Wham! was one of the most successful groups of the 1980s. While George Michael went on to lasting solo success with more serious music (and some tabloid scandals), his former bandmate just couldn’t catch a break.
George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley formed Wham! in 1981, and by 1982 they were huge stars in the U.K, with Michael singing lead and writing most of the songs, and Ridgeley performing backing vocals and some guitar parts. In 1984, they crossed over to international stardom with hits like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Freedom.”
Michael was the breakout star, and the band’s record label began to groom him for a solo career. In 1985, the Wham! song “Careless Whisper” was released as a single. In the U.S. it was credited to “Wham! Featuring George Michael,” and in the rest of the world to just “George Michael.” Ironically, it was one of the few Wham! songs that Ridgeley actually wrote. But in interviews, Michael told reporters that he’d written the song by himself one day while working as a movie theater usher years earlier.
After “Careless Whisper” topped the charts around the world, in 1986 Michael told Ridgeley that the ride was over—he was embarking on a solo career. Reluctantly, Ridgeley had to give up Wham!, because if the band was a duo and one person left, it was done. George Michael’s solo career was quite successful—his 1987 album Faith sold 25 million copies and produced four #1 hits.
Ridgeley, meanwhile, was persona non grata in the music industry. He moved to Monaco and became a Formula One racecar driver. He lost every race he entered.
Then in 1990, CBS Records picked up an obscure stipulation on Wham!’s old record deal: It wanted a solo album from George Michael, and Ridgeley as well. Michael’s Listen Without Prejudice sold eight million copies and generated three Top 40 hits. Ridgeley’s mature, full on-rock album Son of Albert was lambasted by critics (one has called it “bloody pathetic unmitigated guff at every level). It peaked at #130 on the American album chart and sold only a few thousands copies. “Shake” petered out at #77. CBS Records dropped Ridgeley, and he never made another album.
But there was always the possibility of a Wham! reunion. In 2006, the night before a show at London’s Wembley Stadium, George Michael asked Ridgeley to join him onstage to perform a couple of Wham! songs. Ridgeley agreed, but having not performed in more than 15 years, he got stage fright and backed out the day of the show. A year later, a full-on Wham! reunion fell apart in the planning stages.