Wham!





Wham! was a U.K. pop-dance duo formed in 1981 by George Michael (born Yorgos Panayiotou, June 26, 1963) and Andrew Ridgeley (born June 25, 1963). The two got together while attending school in Bushey, England in 1979 after they had worked in a band called "Executive". Combining light soul music with slow, romantic ballads, they first hit the U.K. charts in the fall of 1982 with "Young Guns (Go for It)". It hit number three, the first of ten U.K. Top Ten hits for the duo.

The first Wham! album, "Fantastic", topped the U.K. charts in 1983. The group broke through in the U.S. the following year with "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go", the first of three straight number one hits. The second of those chart-toppers was "Careless Whisper", billed as "Wham... featuring George Michael", the first sign that Michael, who sang lead and wrote the songs, was emerging as a solo entity. Ridgeley, it seemed, was having more fun chasing women and racing cars than recording songs. Nevertheless, Wham! continued through 1986, finishing their career at Wembley Stadium in England, after which the two split, and Michael went on to have more recording success, while Ridgeley's best effort reached only #130 on the U.S. charts. Ridgeley later moved to Monaco and tried his hand at Formula Three motor racing. Meeting with little success, he moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of a career in acting. When that didn't pan out, he returned to Britain permanently in 1990 and remained active in music, writing under various pseudonyms

Few could have guessed that the transition from teenybopper idol to serious singer/songwriter would go as smoothly as it did for George Michael. His first post-Wham! outing was "I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)", a duet with Aretha Franklin that hit #1 in 1987 and earned Michael and Franklin a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo. Shortly afterward, Michael released the funky first single off the album, Faith, "I Want Your Sex," which, bolstered by a sexy video, quickly soared to #2. The album would eventually spin off four #1 hits: "Faith" (1987), the shimmering "Father Figure" (1988), the romantic ballad "One More Try" (1988), and "Monkey" (1988). "Kissing a Fool" hit #5 in 1989, further boosting the eight-million-selling album, 1988's bestselling selling L.P. and Grammy-winning Album of the Year.

Meanwhile, Michael continued, in his videos and media appearances, to cultivate a sex-symbol image, albeit a more rugged-leather, chin stubble, sneer-mature one than he had nurtured in Wham! But with the release of his second solo effort, "Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1", in 1990, Michael surprised fans and industry insiders by shunning the press and saying he wouldn't make videos. The album peaked at #2 nonetheless, and there was a chart-topping hit, the sombre "Praying for Time" (#1, 1990). The danceable second single, "Freedom", whose lyrics spelled out Michael's decision to abandon his rock-star persona -- went to #8 (1990) and was made into a video, albeit without Michael's presence. (Instead, a bevy of supermodels appeared lip-syncing his vocals.) In late 1991, Michael was back on the charts with a #1 version of Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," recorded live with John.

A year later, Michael announced that he would take legal action to terminate his contract with Sony Music-the corporation that took over his label, Columbia Records. He charged that Sony, still wishing to package Michael as a sex symbol, lacked respect for his artistic expression and that it only half-heartedly supported his projects benefiting the AIDS cause, among them his duet with Elton John and his four-track contribution to a compilation album called Red Hot + Dance.

In 1993, Sony grudgingly granted Hollywood Records permission to release "Five Live", an EP of two cover songs performed by Michael on his 1991-92 tour and three from his appearance at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992, during which he sang Queen songs with surviving members of the band. All proceeds from the record went to the Phoenix Trust, an AIDS charity set up in Mercury's memory.

In June 1994 a London court rejected Michael's claim that his contract with Sony amounted to "restraint of trade" and upheld the $12-million contract the singer had signed with the company in 1988. At the time, Michael owed the label six more albums on a contract that could have run to 2003. Two months later, Michael filed an appeal of the verdict. As the legal battle continued, Michael was unable to release new product. Under a special arrangement, Michael's "Jesus for a Child" aired just once in England as part of an annual appeal to raise funds for needy children. After hearing the six-minute song, listeners pledged $32,000 to the charity.

After losing the appeal, Michael bought his way out his Columbia contract and signed with the music division of DreamWorks, a fledgling entertainment corporation founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen. In 1996, he released "Older", its sales clearly hampered by his long hiatus away from performing.

In 1998, Michael made tabloid headlines when he was arrested for lewd conduct in a men's public restroom at a park near his Beverly Hills home; following the incident, the singer appeared on CNN and publicly revealed his homosexuality. Michael was sued for $10 million by the police officer who arrested him. Beverly Hills cop Marcelo Rodriguez said the singer slandered him in interviews, according to the Associated Press. Michael pleaded no contest to the 1998 charge, and was ordered to perform 80 hours of community service, undergo counselling and pay a $910 fine. The hits collection, "Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael", followed later that year.

"Songs from the Last Century", a studio album of cover tracks, was released in 1999 and was the final George Michael album to be issued by Virgin Records. It was one of Michael's weakest State side efforts, managing only to reach #157 on Billboard's LP chart, but was a hit in the UK, where it peaked at #2.

When the new millennium rolled around, Michael started working on his fifth studio album, "Patience", which would take him two years to complete. Two single releases came before the LP, "Freeek!", which went to number one in several European countries in 2001, and "Shoot the Dog" in 2002, a highly controversial track that criticized British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush. That effort peaked at #12 in the UK. When "Patience" was finally issued in 2004, it went straight to the top of the UK album chart and made the Top 5 in most of Europe. In America, it had similar success, reaching Billboard's #12 spot. The first single from the LP, "Amazing", hit #1 in most of Europe. A second selection, "Flawless (Go to the City)" reached #1 on Billboard's Dance Chart and was a hit across his home continent. A third number from the album, "Round Here" didn't fare as well, stalling at #32 in the UK. In March, 2004, George Michael announced that "Patience" would be the last new record for sale to the public. Further recording were to be available for download only.

During the 2005 Live 8 concert, Michael joined Paul McCartney on stage to sing harmony on The Beatles "Drive My Car".

Sony released a second "Greatest Hits" album in 2006, which went straight to #1 in the UK. That 2 CD collection contained not only songs from Michael's solo career, and a few from his days in Wham!, but also included three new songs.

A 29 song, 2 CD set called "Twenty Five" was released in North America on April 1st, 2008. To promote the album, Michael set out on his first tour of the United States in seventeen years. The DVD version of "Twenty Five" included forty videos on two discs, including seven from George's days with Wham! The following year, Michael kicked off his first European tour in fifteen years, called 25 Alive. It began in Barcelona, Spain, in September and finished in December at Wembley Arena in England. On May 12th, 2007, he began the European 25 Live Stadium Tour 2007, which ended on August 4th in Belfast, Northern Ireland. On March 25th, 2008, a third part of the 25 Live Tour was announced for North America. This leg included 21 dates in the United States and Canada.

Michael made his American acting debut by playing a guardian angel to Jonny Lee Miller's character on the short lived US TV series Eli Stone. He also appeared on the 2008 finale of American Idol on May 21st, singing "Praying for Time". On Christmas Day of '08, George released a new track called "December Song", downloadable from his website for free. Fans were simply asked to make a charitable donation. The popularity of the single was boosted by an appearance that Michael made on The X Factor, where he performed the song with David Austin playing piano.

At the end of 2009, Michael announced a tour of Australia, his first there since 1988. He performed his first show on February 20th, 2010 in Perth at the Burswood dome in front of 15,000 fans.

On March 2nd, 2011, Michael revealed plans to release a cover version of New Order's 1987 hit "True Faith" in aid of the charity Comic Relief. The British daily newspaper The Guardian called his rendition "the worst 'non-comedy' charity single of all time". Michael went on to release a cover of Stevie Wonder's 1972 song, "You and I" on April 15th, 2011, as an MP3 gift to Prince William and Catherine Middleton on the occasion of their April 29th wedding. Although the MP3 was released for free, George appealed to those who did download the track to make a contribution to The Prince William & Miss Catherine Middleton Charitable Gift Fund. On May 11th of that same year, a series of shows across Europe called the Symphonica Tour was announced. That tour kicked off at the Prague State Opera House on August 22nd, but had to be canceled in November as Michael became severely ill in Vienna, Austria.

In January, 2012, Michael told fans via Twitter that he did not think his vocal cords would be ready for performance "until the summer", and that his tour schedule would probably resume in September. On January 20th, 2014, George announced hat his sixth solo album, "Symphonica", was set for release March 17.