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Wham! were a British musical duo formed by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in the early 1980s. They were briefly known in the United States as Wham! UK due to a naming conflict with an American band.

Wham! sold 25 million certified records from 1982 to 1986

History

Michael and Ridgeley met at Bushey Meads Comprehensive School in Bushey near the suburb of Watford in Hertfordshire, England, UK. At first they performed in a short-lived ska band called The Executive, alongside three of their former school friends David (Austin) Mortimer, Harry Tadayon and Andrew Leaver. When this group split, Michael and Ridgeley eventually formed Wham!, signing with Innervision Records, a contract they later sued to be released from. Once that situation was resolved, they signed with CBS (Columbia Records in the United States and Canada, and Epic Records for the rest of the world).

Michael took on the majority of roles and responsibilities within the band--composer, producer, singer, and occasional instrumentalist.. Ridgeley convinced a reluctant George Michael that Wham! needed to change their image and their 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 which, part-parody, part-social comment, briefly earned Wham! a reputation as a dance protest group.

The début record to be released by the band was "Wham Rap!" in June 1982. It was one of the first singles by a British group to include rapping, and was a double A-side including the Social Mix and the Anti-Social Mix. The record was not playlisted by BBC Radio 1 in the UK, partly because of the profanity in the Anti-Social Mix. Separate videos were recorded for each set of lyrics. "Wham! Rap" did not chart for the group, but in October 1982 "Young Guns (Go For It!)" was issued. An appeal from one youthful lad to his friend to not throw his life away so early on marriage, it also stalled outside the UK Top 40. But soon, Wham! got lucky when the BBC programme "Top of the Pops" scheduled them. An important weekly BBC chart show on television, it had to look outside the Top 40 to fill a gap created by an act which had unexpectedly pulled out of the show. Nearest to the 40 mark and still climbing, Wham! was summoned, and a phenomenon immediately began. The "Top of the Pops" performance of "Young Guns" is still considered a watershed moment in the group's history--critical acclaim is given for the 'nightclub' feel of the dance routine by all four of the performers.

Increasing success

Wham!'s first manager was Bryan Morrison. The effect of Wham! on the public, especially teenage girls, was felt from the moment they finished their début performance of "Young Guns (Go For It!)" on Top of the Pops. Michael wore espadrilles, an open suede jacket, and rolled-up denim jeans. Ridgeley stood behind him, flanked by backing dancers Dee C. Lee and Shirlie Holliman.

The performance was as much one of acting as it was of singing, with Michael playing the part of the pleading good-time lad, and Ridgeley the guy who had been drawn into commitment. Afterwards, the song shot into the Top 40 at #24 and peaked at #3 in December. The following year (1983), Dee C. Lee began her work with Paul Weller of The Style Council, and was replaced by Pepsi Demacque. Holliman and Demacque would later record as Pepsi & Shirlie.

Wham! followed up "Young Guns (Go For It!)" with the reissue "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)", a song about the joys of a leisurely life on the dole; "Bad Boys", about a strained relationship between a rebellious teenage lad and his worried parents; and "Club Tropicana", a satire of the media's fascination with the elitist London club scene. Each single was accompanied by a memorable music video.

By the end of 1983, Wham! was rivalling Duran Duran and Culture Club as Britain's biggest pop act. Notoriety and column inches were duly achieved with their antics of placing shuttlecocks down their shorts during performances on their first tour, The Club Fantastic Tour. Their début LP Fantastic reached #1 at this time as well.

It wasn't long after this that Ridgeley became conscious of legal problems with their initial contract at Innervision. While the legal battle raged (perhaps to raise much-needed funds for the fight), Innervision released a medley of non-single album tracks from Fantastic, entitled "Club Fantastic Megamix". Wham! publicly denounced the move, and urged fans not to buy it. After all the legal wrangling, Innervision admitted there were royalty discrepancies with Wham!'s contract, the fall-out of which led to the bankruptcy and eventual dissolution of Innervision altogether.

Driven by Ridgeley, the duo changed their image, and Wham! returned in May 1984 with an updated, cutting-edge pop image quickly copied by other pop bands. In a process begun by the video to "Club Tropicana" on the previous album, Ridgeley changed the band's look from "moody in leather jackets" to smiles and fashionable clothing, with a view to promoting themselves more as hedonistic sex symbols than spokesmen for a disaffected generation, as previously done.

Fittingly enough, these changes propelled the next single (a pop standard) to the top of the charts around the world. "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go", an infectiously catchy song Michael wrote whose inspiration was a note left by Ridgeley to his parents. The note was mistakenly written by Ridgeley as "don't forget to wake me up up before you go go". Since he had accidentally written the word "up" twice, Ridgeley decided to compound the error and write "go" twice, as well. It became their first UK #1 and rose to that position in the USA as well, accompanied 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."

The next single "Careless Whisper" was issued as a George Michael solo piece, yet unlike any Wham! single since "Wham Rap!", it was credited as co-written by Ridgeley. The song, about a remorseful two-timer, had more emotional depth than previous releases, and quickly reached #1, marking a new phase as George Michael tried to somewhat distance himself from Wham!'s playboy image. In the U.S.--so as not to confuse American listeners just being exposed to Wham!--the single was billed as Wham! featuring George Michael. In the autumn of 1984, Wham! returned as a duo with "Freedom", another UK chart-topper with George Michael presented as a broken-hearted romantic, and the first single for quite some time to reach #1 in the UK without an accompanying video. It has been said that this was because the first video was canned due to its poor quality; a video was subsequently edited together from footage of Wham!'s historic China tour in time for "Freedom's" U.S. single release. They had achieved three number-one singles in a row. In November, they released their second album, Make It Big, which quickly climbed to #1 on the album charts, and the band set off on an arena tour at the end of 1984.

"Last Christmas" became the highest-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 fund-raising intentions of Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?", the song which kept them out of the top spot. Nevertheless, Band Aid's success meant that Michael had achieved #1 status within three separate entities in 1984 -- as a solo artist, as one half of a duo, and as part of a charity ensemble.

Several months after their UK releases, their three U.S. number-one singles in a row (and their only number ones) were "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" (closely coinciding with Make It Big's release), "Careless Whisper", and "Everything She Wants". "Freedom" hit number three. At the end of 1985, the U.S. Billboard charts listed "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" as the number-three song and "Careless Whisper" as the number-one song of the year.

China and Live Aid

In April 1985, Wham! took a break from recording to embark on a lengthy world tour, including a ground-breaking 10-day visit to China, the first by a Western pop group. The China excursion was a publicity scheme devised by Simon Napier-Bell (one of their two managers--Jazz Summers being the other). It culminated in a concert at the Workers' Gymnasium in Beijing in front of 10,000 people. Director Lindsay Anderson documented the tour in his film Foreign Skies.

Sporting a beard, Michael appeared with Ridgeley onstage at Live Aid (although they did not 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 backup singers. In September, Wham! released "I'm Your Man" which went to #1 in the UK charts.

Michael claimed to have begun a relationship with model/makeup artist Kathy Yeung around this time, and Ridgeley began one with Keren Woodward of Bananarama. Ridgeley also took up the 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 for Elton John on his successful singles "Nikita" (a UK #3) and "Wrap Her Up," (a UK #12) on which he sang co-lead.

Demise

Michael desired to create music targeted to a more sophisticated audience than the duo's primarily teenage fan-base. Therefore, Michael and Ridgeley officially announced the breakup of Wham! in the spring of 1986, but that a farewell single and album would be forthcoming, along with a final concert at Wembley Stadium on 28 June 1986, called The Final. British pop group Five Star declined George's invitation to be the supporting act, saying they needed to concentrate on their own career at the time.

The farewell single was "The Edge of Heaven," 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 ensemble Was (Not Was), was a gloomy and sombre affair. The duo's last album was a double-LP collection of all the singles to date, including some extended versions, and was also called "The Final" (released in North America as the severely pared-down Music from the Edge of Heaven with alternate tracks). Wham! then bade goodbye to their fans (73,000 of whom attended the eight-hour event) and each other with an emotional embrace at the end of the show. The band had been together five years, selling close to 20 million albums and 10 to 15 million singles. Foreign Skies, the documentary of their tour of China, received its world premiere as part of the festivities, making it the most highly-attended film première in history.

Post-Wham!

For several years after becoming a solo artist, George Michael spoke in public negatively about his time in Wham!, partly because of the intense negativity of media coverage on partner Ridgeley. Michael complained of the constant pressure he felt, and he claimed that the duo had been mistreated financially. He also spoke disparagingly about the Wham! repertoire, especially the songs from the first album.

However, his perspective on the era has softened somewhat in recent years. He still performs "I'm Your Man" and "Everything She Wants," one of the more critically acclaimed songs from the Wham! era, at his solo concerts. He and Ridgeley have had a few reunions.

Ridgeley moved to Monaco after Wham!'s break-up and tried his hand at Formula Three motor racing. Meeting with little success, Ridgeley moved to Los Angeles to pursue his singing/acting career, the failure of which caused him to return to England in 1990. Regardless, CBS Records, having taken up the option on Wham!'s contract that specified solo albums from Michael and Ridgeley, released a guitar-and-drum-driven solo effort from Ridgeley, Son of Albert, in 1990. His brother Paul--a frequent percussionist for Bananarama--played drums on the album. Singles included "Shake" and "Red Dress." CBS declined the option of a second album.

On 21 November 2009, there was a Wham!-themed night on television's The X Factor. Michael later appeared on the show's final episode, performing a duet of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" with finalist and eventual winner Joe McElderry.