Although it will never be regarded as being the most innovated or creative decade, there is no denying that the 1980’s has become the one of the most cherished and beloved decades for pop music. Fusing together the disco and new wave sounds from the 1970’s, a new brand of pop music emerged in the early part of the decade. Fun, bouncy and up beat, the music of the 1980’s easily mirrored the times itself – superficial, shallow and stylish. However, behind all the hairspray, shoulder pads and one hit wonders, some of the most memorable, singable and danceable music was produced. As a result we can’t help but love the music of the 1980’s. It may not have had the political relevance of the 1960’s or the raw creativity of the 1970’s, but the music of the 1980’s continues to live on in ways that defies the most hardened music critics expectations.
During this new age of hedonistic pop music, a second coming of the British Invasion hit American shores. This time, instead of bands with raw talent like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Who changing the face of music forever, England sent a new style of musical ambassadors in the form of pretty white boys whose hair were often better then their songs. Groups like Duran Duran, The Culture Club, The Petshop Boys and Spandeau Ballet were riding high on the new sound of 80’s pop. Of course, one of the most popular, and most successful of these groups were pop duo Wham! Hitting American shores in 1984 with their dance club standard Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, Wham! introduced the world to twenty-one year old music sensation George Michael who would go on to be one of the most successful musicians to ever come out of the British Isles. With his good looks, tight jeans and fluffy hair, George Michael became the voice and face of Wham!, and wrote an impressive eight Billboard top ten hits for the group. By the middle of the 1980’s Wham! was on top of the world, and it looked like there was no stopping George Michael and…uh…um…y’know. That other guy.
And thus lays the pop culture appeal of Wham! You see, we all remember the songs, the videos, the Choose Life shirts and, of course, George Michael. However, alongside George was this other dude. A dark haired fresh faced youngster who shared the videos, the publicity shots, the fame and the good name of Wham! But…who the hell was he and what in the world did he do?
Well, his name was Andrew Ridgley and he has become one of the most curious oddities in pop culture history. The world has hardly forgotten him. We all remember him being there, but just who he was, what he did and what became of him is a far more abstract question. In fact, his presence on the pop culture journey has seemed to have become an inside joke to pop culture fans worldwide. Andrew Ridgley has become the poster child for the “other member of the duo who didn’t make it.” As George Michael’s fame grew bigger and brighter, Andrew Ridgley quietly took the wrong turn on the pop culture journey somewhere between Monaco and Los Angeles and entered an abyss where people couldn’t even remember his name.
So who was Andrew Ridgley. Was he the biggest coat tail rider in pop culture history? An argument can be made for that but in reality, while George Michael was writing and singing Wham!’s biggest hits, Andrew Ridgley was….well…y’know…he was busy doing…uh….stuff.
So come and let’s figure out Andrew Ridgley – who he was, what he did, and what became of him as
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE PROFILES
THE OTHER GUY FROM WHAM!
Andrew Ridgley will never be remembered for being the greatest pop musician of all time, nor will he ever be remembered as anything but the guy behind George Michael. This is just the unfortunate way that the pop culture journey played itself out. No, Andrew Ridgley never sang lead on any of Wham!’s hits, and his song writing credits are rare and in between, and always shared with George Michael. He possibly played a bit of guitar on some of the recordings, but the guitar was more likely played by a session guitarist by the name of Hugh Burns. He wasn’t the idol, the front man, the singer or the writer. However, despite all the things he was not, without Andrew Ridgley there most likely would have never been a George Michael nor a Wham! You see, it takes a lot of support, creativity and vision to make it to the top, and while George Michael may have been the talent of Wham!, Andrew Ridgley was the one with the vision. The Wham! that we remember today, not to mention the groundwork for George Michael’s early public persona was all was a result of Andrew Ridgley’s ability to think outside of the box.
Andrew Ridgley first met George Michael as a student at Bushey Meads High School in Bushey, Hertfordshire. In the early days they were an odd pair. Andrew was the good looking, confident, popular and stylish of the pair, while George was chubby and shy with an acne problem. However, through his mother, who was one of the most feared teachers in the school, Andrew was given the chore of taking George Michael under his wing. It was in this forced pairing that Andrew and George learnt that they had something in common. They both had a love and passion for music. George was a talented song writer and musician while Andrew…well…. Andrew liked to listen to it. Andrew knew that, together, George and he had what it took to be a pop star. I mean, George was an incredible song writer and a capable singer, and Andrew could dance and look good. So together, Andrew and George formed a ska band called The Executive. Andrew took it upon himself to teach George how to style his hair, how to dress, how to have that winning personality and how to be charismatic on stage. I mean, if Andrew was going to look good, George was going to have to as well. Within months Andrew had successfully turned George Michael from a nerdy introvert into a charismatic lead singer The Exectuive didn’t continue past graduation, but Andrew and George’s thirst for pop stardom continued. With George’s musical talent and Andrew’s ability to look good the pair started a new pop duo called Wham! around 1981 Andrew, naturally, came up with the name.
In the early part of their career, Wham! had a far different image then the one that we remember today in North America. Decked out in leather, George Michael played the role of confrontational rebel who was out to corrupt nancy boy Andrew Ridgley. In reality, it was probably the other way around. But in this persona, Wham! began to climb the charts with a series of hedonistic semi-political songs such as Wham! Rap, about not conforming to parent’s expectations, Young Guns (Go For It), about not settling down and getting married, and Club Tropicana, about the elitism of the London Club scene.
However, as the fashion and cultural scene of British pop was changing to a more superficial and up beat tempo, Andrew realized that the major top forty success that they desired would not be achieved if they continued along the path they were going down. The audience did not want another angry, controversial and edgy pop band. They wanted pretty and sparkly things, nonsensical singable lyrics and something that you could dance to. Andrew went to George with a new vision. He believed that Wham! needed to drop the leather, drop the anger and up the fluffy. At first George was reluctant but Andrew always knew what he was talking about. He never let George down before.
One morning George came upon a note that Andrew had written for his parents asking them to “wake him up up before you go go.” Andrew had accidentally written the word “up” twice, so continued the mistake with a pair of “go” deliberately. Well George heard a song in there and knew that these were the lyrics that would usher in the new friendlier face of Wham! that Andrew had envisioned. Dressed in Katherine Hammet t-shirts, fluorescent beach wear and smiles as big as their bangs, a new Wham! appeared in the video to Wake Me Up Before You Go Go with huge success. With style winning over substance due to the popularity of MTV, American fans finally became exposed to Wham! for the first time and fell in love with the duo. Wham!’s second album, Make It Big, literally made it big, and went gold in the US. George Michael quickly became an 80’s sex symbol. Meanwhile Andrew Ridgley was seen in the video playing guitar and saxophone, giving the allusion that he actually did something musical on the song.
Upon conquering America, Wham!’s popularity increased dramatically. Now in demand for interviews, press and public appearances, Andrew was put in charge as being the spokesperson for Wham! The idea was that George would write the songs while Andrew would deal with the public. Traditionally, Andrew was the more charismatic and well spoken of the pair. However, by being the voice and face of Wham! the public became more and more interested in George instead of Andrew. They wanted to know what he had to say and as his confidence as a performer, song writer and public figure grew, George naturally began to eclipse Andrew. The public’s interest in George Michael was evident when Wham!’s next single, Careless Whisper, was released as “Wham! featuring George Michael.” The irony was that Andrew Ridgeley had actually co-wrote that one!
The next two years would be a whirl wind of excitement for the pair. World tours, Band Aid, Live Aid, Red China and another seven hit single’s met the duo with heaps of success. However, the tides were changing and every good thing must come to an end. As George Michael continued to grow as a song writer and a performer, he no longer desired to do the brand of pop that Andrew had built the image of Wham! around. George had a vision for the next stage of his career and Andrew Ridgeley was not in it. After years of being primed and shaped for success by Andrew, George Michael finally had the confidence and knowledge to strike out on his own. Thus, in 1986, George and Andrew announced they would be going their separate ways. The pair did one last sold out farewell concert at Wembley Stadium that June, and thus ended the end of a pop era.
At first there was public animosity between the pair. George, who was busy working on his landmark solo debut, Faith, spoke harshly of the superficiality of Wham!’s image. Meanwhile, Andrew was bitter that George had left him behind because, lets face it folks, Andrew had just lost his bread and butter. Having never sang nor written a successful pop song in his entire life, what was Andrew to do? The answer – move to Monaco and become a Formula Three race car driver! I mean, isn’t that what all pop stars at a crossroads in their careers do? Makes perfect sense to me! Unfortunately, Andrew was a terrible race car driver, and after crashing a number of cars, thus preventing him from gaining any sponsorship, he realized that he had best move on to something else before he ran out of money or died, whatever came first. Andrew moved to Los Angeles hoping to make a career in music and acting, but instead spent his time drinking and chasing women. During his brief time in Los Angeles he never put out a recording nor had a single film or television credit. While George Michael was burning up the charts with I Want Your Sex, Father Figure and Freedom, Andrew Ridgeley was quickly fading into obscurity. With his tail between his legs, Andrew returned to England in 1990.
However, he wasn’t returning to England to nothing. There to greet him was old flame Keren Woodward, former singer for British girls group Bananarama. Keren and Andrew had met during Andrew’s Wham! days when Karen was set up on a date with George as a publicity stunt by a British teen magazine. However, with George being gay and all, nothing came of it and, instead, she set her sights on the other guy from Wham! Staying in contact with Keren during his time abroad, the pair resumed their romance upon Andrew’s return to England. In Keren Andrew found a friend, a confident and someone who shared his experience of a brief time at the top of the pop charts. Keren herself knew the taste of fleeting fame all to well, and as a result they could relate to one another. Thus, after years of trying to find himself, Andrew Ridgeley was finally ready to settle down.
Yet it wouldn’t be the last the music world heart from Andrew Ridgeley and upon his return Andrew decided he’d give the pop scene one last try. I mean, Andrew basically created George Michael. There was no reason he couldn’t make it too. Thus, in 1990 Andrew, along with his brother Paul, recorded Andrew’s first solo album titled Son of Albert. Actually making a go at writing and singing for the first time, Son of Albert relied more on drum and guitar then the pop sounds of Wham! Releasing a single titled Red Dress, Andrew awaited chart success. It never came. Nobody bought the album. Perhaps too much time had passed while Andrew was trying to find himself after the breakup of Wham! However lets face it. Andrew Ridgeley was never the creative force behind the music of Wham! The guy may have created the look and the image of the band and he may have made George Michael what he became, but music just was never Andrew Ridgeley’s bag. So, after the failure of Son of Albert Andrew finally said “Fuck it” and decided it was finally time to throw in the towel. Obviously he was never meant to be a pop singer. Yet, still having money from his Wham! days, paired with Keren’s money from her time in Bananarama, the couple really never had to work again. So, in 1996, Keren and Andrew, along with Keren’s six year old son Thomas, bought a 15th Century farm near Cornwall, England. However, another opportunity would come to Andrew to finally put his energy into something worthwhile, and for the first time, something real. After a surfing trip with his brother in the mid 90’s, Andrew and Paul contacted a waterbone illness due to raw sewage that was being dumped into the beach. Upon recovering from his illness, Andrew went to The Times with his story, and became a vocal environmentalist and crusader for water quality. Ridgeley became a member of Surfers Against Sewage, which dedicates itself to cleaning up England’s beaches and making the public aware of the dangers of sewage near public beaches. Andrew is still involved with Surfers Against Sewage today.
These days Andrew lives a quite life where he divides his time between surfing, golfing and going to the pub. His days with Wham! are long gone. However, does the fact that he will forever be remembered as nothing more then ‘the other guy from Wham!” mean that he failed? While Andrew lives a quite and comfortable life off of the money that he made during his heyday as a pop star, George Michael has fallen from grace in the last decade. His much publicized arrest for masturbating in front of a cop in a Beverly Hills men’s washroom, followed by his arrest for drug possession, has shown a dark side of how fame leads to excess and that perhaps being in the public eye isn’t always a blessing. I mean, which life seems more attractive? George Michael’s suddenly seedy life full of drugs, liqour and tabloids, not to mention the fact that he has been unable to get a hit song on the charts for years, or Andrew Ridgeley’s quite life, living off the millions he made in music, where he lives a peaceful life with a woman he loves. In my opinion, Andrew’s normal life suddenly looks pretty appealing compared to George Michael’s. When put in that perspective, I’d much rather be the other guy from Wham!
However, there are no such things as has beens in the pop culture journey. Fame is forever, and while Andrew Ridgeley’s contribution to pop music may be a bit more abstract then the obvious contribution of George Michael, he will always hold on to the legacy of being part of one of the most popular pop bands of the 1980’s. Who cares if he didn’t really do much? Who cares if we can’t remember his name? The bottom line is, alone, George Michael is only George Michael. It takes Andrew Ridgeley to make them Wham!