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|Also known as||Wham! UK (briefly in the US)|
|Origin||Bushey, Hertfordshire, England|
|Genres||Pop, post-disco, dance-pop|
|Associated acts||The Executive!, Pepsi & Shirlie, Dee C Lee|
|Past members||George Michael
Dee C. Lee
Wham! were an English 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! have sold more than 25 million certified records worldwide from 1982 to 1986.
Michael and Ridgeley met at Bushey Meads School in Bushey near the suburb of Watford in Hertfordshire. The two at first 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 from which they later sued to be released. 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. 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 debut record to be released by the band was "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" 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.
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 without work commitments, on the dole; "Bad Boys", about a strained relationship between a rebellious teenage boy 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! were competing against pop rivals 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 spent two weeks at #1 in the UK album charts in 1983.
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.
Ridgeley convinced a reluctant 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".
Wham! returned in 1984 with an updated pop image. 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 rather than spokesmen for a disaffected generation.
These changes helped to propel Wham!'s next single to the top of the charts around the world, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go", a song that George Michael wrote after being inspired by 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 single 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. It quickly reached #1, selling over 1.3 million copies in the UK. "Careless Whisper" marked a new phase in George Michael's career, as he somewhat distanced 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 and the first single for quite some time to reach #1 in the UK without an accompanying video. Wham! subsequently decided to use a video edited together from footage of their historic China tour in time for "Freedom's" U.S. single release. The group by then 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.
The double A-side single "Last Christmas/ Everything She Wants" became the highest-selling single ever to peak at #2 in the UK charts. It stayed at #2 for five weeks and, to date, is the 24th best-selling single of all time in the United Kingdom, selling over 1.4 million copies in the UK. Wham! donated all their royalties from the single 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 in the UK 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 U.S number ones) were "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go", "Careless Whisper", and "Everything She Wants". "Freedom" hit number three.
China and Live Aid (1985)
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 15,000 people. Wham!'s visit to China attracted huge media attention across the world. Napier-Bell later admitted that he used cunning tactics to sabotage the efforts of rock group Queen to be the first to play in China. He made two brochures for the Chinese authorities - one featuring Wham! fans as pleasant middle-class youngsters, and one portraying Queen singer Freddie Mercury in typically flamboyant poses. The Chinese opted for Wham! Director Lindsay Anderson documented the tour in his film Foreign Skies.
Sporting a beard, Michael appeared with Ridgeley onstage at Live Aid on 13 July 1985 (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. "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 vocals.
Amicable split (1986)
Michael was keen to create music targeted at a more sophisticated adult market rather than the duo's primarily teenage audience. 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 farewell concert entitled The Final. Announcing the breakup, Michael said: "I think it should be the most amicable split in pop history."
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).
At London's Wembley Stadium on Saturday 28 June 1986, Wham! bade goodbye to its fans and each other with an emotional embrace at the end of its final concert. 72,000 people attended the eight-hour event, which included support artists, on a scorching hot day in London. The band had been together for five years, selling over 25 million albums and 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 premiere in history.
For several years after becoming a solo artist, George Michael spoke negatively, in public, about his time with Wham!. Michael complained of the constant pressure he felt, and he claimed that the duo had been mistreated financially. He also spoke disparagingly about some of the songs from 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.
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. 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 in the UK. 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.
In 2012, Michael said that there was no truth in speculation that he and Ridgeley were set for a Wham! reunion to mark the 30th anniversary of the group's first record.
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