” Then, on the second verse, he drops the bomb. She’s about to have a kid, and the causes him to freak the fuck out.

Michael’s writing here is some cold shit: “And now you tell me that you’re having my baby? / I’ll tell you that I’m happy if you want me to/ But one step further and my back will break/ If my best isn’t good enough, then how can it be good enough for two?” I’m sure a whole lot of expectant fathers have feelings like those, but many of them probably wouldn’t say those feelings out loud, let alone put them in a song. That’s the sort of thing where the kid could hear it and then spend years in therapy, trying to deal with the burden of being a burden.

The cool trick of “Everything She Wants” is that it puts all these unspeakable feelings in the context of an icy little jam that could still work just fine in the club. On the hook, Michael and Ridgeley wordlessly attempt to process everything: “Ahh haa-aah, ahh haa-aah, oh hooo.” Michael howls about giving all his money away while Ridgeley deadpans the backing vocals: “To give you money/ Oh, to give you money.”

The are a couple of big-note moments on “Everything She Wants,” points where Michael really wails. And in those moments, the things that Michael is saying are dark: “I can’t work any harder than I do,” “My God! I don’t even think that I love you!” But the song is catchy, and those big notes make for fun sing-along moments. So Michael takes a moment of abject working-class terror and turns it into a slick pop song. That’s quite a trick!

Maybe because it’s so dark, “Everything She Wants” doesn’t seem to stick around in the cultural imagination the way “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Careless Whisper” still do. But I tend to think of it as the best of those early Wham! singles. It’s not Michael’s best, and it’s a little kneecapped by how totally Michael attempts to swagger-jack Michael Jackson, right down to the feverish “whoo!” But “Everything She Wants” still gets under my skin, and it’s about the clearest possible sign that George Michael was not the goofy and fresh-faced kid that he once appeared to be.

Michael didn’t think “Everything She Wants” was a single. In the UK, “Everything She Wants” came out as the B-side to Wham!’s deathless holiday single “Last Christmas.” That double-sided single peaked at #2, stuck behind the juggernaut of Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” another song with a memorable George Michael vocal turn. To date, “Last Christmas” b/w “Everything She Wants” still the highest-selling single in UK history that didn’t make it to #1.

In the UK, the charts are based on single sales. The Billboard Hot 100, based at the time on the combination of sales and radio airplay, was notoriously hard on Christmas songs, which would disappear from airplay rotation on a certain date and which never got pushed too hard. Here, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” peaked at #13. “Last Christmas” wasn’t even released as a single in the US at first, so it didn’t chart. But in recent years, thanks to streaming, holiday songs regularly take over the Hot 100 once a year. “Last Christmas” actually reached a peak of #11 this year, and there’s a good chance it goes top-10 when the Christmas charts come around again.

In the US, “Everything She Wants” was the A-side, and it hit #1 in the wake of all the publicity around Wham!’s tour of China. The music video — from director Andy Monahan, who’d previously done Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” video, and who would later helm 1994’s Highlander III: The Sorcerer — mostly used footage from those Wham!’s live shows, though there were also some nice shots of Michael staring hard at the camera. That video used an extended version of the song, which, at seven minutes, was just too long. The video also did the obnoxious thing where the crowds-cheering sounds sometimes drowned out the song, for no good reason. We can see that the crowds are excited! We don’t need to hear it!

“Everything She Wants” wasn’t quite the end of the story for Wham!, though it was their last #1 hit. The ebullient “Freedom,” the final single from Make It Big, topped the UK charts and made it to #3 in the US. (It’s an 8. “Freedom ’90,” the 1990 George Michael single that didn’t really have anything in common with Wham!’s “Freedom” other than the title, peaked at #8. That one is a 10.) And Wham! made one more album before splitting apart.

1986’s Music From The Edge Of Heaven, Wham!’s final album, went platinum and launched two more top-10 US singles. (“I’m Your Man” peaked at #3. It’s an 7. “The Edge Of Heaven” peaked at #10. It’s a 5.) That’s not much compared to the sextuple-platinum Make It Big, but it’s still pretty good for a group that had essentially already broken up. Wham! announced that Music From The Edge Of Heaven would be their last album before they released it, and they played their final show at Wembley Stadium just a few week after the album came out. By that point, Michael had already grown out his stubble.

In the years after their breakup, Wham! only reunited a couple of times. In 1988, Ridgeley and Michael’s family surprised Michael onstage in Birmingham on the night of Michael’s 25th birthday. In 1991, Ridgeley again joined Michael onstage at Rock In Rio. That was it. There was no big nostalgia cash-in reunion tour or anything. Ridgeley moved to Monaco and raced cars for a while. That didn’t work out, and neither did the acting career he attempted. The one solo album that Ridgeley released, 1990’s Son Of Albert, went nowhere.

But Ridgeley seems to have a pretty good life anyway, making a comfortable living off of the “Careless Whisper” royalties and living on a Cornwall farm with Keren Woodward. (Woodward’s group Bananarama will eventually appear in this column.) Ridgeley continues to be devastatingly handsome. I don’t know if Ridgeley got everything he wanted, but he’s done just fine for himself.

George Michael, meanwhile, will appear in this column again.

GRADE: 8/10

BONUS BEATS: Producer Tyrone Fyffe sampled “Everything She Wants” for Foxy Brown’s 1999 Total single “I Can’t,” which featured the R&B group Total. Here’s the video:

(Foxy Brown’s highest-charting single, the 1997 Jay-Z collab “I’ll Be,” peaked at #7. It’s a 6. As lead artists, Total’s highest-charting single is their 1998 Missy Elliott collab “Trippin’,” which peaked at #7. It’s an 8. As guests, Total reached #3 on LL Cool J’s 1996 track “Loungin’.” That one is a 6.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Problematic pimp-rap national treasure Suga Free apparently loves “Everything She Wants.” Here’s Suga Free doing the “Everything She Wants” panting on his 2004 Big Steele/DJ Clue collab “Get Loose”:

And here’s Suga Free once again interpolating “Everything She Wants” on his 2007 song “Excuse Me Miss”:

(Suga Free has never had a Hot 100 single, but his frequent collaborator DJ Quik has. As lead artist, DJ Quik’s highest-charting single is 1991’s “Tonite,” which peaked at #49. As a guest rapper, Quik’s highest-charting single is Tony! Toni! Toné!’s 1996 track “Let’s Get Down,” which peaked at #30. And as a producer, Quik reached #9 with Truth Hurts’ 2002 Rakim collab “Addictive.” “Addictive” is a 10.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the cool spaced-out backpack-soul version of “Everything She Wants” that the Detroit singer Zo! and the Little Brother/Foreign Exchange member Phonte released in 2011:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the bugged-out robo-funk cover of “Everything She Wants” that LA electro pioneer Egyptian Lover recorded for the soundtrack of the 2018 video game Grand Theft Auto V:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the cameo-heavy quarantine-era video that nü-metal jokers Alien Ant Farm made for their 2020 “Everything She Wants” cover:

(Alien Ant Farm’s only charting single is their 2001 cover of “Smooth Criminal,” which peaked at #23. Michael Jackson’s original “Smooth Criminal,” released as a single in 1988, peaked at #7. It’s a 10.)