If you weren’t a teenager in 1984, this might be hard to understand, but here goes: there are members of Generation X who remember where they were when they first saw the Wham! clapping pop anthem “Wake me up before you go.”
In it, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, the lead heartthrobs of Wham!, wear big smiles and beach shorts as they perform their infectious bop, titled after a note Ridgeley once left on his family’s fridge, for a small crowd. of admirers. . There were fingerless gloves, neon face paint, white “Choose Life” T-shirts that had nothing to do with abortion – it was a new wave dance party for cool kids who thought Mötley Crüe sucked.
Ridgeley, who turned 60 in January, recalls that he made it a lot of fun.
“It was our first video with an audience,” he said during a recent video interview from his London home. “The atmosphere was really quite exciting and exciting.”
Ridgeley and his bandmate are the subject of “Pam!” a new documentary premiering Wednesday on Netflix. Directed by Chris Smith, it charts the British group’s rise to pop stardom, beginning with their fierce appearance on the music show “Top of the Pops” in 1982, going through the worldwide success that followed the albums “Fantastic” (1983) and “Make It Big” (1984), and ending with the 1986 farewell concert in London.
The film, itself directed as a power-pop video, explains how the duo’s modern blend of disco, funk, pop and soul, on songs like “Young Guns (Forward)”, “Careless Whisper” and “Freedom,” helped make Wham! one of the biggest pop groups of the late 20th century, although it only lasted four years. Unlike bands that break up over artistic or personal disagreements, Wham! he did not have a rise and fall. “It was just an increase and they called it a day,” Smith said.
They also didn’t break up, Ridgeley said, but instead “brought Wham! to the end in the way we choose.”
Fans may be disappointed to learn that Ridgeley is heard but not seen in the documentary as he appears today: elegant and patrician, with silver hair and a still-cheeky smile. Smith said he would have unbalanced the film’s mythic aspirations if Ridgeley were on camera but not Michael, who died seven years ago at 53.
After Wham!, Ridgeley told me, he and Michael “didn’t live in each other’s pockets anymore” as they had since they were kids. But their link was fixed.
If Ridgeley is tired of being known primarily for his friendship with Michael, he didn’t show it. He lit up when he chatted about Michael, whose loss left Ridgeley feeling “like the sky has fallen”, as he put it in 2017. But now he didn’t seem willing to talk much about his life, other than saying he enjoyed riding his bike.
The documentary includes archival media coverage and tons of concert footage, including groundbreaking show scenes in 1985, when Wham! became the first Western pop group to perform in China.
But it is Ridgeley’s mother who provided the most personal treasures. Since her son’s elementary school days making music with Michael, she has kept over 50 meticulously organized scrapbooks filled with photos, reviews and other ephemera. They include snapshots from the mid-1970s, when Ridgeley first met Michael as Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, the son of a Cypriot father and a British mother.
Ridgeley was also the son of an immigrant father (his father was Egyptian) and a British mother, and he hit it off immediately with the boy he called Yog, a nickname he used often in our interview. Scrapbooks paint a vivid portrait of children who loved Queen and “Saturday Night Fever” and wanted to make a career out of music.
“The only thing I ever wanted to do from the age of 14 was be in a band and write songs and perform,” Ridgeley said with the enthusiasm of a 14-year-old in his voice, adding that fame and celebrity “was never a motivating factor for any of us.”
Ridgeley said that he and Michael knew the Wham! would have a finite life because Michael’s songwriting began to “develop and evolve in a way and at a speed” that Wham! could not accommodate. In November, Michael will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Since Wham!’s heyday, Ridgeley has battled the perception that he’s famous just because he was in a duet with a more talented artist. However, the documentary makes a case for him, tracing how Ridgeley, a guitarist, collaborated with songwriter and performer Michael.
Still, Ridgeley acknowledged that his musicianship was not in the same league as Michael’s, “one of the best, if not he the best singing voices of their generation,” he said, sounding like a proud brother.
When Michael came out after the “Club Tropicana” (1983) video was filmed, 15 years before he did it publicly, Ridgeley said he supported it with love and a shrug. Michael was more afraid of how his father might react than how the public would react, Ridgeley said; Michael came out during the Wham! years, Ridgeley said that he and the fans would have backed him.
“I didn’t think it was going to affect our success and in the long run, it probably wouldn’t,” he said. “It would have been difficult for him for a while, no doubt about that. He would have required management by all of us. But after the initial sensationalism, he’s on the table, right?
After Wham!, Ridgeley released a 1990 solo album which deflated and made a short season as a Formula 3 driver, but has otherwise stayed out of the limelight. British tabloids have breathlessly followed his love life, including his 25 year relationship with Keren Woodward, a member of another ’80s pop group, Bananarama, just as they did when they gave him the Wham! RandyAndy.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody else who was on a par with George like Andrew, intellectually and with a sense of humor,” said Kemp, whose husband is Martin Kemp of the 1980s band. Spandau Ballet. “It was the best relationship I’ve ever seen George have with anyone.”
Ridgeley said “few stones are left unturned” as he has worked the past five years on projects that are all-Wham! In 2019, she published a memoir, “Bam! George Michael and I.” and had a cameo that year in the romantic comedy “Last Christmases,” which was inspired by the group’s eponymous chart-topping Christmas single. At the end of this month comes “Echoes from Heaven’s Edge”, a whoosh! singles collection.
He still seems to be in awe of what he and his best friend did together.
“I could never really understand that we had achieved the same kind of success as the artists we revered as gods when we were children,” he said. “We were playing at Wembley Stadium, the same place where Elton John played. You can say: ‘I am the same.’ But in your own mind, you are never the same.”