Michael and Ridgeley met at Bushey Meads School in Bushey near Watford, England, UK. At first, they performed in a short-lived ska band called The Executive, alongside two of their former school friends Paul Atkey and Mike Murphy. When this group split, Michael and Ridgeley formed a duo called Wham! and went on to sign with Innervision Records. The duo later sued Innervision to be released from their contract. The group then 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, singer, producer, and occasional instrumentalist— but the contribution of Ridgeley as the group's image specialist and spokesman was crucial to the band's initial success . Ridgeley convinced a reluctant George Michael that Wham! needed to change their image and 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 debut record to be released by the band was "Wham Rap!" in June 1982. It was one of the first ever singles by a British group to include rapping and was a double-A side with a Social Mix and 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. Subsequently the reissued UK release replaced the controversial lines in the first verse "B1, B2, make a claim sign your name’s all you have to do" and the opening two phrases of the second verse citing "Mr. Average". Additionally two videos were recorded for each set of lyrics. In 1983 on the UK pop show, Channel 4's The Tube, Wham! performed live the original song in full complete with the B1,B2 lines. This version was considered far better and was later released in the UK as the U.S Remix. Wham! Rap did not chart for the group but in October 1982, their song "Young Guns (Go For It!)" was issued. The song was 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 then Wham! got lucky when 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 pulled out of recording. 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 great moment in the group's history - critical acclaim is given for the 'nightclub' feel of the dance routine by all four of the group.
The effect of Wham! on the public, especially teenage girls, was felt from the moment they finished their debut performance of "Young Guns (Go For It!)" on Top of the Pops. Michael wore espadrilles, a suede jacket slit open, 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 goodtime 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 music 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 (the full version (U.S Remix) of which clocked in at almost seven minutes long); "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 song came with a memorable music video.
By the end of 1983, Wham! was rivaling Duran Duran and Culture Club as Britain's biggest pop act. Notoriety and column inches were duly achieved with their antics of placing a shuttlecock down their shorts, and their first album Fantastic reached #1.
Around this time, 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, leading to the bankruptcy and dissolution of Innervision.
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 an aim to promote themselves more as hedonistic sex symbols rather than spokespeople for a disaffected generation.
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 from a note left to him in his hotel room one night by Ridgeley. The note was mistakenly written by Ridgeley as "don't forget to wake me up up before you go go, George". Since he accidentally wrote the word "up" twice, Ridgeley decided to compound the error and write "go" twice. It became their first UK #1 and rose to the top in the USA, capped 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.
With some bizarre contradiction, the next single "Careless Whisper" was issued as a George Michael solo piece, yet unlike any Wham! single since "Wham Rap!," it was 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 distance himself from Wham!'s playboy image. In the U.S. -- so as not to confuse American listeners just being exposed to Wham! -- the song was released as being by Wham! featuring George Michael. In the autumn of 1984, Wham! came back as a duo with "Freedom", another chart-topper with George Michael presented as a broken hearted romantic, and the first single for many years to reach #1 in the UK without an accompanying video (this was because the first video was canned due to its poor quality; a video was subsequently shot in time for the US release). In November, they released their second album, Make It Big, which coasted to #1 on the album charts. The band set off on another arena tour at the end of 1984, and Ridgeley told Smash Hits magazine at the time that he had written a song called "Stephen". The song had been composed for a friend who was struggling to cope with bereavement.
Michael contributed to the Band Aid project, with him providing vocals as the song usurped their own Christmas release, "Last Christmas"/"Everything She Wants," the former of which featured a video set in a ski resort.
The single 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 fundraising intentions of Band Aid, the song which beat them to the top spot. Band Aid's success meant that Michael had been at #1 within three different entities in 1984 — as a solo artist, half of a duo, and part of a charity ensemble.
In April 1985, Wham! took a break from recording to embark on an enormous world tour including a groundbreaking 10-day visit to China, the first by a Western pop group. The China excursion was a masterful publicity scheme devised by Simon Napier-Bell (one of their two managers). 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 November, Wham! released "I'm Your Man" which went to #1 in the UK charts.
Michael began a relationship with model/makeup artist Kathy Yeung and Ridgeley 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, Deon Estus's song "Heaven Help Me," 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.
Michael desired to create music targeted to a more sophisticated audience than the duo's primarily teenage fanbase. Therefore, Michael and Ridgeley announced the breakup of Wham! in the spring of 1986, destined to take place after a farewell single and album, along with a historic grand finale concert at Wembley Stadium on June 28, 1986, called The Final Blow. 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 downbeat and sombre affair that telegraphed the intentions of George Michael for the next decade's work and would fit musically on any of his solo albums. The duo's last album was a double-LP collection of all the singles to date, mostly the 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 said goodbye to their audience (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 film 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 he became a solo artist, George Michael spoke in public negatively about his time in Wham!, largely 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 in recent times. 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, on the other hand, 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 made him return to England in 1990. Regardless, CBS Records (later Sony Music), 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 passed up the option of a second album.
In Anthony Horowitz's book Eagle Strike, the main villain, singer Damian Cray is the founding member of a band called "Slam!", a parody of Wham!