Further information: Artist development deal
Michael took on the majority of roles and tasks within the band—composer, singer producer and occasional instrumentalist—but the contribution of Ridgeley as the group's image specialist and spokesman was crucial to the band's initial success: it was Ridgeley who forced upon a reluctant George that Wham! needed to change their image and sound frequently, from the leather clad moody singers of "Bad Boys" and "Young Guns (Go For It!)" to the more fashionable pop superstars of "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go."
Still teenagers, they promoted themselves as hedonistic youngsters, proud to live a carefree life without work or commitment. This was reflected in their earliest singles. Such works as "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" are just as likely to be seen as sarcasm and, thus, advocating the other point of view.
The first record to be released by the band was Wham Rap. It was a double A side with a social and Anti social mix (soul on the dole, we don't take no shit from the benefit). The record was banned for general release in the UK due to the profanity in the Anti social mix. In October 1982, their song "Young Guns (Go For It)" was issued. The song was an appeal from one youthful lad to his friend not to throw his life away so early on marriage. It stalled outside the threshold for the UK Top 40, but then WHAM! got lucky when schedulers for Top Of The Pops—the all-important weekly BBC chart show on television—had to look outside the Top 40 to fill a gap created by an act which had pulled out of recording. As the act nearest the 40 mark which was climbing, WHAM! was summoned, and a phenomenon immediately began. Increasing success
The impact of WHAM! on the public, especially teenage girls, was felt from the moment they finished their debut performance of "Young Guns (Go For It)" on Top Of The Pops. Michael's appearance helped; he wore espadrilles, a suede jacket slit open and rolled-up denim jeans. As he took the foreground, Ridgeley stood behind him, flanked by backing singers D.C. Lee and Shirlie Holliman.
The performance was as much one of acting as it was of singing (or miming, in truth), with Michael playing the part of the pleading goodtime lad and Ridgeley the guy who had been drawn into commitment. The song shot into the Top 40 at #24 as a result and peaked at #3 in December. The following year (1983), D.C. Lee began her work with Paul Weller of The Style Council, and was replaced by Pepsi DeMacque. Holliman and DeMacque would later record music themselves as Pepsi and Shirlie.
WHAM! followed up the song with "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" (a song about the joys of a leisurely life, the full version of which clocked in at almost seven minutes long); "Bad Boys" (about a strained relationship between a rebellious teenage lad and his worried parents) and "Club Tropicana" (a satire of the Club 18-30 scene). Each song came with a memorable music video.
By the end of 1983, WHAM! was rivaling Duran Duran and Culture Club as Britain's biggest pop act. Notoriety and column inches were duly achieved with their antics of placing a shuttlecock down their shorts, and their first album Fantastic reached #1. As the duo disappeared at the end of 1983 to record their next material, a party medley of their early singles, entitled Club Fantastic Megamix, kept their name alive.
Around this time, Andrew become conscious of legal problems with their initial contract at Innervision. With George's consent, Andrew mounted a legal challenge against the record company. After a bitter (though largely unreported) legal battle, Innervision admitted there were 'royalty discrepancies' with Wham!s contract, leading to the bankruptcy and dissolution of Innervision. It was this legal victory that George later referred to as being mistreated financially.
Driven by Andrew, the Boys from Wham! changed their image and WHAM! returned in May 1984 with an updated, cutting-edge pop image, soon imitated by other pop bands. Andrew changed the band's look from "moody in leather jackets" to smiles and fashionable clothing, and an aim to promote themselves more as sex symbols rather than spokespeople for a disaffected generation.
Fittingly enough, this image and sound change propelled the next single (a pop standard) to the top of the charts around the world: Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, a song Michael wrote from a note left to him in his hotel room one night by Ridgeley, which read, "don't forget to wake me up before you go-go, George", became their first UK #1 (it also got to the top in the USA) and was capped by a memorable video of the duo, plus the ubiquitous Pepsi and Shirlie, wearing Katharine Hamnett T-shirts with the slogans CHOOSE LIFE and GO GO.
These t-shirts became essential fashion items, as Hamnett wrote herself into pop culture, having simultaneously designed the FRANKIE SAY T-shirts for Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
Although some critics felt that WHAM! represented bubblegum pop, many were starting to appreciate Michael's proven ability as a songwriter and capable vocalist, while also bemoaning the status of Ridgeley, who had started to play a guitar but whose overall contribution was deemed to be lightweight.The irony of the situation is that Andrew Ridgeley conceived the pop band vehicle of Wham! as a vocal vehicle for his best mate: George Michael.Recognizing that George was superbly talented but needing a push to get him going (George's father had just fired his son from the family's restaurant believing he overloaded the dinner plates), Andrew broached the idea of a pop band to a very reluctant George, who, at the time, was under his father's command to attend law school.
With Andrew pushing George, George came to a compromise with his father, who gave his son six months to get a recording contract--or else attend law school.
Andrew took things into full swing, the duo recorded a demo tape in Andrew's living room, and the Boys from Wham! carried their homemade demo tape around to various record companies in London, oftentimes arriving at the record label's offices without having an appointment, and where Andrew would smooth talk the duo's way into the executive's office where they would play the demo tape.
And so, Wham! was born: of Andrew Ridgeley's idea and determination to help his best mate.
With some bizarre contradiction, the next single "Careless Whisper" was issued as a George Michael solo piece, yet unlike any WHAM! single, this one was co-written by Ridgeley. The song reached #1. In the autumn of 1984, WHAM! came back as a duo with "Freedom", another chart-topper. In November, they released their second album, Make It Big, which coasted to #1 in the album charts.
WHAM! contributed to the Band Aid project, with Michael providing vocals as the song usurped their own Christmas release, "Last Christmas"/"Everything She Wants", the former of which featured a video which was set in a seasonal ski resort.
The single became the biggest selling single ever to peak at #2 in the UK charts. As such, WHAM! donated all their royalties to the Ethiopian famine appeal to coincide with the fundraising intentions of Band Aid, the song which beat them to the top spot. Band Aid's success meant, however, that Michael had been at #1 within three different entities in 1984—as a solo artist, half of a duo, and part of a charity ensemble.
China and Live Aid
In April 1985, WHAM! took a break from recording to embark on an enormous world tour which included a groundbreaking 10-day visit to China, the first tour of that country by a Western pop group. The China excursion was a masterful publicity scheme devised by Simon Napier-Bell (one of their two managers). It culminated in a concert at the Worker's Gymnasium in Beijing in front of 10,000 people. Film producer Martin Lewis and director Lindsay Anderson documented the tour in their film Foreign Skies.
Sporting a beard, Michael appeared with Ridgeley onstage at Live Aid (although they didn't perform as WHAM!). Michael sang "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" with Elton John while Ridgeley joined Kiki Dee in the row of backing singers. In November, WHAM! released "I'm Your Man" which went straight to #1 in the UK charts.By this time Culture Club and Duran Duran were in sharp decline and WHAM! were the standout act in British pop music. Michael began a relationship with model Kathy Yeung and Ridgeley with Keren Woodward of Bananarama. Ridgeley also took up a hobby of rally driving, famously crashing one car before the end of 1985. "Last Christmas" was re-issued for the festive season and again made the UK Top 10, peaking at #6, while Michael took up offers he was starting to receive to add his voice to other artists' songs. He performed backing vocals for David Cassidy and Elton John on successful singles.
Michael desired to create music targeted to a more sophisticated audience than the duo's primarily teenage fanbase. Therefore, Michael and Ridgeley announced the break-up of WHAM! in 1986, destined to take place after a farewell single and album, and a historic grand finale concert at Wembley Stadium on June 28 1986, called The Final. British pop group Five Star declined George's invitation to be the support act, saying they needed to concentrate on their own career at the time.
The single was "The Edge of Heaven" (which had on its flip-side "Where Did Your Heart Go?") which reached #1 in June 1986. "Where Did Your Heart Go?" was the group's final single in the United States. The song, originally recorded by art-rock ensenble Was (Not Was), er...was a downbeat and somber affair that telegraphed the intentions of George Michael for the next decades work and would fit musically on any of his solo albums. The duo's last album was also called The Final (released in North America as Music from the Edge of Heaven with alternate tracks). WHAM! duly said goodbye to their audience (100,000 of whom attended the eight hour event) and each other with an emotional embrace at the end of the show, after five years and many millions of album sales, which were estimated roughly (not exact but close) from sources of TV specials and articles at 20 million album and 10 to 15 million singles sales worldwide in their short yet successful career together. Foreign Skies, the film of their tour of China, received its world premiere as part of the festivities, making it the most highly-attended film premiere in history.
As CBS Records preferred the pop sound of Wham! Ridgeley's solo guitar and drum driven career (Son of Albert CD) was over almost as soon as it began, and after varying careers as a rally driver and the required singer/actor crossover stint in LA, Andrew retired to Cornwall, where he became an environmental activist with Surfers Against Sewage to Cornwall. He lives with his wife Keren Woodward (formerly of Bananarama).He later became a partner in a firm which manufactures surfing goods. He has largely stayed out of the public eye and remains in Cornwall in his meticulously restored 15th century house.
Michael, who had enjoyed his second solo #1 earlier in the year with "A Different Corner", began a permanent solo career which immediately endeared him to the adult audience he desired to reach."Last Christmas" was given its third consecutive festive release in December 1986, although that time it stalled outside the Top 40. No other WHAM! single has ever been re-issued to the UK charts since then, and it took until 1995 before a WHAM! song was given the cover version treatment, when Danish singer Whigfield did her own version of "Last Christmas". The same year, Lisa Moorish, girlfriend at the time to Oasis' Liam Gallagher, recorded "I'm Your Man" for release into the charts.According to newspaper rumours, she apparently shared the studio with George Michael, who at the time was putting the finishing touches to the Older album. At the time of release, Michael legally could not be associated with the song, but he is rumoured to have provided the male vocal section in the chorus. Since then, Shane Richie has covered "I'm Your Man" as a fundraising song for the BBC charity telethon Children In Need.For several years after he became a solo artist, George Michael was publicly negative about his time in WHAM!, largely because of the intense negativity of media coverage on business partner Ridgeley. George complained of the constant pressure he felt, and he claimed that the duo had been mistreated financially (the lawsuit against Innervision). He also spoke disparagingly about the WHAM! repertoire, especially the songs from the first album.
However, his perspective on the era has softened in recent times. He still performs "Everything She Wants", one of the more critically-acclaimed songs from the WHAM! era, at his solo concerts.