If you weren’t a teenager in 1984, this might be hard to fathom, but here it is: There are Gen Xers who remember where they were the first time they saw the video for the Wham! clapping pop anthem “Wake Me Up Before You Go.”
In it, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, the heartthrob frontmen 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 adoring fans. . . 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, remembers doing it as great fun.
“It was our first video with an audience,” he said during a recent video interview from his home in London. “The atmosphere was really very exciting and exciting.”
Ridgeley and his bandmate are the subject of “Cham!” a new documentary that premieres Wednesday on Netflix. Directed by Chris Smith, it charts the British group’s climb to pop stardom, starting with its ferocious appearance in the music show “Top of the Pops” in 1982, 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, in songs like “Young Guns (Go for It)” “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 due to artistic or personal differences, Wham! had no rise and fall. “It was just an escalation and they called it a day,” Smith said.
They didn’t break up either, Ridgeley said, but rather “brought Wham! to an end of our own choosing.”
Fans might be disappointed to learn that in the documentary Ridgeley is heard but not seen as he appears today: suave and patrician, with silver hair and still a cheeky smile. Smith said it would unbalance 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 “were no longer living in each other’s pockets” like they had since they were kids. But their bond was fixed.
If Ridgeley is tired of being known mostly for his friendship with Michael, he didn’t show it. He brightened up while chatting about Michael, whose loss left Ridgeley feeling “like the sky fell in,” as he said in 2017. But he didn’t seem to talk much about his life now, other than to say he enjoyed cycling.
The documentary includes archival media coverage and tons of concert footage, including scenes from amazing shows in 1985, when Wham! became the first Western pop group to perform in China.
But it is Ridgeley’s mother who delivered the most personal treasures. Ever since her son’s school days playing music with Michael, she has kept about 50 carefully organized scrapbooks filled with photos, reviews and other ephemera. They include snapshots from the mid-1970s when Ridgeley first got to know 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 dad was Egyptian – and a British mother, and he immediately hit it off with the boy, who he called Yog, a nickname he used often in our interview. The scrapbooks paint a vivid portrait of boys who loved Queen and “Saturday Night Fever” and wanted to make music a career.
“The only thing I ever wanted to do from the age of 14 was be in a band, 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 each of us.”
Ridgeley said he and Michael knew Wham! would have a finite lifespan as Michael’s songwriting began to “evolve and evolve in a way and speed” that Wham! could not accommodate. In November, Michael will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Since the heyday of Wham!, Ridgeley has battled the perception that he was famous only because he was in a duo with a more talented artist. The documentary makes a case in his favor, however, tracing how Ridgeley, a guitarist, collaborated with the composer and performer Michael.
However, Ridgeley acknowledged that his musicianship was not in the same league as Michael’s, “one of the best, if not. the most beautiful, singing voices of his generation,” he said, sounding like a proud brother.
When Michael came to him after they shot the video for “Club Tropicana” (1983), 15 years before he did so publicly, Ridgeley said he supported him with love and a shrug. Michael was more afraid of how his father might react than how the public would, Ridgeley said; would Michael come out during the Wham! years ago, Ridgeley said he and fans would have had his back.
“I didn’t think it would affect our success, and in the long run it probably won’t,” he said. “It would be difficult for him for a while, there’s no doubt about that. It would have required management from all of us. But after the initial hype, it’s on the table, isn’t it?”
After Wham! , Ridgeley published 1990 solo album that flattened out and he did a short shift as a Formula 3 driver, but he otherwise stayed out of the limelight. The British tabloids kept breathless tabs on his love life – including his 25 year relationship with Keren Woodward, a former member of another ’80s pop group, Bananarama – much like they did when they gave him the Wham!-era nickname Randy Andy.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else who matched George the way Andrew was, intellectually and with a sense of humor,” said Kemp, whose husband is Martin Kemp of the 80s. Spandau Ballet. “It was the best relationship I’ve ever seen George have with anyone.”
Ridgeley said that “few stones are left unturned” as he has worked the past five years on projects that are everything! In 2019, he published a memoir, “Cham! George Michael and I,” and had a cameo that year in the romantic-comedy “Last Christmas,” which was inspired by the eponymous group a best-selling holiday single. Then this month comes “Echoes from the Edge of Heaven,” Wham! 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 achieved the same success as the artists we revered as gods when we were growing up,” he said. “We played Wembley Stadium, the same place where Elton John played. You can say: ‘I is the same.’ But in your own mind, you are never the same.”