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Wham!


The 80s were defined by duos such as WHAM!, PET SHOP BOYS and ERASURE. The post-punk new romantic movement had seen a freedom in fashion not seen since the swinging 60s, and there were a plethora of London-based acts glamorous enough to catch a new wave of interest from the teeny-bop brigade. “Young Guns” WHAM! were the quintessential manufactured act; both George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley designed to attract the young female fraternity with throwaway titles and hooks a la `Wham Rap!’, `Club Tropicana’ and `Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’.
The pair met and befriended at Bushey Meads Comprehensive school, and left in 1979 to instigate ska band The Executive (alongside David Austin, Andrew Leaver and Ridgeley’s brother, Paul) – much in the same way as the embryonic TEARS FOR FEARS (then as GRADUATE). A couple of years later, the Adonis-like George Michael (from Greek parentage) and the chiselled Andrew Ridgeley (from Surrey) broke away to form their own teen-dream duo, WHAM!, subsequently signing in 1982 to Mark Dean’s fledgling Innervision label.
Disposable and contrived as they may have been, `Wham Rap!’ was as subversive as any po-faced post-punk outfit, with its lyrical subtext of no-work and all-play in its well-guarded motifs. A flop first time around, it was re-promoted into the Top 10 (as `Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)’) early the following year, on the back of the previously colourful, video-enhanced sophomore single, `Young Guns (Go For It)’, gate-crashing the Top 3.
With hit after hit of bouncy, sun-kissed lads-on-the-pull dancefloor-pop (the fist-pumping `Bad Boys’ a near No.1), WHAM! certainly brightened up the dour, early-80s scene. Their debut album, FANTASTIC (1983) {*5}, topped the charts, and gave the pair a foot-hold Stateside, where they had to be billed as WHAM UK due to another act of the same name. Many pundits dismissed the set as pop-industry, sub-SPANDAU BALLET pap, coming as it did at a time when disc-jockey John Peel was airing profoundly more “alt & indie” material. From The MIRACLES nugget `Love Machine’, to the singles (including next-on-the-conveyor-belt, `Club Tropicana’), the simple beats were free and easy on the ear. The decision to marry-up some of the set’s weaker pieces on `Club Fantastic Megamix’ was deemed a tad obtrusive and exploitative, even to their most die-hard of fans who guaranteed it only a No.15 peak.
Duly attracted by the brighter lights of the US of A, George made his first inroads Stateside; meanwhile, the dainty doo wop-designed `Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ gave WHAM! a transatlantic No.1 in summer ‘84. Having finally broken free from Innervision after a protracted legal battle, the pair were now signed to Epic Records; MICHAEL simultaneously making the first tentative steps towards a solo career via the moody `Careless Whisper’ (another UK/US No.1).
With the breathless heartbreak of the Motown-esque `Freedom’, WHAM! approached pop genius, while parent set MAKE IT BIG (1984) {*8} was a better proposition to discerning fans growing up with their teen idols close to their hearts and minds. Ridgeley was now regarded by many as surplus to requirements, even though he co-wrote the aforementioned GM solo outing, `Careless Whisper’ (the closing LP track). Only a cover of The ISLEY BROTHERS’ `If You Were There’ seemed out of place, but in the groovy `Everything She Wants’, they’d another million-seller on their hands: primarily as a double-header alongside the exclusive UK-only `Last Christmas’ (still a pop classic today) and, secondly, in its own right as a US No.1 (flipped with the dream-y `Like A Baby’).
With GEORGE MICHAEL stretching out his legs by way of singles with ELTON JOHN (`Don’t Let The Sun Go Down’ for “Live Aid” and `Wrap Her Up’), the duo looked inevitably secondary to the man in demand. WHAM! went out on a high with a further couple of stellar No.1s (`I’m Your Man’ and `The Edge Of Heaven), a tour of China, and a knicker-wetting farewell concert at Wembley Stadium. The duo had officially split around the same time as GEORGE MICHAEL secured his second No.1 solo hit with `A Different Corner’ (also from the US-only MUSIC FROM THE EDGE OF HEAVEN (1986) {*6}), and by now it was abundantly clear which one of the duo was destined for greater things. Andrew Ridgeley was virtually cast aside in the fickle world of pop as he flitted to America, while fans only had “Faith” in the every word of Mr. Entertainment, GEORGE MICHAEL.
Sadly, after a hugely lucrative solo career that also embraced an abundance of controversy, George died of heart failure on Christmas day 2016; he was only 53.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2004 // rev-up MCS Dec2016

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