Wham! Biography

Generally acknowledged as the most commercially successful English pop group of the 80s, the Wham! duo first performed together in ska-influenced school band, the Executive. George Michael (Georgios (Yorgos) Kyriacos Panayiotou, 25 June 1963, East Finchley, London, England) and Andrew Ridgeley (b. 26 January 1963, Windlesham, Surrey, England) streamlined the group and in 1982 began searching for a contract under their new name, Wham! Local boy Mark Dean was impressed with their demos and agreed to sign them to his recently formed label, Innervision. They next fell into the hands of music publishers Dick Leahy and Bryan Morrison, the former was to play a crucial part in guiding their career hereafter. After embarking on a series of ‘personal appearances’ at local clubs with backing singers Amanda Washbourn and Shirlie Holliman (who went on to become one half of Pepsi And Shirlie), they completed their debut single ‘Wham! Rap’ which had originally been intended as a disco parody. What emerged was an exhilarating dance number in its own right with intriguing double-edged lyrics. Wham! sang of soul on the dole and the need to rise above the stigma of unemployment. Although the song gained the boys some publicity, it initially failed to chart. However, the follow-up ‘Young Guns’ was a UK Top 10 hit in late 1982 and a remixed ‘Wham Rap’ belatedly repeated that feat. A third hit, ‘Bad Boys’ indicated that the duo’s macho, young rebel image was wearing thin, and Michael promised a change of direction in the future.

In the meantime, they required an additional tentacle to hasten their mining of gold vinyl and, after consulting Morrison/Leahy, recruited two managers, Jazz Summers and Simon Napier-Bell. Their next hit, ‘Club Tropicana’, was a satire on elitist London clubland but for most listeners, the parodic elements were irrelevant. Fêted by teen magazines and increasingly photographed in exotic climes, the group soon found themselves a symbol of vainglorious beach-brain hedonism and nouveau riche vulgarity. A chart-topping album Fantastic was primarily a collection of singles with a pedestrian cover of the Miracles’ ‘Love Machine’ to show their love of Motown Records.

An acrimonious dispute with Innervision culminated in a fascinating court case, which freed the duo from their record company and they signed directly to Epic Records. They celebrated their release with their first UK number 1 ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’, quickly followed by ‘Careless Whisper’ (co-composed by Ridgeley, but credited to George Michael as artist). Make It Big zoomed to number 1 and by the end of 1984 the group had two further major successes ‘Freedom’ and ‘Last Christmas’/‘Everything She Wants’. The following year, the duo embarked on a much-publicized trip to China and enjoyed considerable success in America. Rumours of an impending split were confirmed the following year but not before Wham! fired their management team over the alleged sale of their company to the owner of Sun City. Wham’s act of pop euthanasia was completed on 28 June 1986 when they played a farewell concert before 72, 000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium which was captured on The Final. Since the split George Michael’s solo career blossomed, notably in the USA where he was taken more seriously as an AOR artist. Ridgeley predictably struggled to establish his own music career.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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