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George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley met as preteens attending Bushey Meads School in Hertfordshire, England. Becoming fast friends, the two played in a ska revival band named the Executive before leaving to form their own group. Inspired by American dance and R&B, the duo decided to call themselves Wham! because they believed it represented their sunny, kinetic chemistry. Signing with Innervision Records, Wham! released their debut single "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" in June 1982 but it failed to gain much attention. That wasn't the case with "Young Guns (Go for It)," another iteration of the group's youthful positivity. Reaching number three on the charts, "Young Guns (Go for It)" ignited Wham!'s stardom in the U.K., leading to a re-release of "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" that climbed into the Top Ten in early 1983. "Bad Boys" and "Club Tropicana" followed their predecessors into the Top Ten in 1983, establishing the duo as peers of the likes of Culture Club, who were the only other British band of that moment drawing so heavily on American R&B.
After an acrimonious split with Innervision, Wham! signed with Epic Records--in America, they signed Columbia, another CBS-run imprint--paving the way for a massive worldwide push for their second album, Make It Big. Accompanied by a bright, cheerful video where the duo, along with backing vocalists Pepsi and Shirlie, sported shirts proclaiming "Choose Life," lead single "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" became a number one hit around the globe in the summer of 1984, sparking a blockbuster year for Wham! that was filled with chart-topping singles, including the effervescent "Freedom," slinky "Everything She Wants" and deceptively joyous "Last Christmas," which turned into an enduring instrumental standard. Among those number one hits was the ballad "Careless Whisper," a sultry slow jam that was promoted in some markets as a solo single by George Michael and in other countries as "Wham! Featuring George Michael," a puzzling choice considering it was one of the few Wham! singles co-written by Andrew Ridgeley. The credit confusion was the first indication that CBS viewed Michael as the true star of Wham!
Despite this simmering internal tension, Wham! stayed active throughout 1985, beginning the year by being the first Western group to tour China. Footage from the tour would feature in the American video for "Freedom," which was released in the US in 1985, several months after it topped the British charts, and also provided the basis for the 1986 documentary Wham! In China: Foreign Skies. The buoyant single "I'm Your Man" also reached number one in the UK late in the year but by that point, Michael was already planning to leave Wham! In March of 1986, he released the slow, contemplative "A Different Corner" as a solo single. A few months later, he and Ridgeley made it official: they announced their next single, the spritely "The Edge of Heaven" would be their last and they'd say farewell with an album aptly titled The Final, which contained older hits along with newer singles, including "A Different Corner." The release of The Final got a bit messy, with Wham!'s American record company whittling the album down to its newer material and entitling this collection Music from the Edge of Heaven.
Not long after separating, George Michael released Faith, the 1987 album that cemented his superstardom. Andrew Ridgeley didn't have nearly as successful a recording career: after his 1990 debut Son of Albert failed to find an audience, he bowed out of music. The pair remained friends until Michael's untimely death on December 25, 2016. Ridgeley subsequently published a 2019 memoir called Wham! George & Me and also participated in the 2023 documentary Wham! ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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