Read this Wham! article by David Thomas published in the Rolling Stone magazine on March 28, 1985.
Just when you thought Bruce, Prince, Cyndi, Huey and Madonna had driven a stake through the heart of the British Invasion, along comes Wham! The glossy-faced duo of George Michael, 21, and Andrew Ridgeley, 22, has sold 10 million records worldwide and has smashed the American market with “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Careless Whisper” and those songs’ LP of origin, Make It Big. And what makes matters worse, they are hardly modest about their accomplishments. Says Michael, “I’ve achieved more as a performer, writer and producer than anyone else ever has by the same age.”
Michael may have forgotten about Stevie Wonder, who had more hits at age twenty-one than Michael has fingers and toes, but he hasn’t forgotten about such previous teen dreams as the Monkees and David Cassidy – and he’s quick to point out that Wham! is nothing like those past idols. “Every step I’ve made so far, both as a person and as a businessman, has been my own choice,” he says, “and I haven’t been pushed into any corners that I haven’t wanted to be in.” While he’s at it, Michael insists on clearing up another misconception about Wham! – that the group will be a short-lived phenomenon. “I think that without repeating myself [creatively], I can repeat the success of the last album.”
Worldwide domination has always been the stated aim of Michael and Ridgeley, both of whom are first-generation Brits. “The children of immigrants always see success in commercial terms,” declares Simon Napier-Bell, the group’s famously florid comanager, whose music-biz career dates back to the mid-Sixties and such bands as the Yardbirds. “They don’t get involved in the whys and wherefores.”
As one might expect, Michael, who’s the son of a Greek Cypriot (his real surname is Panayiotou), and Ridgeley, whose father is from Egypt, take issue with their manager’s analysis. “We both feel very English,” says Michael. Adds Ridgeley, “My father went to a private school in England and had very middle-class attitudes. My mother was just the same – her father rowed for England – and there’s never been that materialistic mentality.”
Still, Michael does admit that “as long as I can remember, I never did without anything. My dad never gave me any money, but I always knew I had a secure home where people didn’t fight. It was a nice big house, and Dad had a nice, big car. The stability of both our backgrounds has got a lot to do with the fact that a lot of what we do is straight down the middle of the road.”
Michael and Ridgeley hail from Bushey, a middle-class suburb north of London, and they became friends at school, connected by their affection for Elton John’s music. Soon, they were meeting after school to write music. From the beginning, they were influenced by American soul music, though the ska craze of the late Seventies also caught their interest.
They were eventually signed to a long-term contract by Mark Dean of Innervision Records. The deal, though, was a poor one for the band – an advance of less than a thousand dollars each and minimal royalties – and while their first album, Fantastic, sold well, they saw practically no money from it. Subsequent legal squabbles forced the band to refrain from recording for several months. Still, they look back on the time with few regrets. “We were incredibly lucky,” says Michael, “because the s—ty deal ended up bringing on a fantastic deal, and spending a year without a manager meant that we knew all the business by the time we got one. Also, not breaking America for two years was good. If we’d broken it at the same time as everyone else, we would have been seen as just another part of the British Invasion. Now we can take America at our own pace.”
To many Englishmen, America would seem to be the ideal market to Wham! Not only has the group’s music borrowed liberally from Motown standards, but at home Michael and Ridgeley have been seen as the representatives of a new generation of suburban teenagers from southern England who have been unaffected by the industrial recession that has crippled the North. These youths – like growing numbers of teens in America’s suburbs – see their future entirely in terms of acquiring wealth and possessions. “There’s always the question, Are we selling America to the Americans?” says Michael. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but we’ve taken in all the stuff that they’ve fed us for the past twenty years, and I think we’re perfectly capable of giving it back to them.”
That they are. But there is one question that always comes up in any discussion of Wham! – given that Michael is the band’s singer, arranger, writer and producer, what exactly is it that Ridgeley does? The question draws a vague, prickly response. “I was waiting for that one,” says Ridgeley.
“He just plays the guitar and has a good time,” says Michael.
“My role is everything people don’t see, because they’re not in pop bands,” says Ridgeley.
“If there were four of us in the band, you wouldn’t go and ask each one of them what he did,” says Michael. “Andrew’s the guitar player, and apart from that he’s the image of Wham!”
And that image is one that’s watched very carefully by the group. For example, while recording a video for Make It Big’s second single, “Careless Whisper,” they decided Michael’s hair was too long, among other problems. Pre-haircut footage had to be scrapped – at a cost of about $25,000. And when the song was released, the band feared that its adult sound might confuse the group’s teenybop followers – so the 45 was released under the name Wham! Featuring George Michael in the States and simply George Michael in the U.K.
But odd as it may seem, there’s one problem Michael and Ridgeley haven’t been able to work out yet – their living situation. Despite their success, both members of Wham! still live at home with their parents. “Being used to a house that’s always been lived in, starting one from scratch is going to be strange,” says Ridgeley of the day he finally finds time to move out.
“What are you going to do, steal your mum’s furniture?” jokes Michael. “I was once shown around Elton John’s house by Bernie Taupin’s wife, and I was literally laughing because it’s so stupendously huge. She showed me this piece of furniture by Bugatti, who’s incredibly famous, and it was horrendous.” He smiles and shakes his head. “I don’t care how educated you are; if something’s ugly, it’s ugly.”
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- George Michael: Artist or Airhead? (Musician, 1988)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- ‘George Michael, Seriously’ from Rolling Stone Magazine (1988)
- Wham! You’re On Your Own, George (Sunday Times, 1986)