Wham!

  • Biography:

    Dismissed as a contrived teenybopper act during its mid-'80s reign on the pop chart, the duo Wham! Is remembered for its cotton-candy singles, and as singer/songwriter George Michael's {see entry} vehicle to fame. Michael met Wham!'s other half, Andrew Ridgeley, when they were schoolmates in Bushey, a London suburb. In 1979 the two began playing together in a ska-based band, the Executive. When that group dissolved, they wrote songs, made demos, and landed a deal with Innervision Records, a fledgling British label. Wham!'s debut album, Fantastic, entered the U.K. chart at #1. Innervision kept most of the royalties, though, and after some legal hassles, the duo switched to Epic.

    Their first Epic single, 1984's "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go," premiered at #1 in England; later that year, buoyed by a bouncy video featuring Michael and Ridgely cavorting in sportswear, it topped the American charts. The ballad "Careless Whisper" also reached #1 in both countries, as did Wham!'s second album, Make It Big. The hits "Everything She Wants" (#1), "Freedom" (#3), and "I'm Your Man" (#3) followed in 1985. Meanwhile, critics speculated that Michael, as Wham!'s principal writer and producer, was destined to pursue a career independent of Ridgeley, whose car racing and girl chasing were more conspicuous than his musical contributions. When Wham! Did split, in 1986 – the year of its third album, Music From The Edge of Heaven (#10) – they went out, fittingly, with a bang: a sold-out farewell concert before 72,000 fans at London's Wembley Stadium.

    Ridgeley has found little post-Wham! Musical success. His 1990 solo album, Son of Albert (#130, 1990) bombed in the U.S. and the U.K., producing only one minor U.K. hit, "Shake" (#58, 1990). After failed turns as an auto racer and a restaurateur, Ridgeley, seemingly content to live on Wham! Royalties, put his playboy ways behind him and settled down in an English farmhouse with Bananarama [see entry] singer Keren Woodward and her son, took up surfing, and became an environmental activist for the British lobbying group Surfers Against Sewage.

    This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

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