An Exclamatory Playlist!

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in “Wham!”Credit…Netflix

By Lindsay Zoladz

Dear listeners,

If you’re looking for something light, fun and full of ridiculous ’80s fashion, I can’t recommend the new Netflix documentary about the pop group Wham! enough — it’s basically the documentary equivalent of a beach read.

As someone who wasn’t around for Wham!’s heyday, the movie allowed me to live vicariously through its rise and appreciate things about Wham! I’d never considered before. Like how confident a producer and songwriter George Michael was from a young age. And also that Michael and his immaculately coifed bandmate Andrew Ridgeley really knew how and when to break up a band. They announced their imminent demise in 1986, and then played one epic final show at Wembley Stadium. “Wham! was never going to be middle-aged,” Ridgeley says in the movie, “or be anything other than an essential and pure representation of us as youths.”

That sentiment made me realize how uncommonly perfect a band name Wham! was for this group. Goofy, youthful, monosyllabic, here-for-a-good-time-but-not-a-long-time and above all things — exclamatory! Adults, “serious musicians,” newspaper style guidelines: All of them tell you that exclamation points should be used sparingly. Wham! was having none of that. The duo said, “We’re going to make you write or speak an exclamation mark every time you use our name.”

It got me thinking about the art of using exclamation marks in band names and song titles. Which, of course, calls for a playlist.

Sometimes the musical exclamation point almost mimics percussion: “Turn! Turn! Turn!” or “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” Sometimes it helps you hear the voice of a particularly emotive singer, as I can only hear the phrase “Everybody Wants Some!!” in David Lee Roth’s wail. But more often than not, the musical exclamation point is simply a way to raise the stakes, to indicate (at the risk of overcompensating) that there is something ecstatic about the sound that accompanies it.

Like Wham!, I’ll now make my graceful exit. All that’s left to say: Listen up!

Listen along on Spotify as you read.

1. Wham!: “Everything She Wants”

This is one of my favorite Wham! songs, perhaps because it sounds, uncharacteristically, a little sinister. As my colleague Wesley Morris put it in his great review of “Wham!,” “there is a kind of desperation in the average Wham! song, a crisis about either being trapped in lovelessness or excluded from love — a crisis audible, even to my young ears, as a wail from the closet.” (Listen on YouTube)

2. Abba: “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”

Famously sampled in Madonna’s 2005 dance-floor reinvention “Hung Up,” this lusty 1979 Abba classic also boasts some excellent parentheses use. (Listen on YouTube)

3. Van Halen: “Everybody Wants Some!!”

A double exclamation point? That’s bold. Then again, Eddie Van Halen’s solo in the middle of this 1980 track is, like any Eddie Van Halen solo, basically the sonic equivalent of a double exclamation mark. When Richard Linklater paid homage to this song by naming his (hilarious) 2016 movie “Everybody Wants Some!!,” he knew enough to honor the band’s punctuation. (Listen on YouTube)

4. The Beatles: “Oh! Darling”

The Beatles certainly knew how to employ the exclamation point: “Help!,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!,” and, if you expand the framework to their solo careers, John Lennon’s “Instant Karma!” I love the first-syllable exclamation in “Oh! Darling,” though: Its clipped agony contrasts with the way Paul McCartney stretches out that “daaaarling” and effectively captures the raw-throated desperation of his vocal. (Listen on YouTube)

5. The Byrds: “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)”

I confess that this song — and the Byrds’ lush, fluid delivery of that titular phrase — never really screamed “exclamation” to me. But given that it was written by Pete Seeger and known as a quiet folk ballad before the Byrds made it a No. 1 hit in 1965, those three typographical lightning strikes, though present in Seeger’s original title, now convey the excitement of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” gone electric. (Listen on YouTube)

6. Sly and the Family Stone: “Stand!”

Also the name of Sly and the Family Stone’s great 1969 album, “Stand!” is a command, an invitation and a call to action, bringing the listener right into the reality of the song. Its punctuation also effectively communicates the energy of the track’s ever-ascending chorus and frenzied, gospel-influenced final section. (Listen on YouTube)

7. Los Campesinos!: “You! Me! Dancing!”

There was a coy, sometimes run-on exuberance about many indie bands in the aughts, though few encapsulated that as expressively as the Welsh group Los Campesinos! Bonus points, of course, for exclamation points in the band name and song title! (Listen on YouTube)

8. Neu!: “Hero”

The name of the legendary krautrock group Neu! — German for “New!” — was, in a sense, a sendup of the consumer culture pervading the band’s Düsseldorf home in the early 1970s. As the wildly influential drummer Klaus Dinger said in a 2001 interview with The Wire, “‘Neu!’ at that time was the strongest word in advertising.” (Listen on YouTube)

9. George Michael: “Freedom! (‘90)”

In 1984, Wham! released a bright, buoyant single called “Freedom.” Michael chose to revisit that title — though now with a time-stamp, and an exclamation! — for this hit from his second solo album, “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1.” The lyrics revisit the image he cultivated back in those Wham! days, and reject it in favor of something truer to Michael’s authentic self: “Today the way I play the game is not the same, no way,” he sang. “Think I’m gonna get myself happy.” The exclamation mark sells it: This song was Michael’s liberation. (Listen on YouTube)

Gotta have some faith in the sound,


The Amplifier Playlist

Listen on Spotify. We update this playlist with each new newsletter.

“An Exclamatory Playlist!” track list
Track 1: Wham!, “Everything She Wants”
Track 2: Abba, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”
Track 3: Van Halen, “Everybody Wants Some!!”
Track 4: The Beatles, “Oh! Darling”
Track 5: The Byrds, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)”
Track 6: Sly and the Family Stone, “Stand!”
Track 7: Los Campesinos!, “You! Me! Dancing!”
Track 8: Neu!, “Hero”
Track 9: George Michael, “Freedom! (’90)”

Bonus tracks

RIP Tony Bennett, who was such a musical institution that part of me thought he might actually live forever. Rob Tanenbaum put together a playlist of 10 of his best-known songs, and Jon Pareles wrote a lovely appraisal that begins with quite a musical brainteaser: “Has there ever been a more purely likable pop figure than Tony Bennett?” I’m still mulling it over.

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