Reviews

Wham! George & Me – reviewed

Andrew Ridgeley’s memoir recounts the familiar stories but lacks insight

George Michael was clearly a complex character full of contradictions. He was the insecure teenager, worried about his looks, who became a pop star; he was a gifted songwriter who was astonishingly unprofilic; he was a sex symbol who hid his sexuality from all but the inner circle for many years; and he was a generous, kind-hearted person who left his best friend at the altar of pop in order to go off with someone he had become totally obsessed with – himself.

That best friend was of course Andrew Ridgeley and in his new book George, Wham! & Me he tells the story of Wham! from the early days of meeting George at school, to playing The Final Concert in 1986.

The book is a breezy, easy read and is best when Ridgeley is describing the early years of teenage jinks, school, exams and parents. He and George were friends much earlier than I had realised – they went to see Genesis together in Earls Court in 1977, for example – and I think many of us can relate to that feeling of having a best friend at school to hang out with and talk about music and ‘the future’.

The disappointing aspect to Wham! George & Me is that the story told is so familiar. George was the self conscious new boy at school – tick; Andrew got him out of his shell and encouraged him to form a band – tick; George played an early version of ‘Careless Whisper’ in the family restaurant – tick; Wham! perfected early dance routines in their bedroom, before their impressive debut appearance on Top of the Pops – tick; George put shuttlecocks down his shorts on stage – tick… and so on. Andrew inevitably gives slightly more detailed accounts of these episodes, but there is little in the way of deep insight or analysis.

The big questions are never really answered satisfactorily. Starting the band was Andrew’s idea, he played piano and guitar and really enjoyed writing the early songs with George (‘Wham! Rap (Enjoy What You Do)’, ‘Careless Whisper’ & ‘Club Tropicana’) so why did he allow George take the reins so easily and cut him out of the creative process? Why start a band and fulfil the teenage dream of being a pop star and then accept so easily this idea that it had a limited lifespan (of just three years in the end).

George seemed to be planning a solo exit after just one album. What kind of commitment is that? Andrew writes “I’d loved making music and sketching out songs with my best friend, but there was a marked difference between the two of us. I was able to craft chord structures, compose melodies and develop lyrical ideas but George was suddenly moving at light speeds. Both of us sensed that if Wham! Was to have a shot at hitting our targets I’d have to step aside.” He later says that it was “the right decision for the band” but that he “couldn’t help having second thoughts about it later”. Those second thoughts aren’t properly explored in the book


Club Tropicana was one of three early songs co-written by Andrew

Also, Ridgeley writes that the band’s first album Fantastic was “a record of four singles. It’s impossible not to admit that the rest was filler”. So why has this songwriting genius, that Andrew is stepping aside for, allowed half an album of ‘filler’ to go on their debut?

The irony is that Ridgeley’s book is presumably supposed to paint George in a reasonably positive, affectionate light, but having read it, I ended up liking him less. He comes across as fairly manipulative, using the band that was Andrew’s idea as a vehicle for his own solo aspirations almost from the outset. He doesn’t like touring (“it quickly became a chore to him”) and he’s extremely vain, fussing about camera angles in edit suites, worrying about his hair and refusing to sing live on TV (resulting in a lip-sync cock-up on The Tube that Ridgeley describes as “a pratfall entirely of his own making.”)

When the end is nigh for Ridgeley in 1986, George refuses to do the farewell world tour that Andrew wants (“we owed it to our fans to say farewell properly” Ridgeley says), insisting it will be just one concert (what became ‘The Final’ at Wembley Stadium) and he also denies his friend share in an easy $3m pay cheque for doing one advert for Pepsi. Of the latter Andrew writes “there seemed no good reason not to do it, but once again George was thinking beyond Wham! The clip was set to run for about eighteen months and so would have kept Wham! alive in the minds of the public just at the very point he was trying to strike out on his own.” (George did a Diet Coke ad as a solo artist in 1989).

When work starts on the second album, Andrew proclaims that “George had the songs to make swift work of the creative process” but let’s be honest, he didn’t have many of them. Make It Big is an eight-track album, ‘Careless Whisper’ was already written at that point, and ‘If You Were There’ is a cover, so George had six songs. It’s just that the songs he did have were either very good (‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Everything She Wants’) or fairly good (‘Like A Baby’, ‘Credit Card Baby’, ‘Heartbeat’). This is another unexplained contradiction. Michael is the grump who hates touring, and prefers being in the studio and the creative process but he isn’t prolific at all and still apparently won’t encourage Andrew Ridgeley to write or co-write even a B-side (there were no new songs as B-sides to any of the four Make It Big singles).

Interestingly, David Austin, the person who now has a role managing George’s legacy, along with GM’s family, gets a mention in the book. He was originally ‘David Mortimer’ and was in the pre-Wham! band ‘The Executive’ with George and Andrew. Ridgeley describes him as having a “laddish manner” but concedes he was “an amusing character with a quick wit and a genuine love of music”. Austin co-wrote ‘Look at Your Hands’ on George’s first solo album Faith and since George’s death is his de facto manager.

If there’s one story in the book that illustrates the strange relationship between George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley at the height of Wham!, it’s the recording of the Band Aid single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. Ridgeley ignores correspondence that asks him to attend Sarm West studios in Notting Hill to record a Christmas single (“I dismissed the fax as being of little importance”) and so doesn’t go along on that Sunday morning on 25 November 1984. George Michael does go but apparently doesn’t wonder where his bandmate is, and doesn’t think to ring him to tell him to get his arse down there!

Wham! George & Me concludes around 1988 when Ridgeley briefly dabbles with a solo career (the flop Son of Albert album), but signs off with Andrew describing how he found out that George had died on Christmas Day 2016. Of course, it’s a moving conclusion and an inevitable end to the story.


George sang as a solo artist at Live Aid 

Andrew is viewed by the public and media alike as the lucky sod who ‘made it big’ without having to do very much. Someone with little talent who escaped a life of toil by just being in the right place at the right time. Maybe. But while he never had to work again, it’s pretty obvious that the few years in the spotlight, the success – and then effectively being dumped by the person he encouraged to be a songwriter and musician – came at a mental and emotional cost. Andrew playing a bit part in Live Aid (where Wham! really should have performed) feels close to public humiliation all these years later.

He comes across as a very likeable, but rather lost figure in “Wham! George & Me.” You can see all his enthusiasms evaporating as soon as Wham! quickly turns into a vehicle to propel George Michael into the pop stratosphere and he admits “it wasn’t the same” once the writing duties were handed over. He becomes someone who is simply floating around in George’s orbit trying desperately to grab hold of something to give meaning to his life.

That is the drama and tension that lies between the lines of this chummy narrative and you have to conclude it would require a third party, not a main player, to get under the surface and tell that story properly.

Wham! George & Me is out now via Penguin Random House.

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41 responses to Wham! George & Me – reviewed

  1. Michael says:

    Paul he recorded live versions of ray of sunshine & love Machine in 1983 for the tube because he saw a couple of acts perform live on it & the tube made them sound awful. That was the reasoning behind it.

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  3. Lars Madran says:

    Kind of sounds like Eric Clapton’s autobiography. There wasn’t a single story in that book I had not heard before. No revealing insights.

  4. Mark Armstrong says:

    Fascinating insightful and entertainingly written review Paul thanks. ‘Wham! George and Me’ is on my list of books to read, but it sounds like the real story is yet to be told…

  5. inner-space says:

    I was just wondering if anybody can shed some light on the content of Andrews solo album Son Of Albert from 1990….
    I have only heard / seen the two singles – Shake & Red Dress – and regardless of if you like them or not – it seems to me that they sound as far removed from the Wham! sound as possible.

    Has he been living in LA in the late 80s and hanging out with Motley Crue and the likes at the time ?
    It sounds just like that….

    • blink says:

      All the deluxe edition from a few years back has to say on that topic is that from the start Andrew wanted to make a rock album and was listening to Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’, Van Halen (no specific album mentioned) and David Lee Roth’s ‘Just Like Paradise’ at the time.

  6. Metal Mickey says:

    People tend to dwell on the notion of what might have happened if Wham had continued, but I can’t help thinking that they were always a solo act waiting to happen, and GM might just have kept Wham going as long as he did mostly out of loyalty to his old friend who gave him the impetus to get started in music… through that speculative prism, GM couldn’t really have been expected to do more, and as a few people have already commented, it certainly set Andrew up for life…

    Very nice review though, Paul – GM’s lack of productivity over the years always stood in the way of me being a real “fan” (even though I own all his albums!), somehow you can’t imagine him spending 18 hours a day in the studio like (say) Prince constantly working on new material, and I honestly doubt there’s much of a “vault” to exploit, but time will tell…

  7. Kauwgompie says:

    I always liked Andrew Ridgeley. I think he probably wasn’t his best advocate in the Wham days, not showing up for Band Aid, letting George determine the direction of Wham so easily, etc. Maybe things would have been different for him if he had insisted on that final tour, writing more songs and being at Live Aid. Not sure. Sounds like George may have been pushed towards a solo career by his management and label. So it’s still kind of unclear as GM is not there to give his view why things went the way they did.

    As far as the book, it sounds like it’s similar to John Taylor’s auto-biography. I bought that expecting to read some interesting Duran stories but it was quite disappointing. Things were only mentioned, never analyzed and it lacked any kind of deeper thoughts. The split into Arcadia and Power Station as well as Andy’s departure, they are just mentioned. From Paul’s review, Andrew Ridgeley’s book sounds very similar.

    At least Keith Richard’s book pissed off Mick Jagger and things were told without overly sparing the people he worked with. Then again Keith was digging into a lifetime of R&R, Andrew just 3 years of pop. Incomparable. Anyway, I ordered the book but with fairly low expectations.

  8. Joe Atari says:

    I’ve not read the book obviously, and I’ve every respct for Andrew, i just wonder if there might be an unwillingness to be 100% honest about George lest it tarnish the legacy, and of course, out of respect for the departed. Let’s also remember that whilst Wham! became a huge band by 1986, they weren’t really critically admired. I remember a caustic Paul Morley advert for ZTT that cast them as “Pinky and Perky”. I guess the writing was on the wall (sleeve) when George released Careless Whisper BEFORE Last Christmas.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Yeah, may well be the case. Although if you can’t be honest when the person is no longer around and can’t be personally offended then when can you? If you are going to write a memoir you really have to be willing to upset a few people, as long as it’s all facts, of course. We’re all human and looking back have probably done things that we’re not particularly proud of – can’t see George being any different (well, we know he wasn’t given all the Snappy Snaps/falling out of his car type incidents that happened in later life).

  9. JackC says:

    If you go by just the songs George wrote and officially released you can say he was fairly non prolific. The real question though is how much was recorded and left in the vaults? If George was a real perfectionist he may have shelved much more material than we know. We do know from the Symphonica tour he performed an unreleased new song called Where I Hope You Are.
    If anyone knows just how much is tucked away it would be David Austin.

  10. Colin Harper says:

    I wonder – genuinely – how he has filled his time and, as you put it, Paul, given his life meaning since the Wham! era. I’m not knocking the fellow by wondering that. To me, it’s a more interesting story than being a sidekick in a big success story in the 80s and, presumably, making enough cash to live on thereafter. I saw him in last year’s ‘Great British Menu’ TV series and, to me, he seemed a little awkward – surely there, I felt, after years of choosing not to court public attention, because an agent had decided he needed to up his profile (and now we know why). He seemed a bit louche, like a tanned playboy who’d flown back to the old country from the Mediterranean to see what was going on. It was hard to warm to him, in my view. Martin Kemp, also in the series, was much easier to warm to – though obviously Kemp’s essentially a media professional. Just observations. Maybe Andrew’s a decent chap who’s made the calculation – perhaps rightly, I don’t know – that he doesn’t have something to offer the public that’s either viable or will add to his well-being, so he’s better off counting off the years on his yacht or whatever it is he does. Fair enough. Though I don’t know too many people, personally, from a creative background who would be happy just doing that.

  11. inner-space says:

    On another matter – regarding David Austin – when I think about him I still cannot fathom why Turn To Gold when released in june of 1984 wasnt a huge hit. It just sounded so good and it still does IMHO.
    I recently talked to an old friend of mine regarding David and I said I wondered why he has never made it as a solo artists. I thought he has so much potential there. My friend has that the rest of his solo material sounds like rubbish. I would not agree.
    Maybe he simply has not tried hard enough.
    Maybe the complete failure of Turn To Gold – his strongest song – discouraged him in such a way that he completely gave it up afterwards. A shame.

    • Chris Squires says:

      The lazy posters here who dismiss Andrew just because it’s easy to dismiss him are missing the key point that you have alluded to here inner-space.

      George’s career might not have panned out as it did without Andrew. The world is full of David Austin’s who’s music should have garnered better sales and reviews. It’s not too difficult to imagine a world without George’s music if you take out one early factor, almost butterfly-effect-like. Change the words David Austin, replace them with George Michael and the album Fantastic and there you have it. Three or four great songs, the rest is filler. So without Andrew’s encouragement what followed could quite possibly give a whole different outcome. You might look at the stone-cold-classics that George wrote later in the day, but they are only products of the place that George was and George would have been in a different place (!) without Andrew and Wham! Why write Faith if there is no fame to rail against.

      There’s every chance that an early knock-back would have discouraged George, just like it might have done with David, his personality type suggests that this is entirely possible, he never possessed rhino-skin. But Andrew’s effervescence saw him through to try again, to carry on. then with success came the ego and Andrew became superfluous to the fame juggernaut. But like most juggernauts they are prone to stalling and can be difficult, if not impossible to get moving again after stalling. Andrew certainly kept George moving forward at critical moments. And it’s not just Andrew who has said that.

    • Danny says:

      I don’t think Andrew was as involved in Wham! the way, say, Walter Becker was in Steely Dan, or Dave Stewart in Eurythmics. When you take a look at the musician credits on “Faith”, George comes off like Prince, like he played EVERYTHING on there. The Wham! songs don’t really have much guitar and a lot of keyboards. I think the whole Wham! pop phenomenon was such a blur and George was writing really good songs, that he never really had a chance… it would have been cool had George gone “let’s do something” in later years, and did a run of shows at Wembley for the hell of it, but they only co-wrote a few songs.

  12. inner-space says:

    In my mind “Like A Baby” cannot be characterized as a fairly good song and put in the same category as those other two album tracks from Make It Big.
    In fact, I would say this is probably the most mature song George has written as a part of Wham!
    Of course it was never single material and of course you cannot compare with single classics from 1984 in that light – but, I dare to say, it stands the test of time even better than any other of their career hits.

    However, it does feel a little unfinished. Maybe its intentional – I really dont know.
    Maybe with just a little of those extra genius touches from George, a slightly different arrangement or a change in production it would even fit nicely on Listen Without Prejudice or Older.
    Musically – not thematically, of course.

  13. -SG- says:

    If anyone should interview Andrew it should be you Paul. Your previous discussions and insights show you have the chops and the audience to read what you write, you are obviously not going to do a tear down interview, I think it would be really good. My advice is to keep bugging his people, as these guys go through cycles of requests, if you are persistent, you will get a response. Your site has the power to influence and move product, I think more than the average magazine article….

  14. Matt Thurston says:

    Nice review. Confirms what I’ve always thought, that Andrew looked great standing next to George… and that’s about it. But clearly there were psychological and emotional ties between the two in the early years that helped George become George. And when that happened there was no more need for Andrew. I’ve always wondered if that was a fait accompli, or if Andrew had played his cards right he could have been the Andy Fletcher of Wham!.

  15. Steven says:

    Insightful review. Thanks.

  16. Eamonn says:

    Please review Debbie Harris and Brett Anderson’s new books next. It’s that time of year!

  17. Tony says:

    Great review, there’s not enough music book reviews, I saw George Michael on his Symphonica Tour, great show but I was disappointed with no Careless Whisper or Club Tropicana, I can remember my pal saying he’s probably saving that for a Wham reunion, very sad that never happened. Whenever I’ve heard Andrew Ridgeley speak about GM lately it’s been with a lot of affection, I’ll no doubt be tempted at an airport by this. Is it just me that thinks of Heather when I see a picture of Wham?

  18. Urs says:

    Thanks for the review, Paul!

    https://youtu.be/r6-T3encTg4

    ;-)

  19. Jamie says:

    I’d like to read this. I was at school with Andrew (1 year above) and knew him fairly well pre-fame, I met him again when they were huge and to be honest he looked pretty fed up with “fame” and everything that came with it. I actually quite liked his solo album but I wasn’t surprised he “retired” when it didn’t do very well.

  20. Uncle Quentin says:

    Thank you Paul, very enlightening review. I’ve only just realized Andrew was not there for the Band Aid song! I’ll probably buy this when it’s in paperback or at an airport when I need something to read. My impression of the book from your review is that it compares to the Ronnie Wood autobiography from a few years back in that it promises to be a fascinating read but the author sadly glosses over or ignores the meat & veg of what you expected from the book. Maybe the true gritty story of Wham will never be told as the George Michael / Tony Parsons biography from way back was pure spin even Mandelson would’ve been proud of. For me now, I can’t wait for my Brett Anderson volume 2 autobiography to be delivered. A far better more rewarding read.

  21. Bill says:

    Helpful review Paul which in “someone who is simply floating around in George’s orbit trying desperately to grab hold of something to give meaning to his life” sums up my own thoughts about the author. Maybe harsh but true.

    • GP says:

      Bill, took the words out of my mouth, saved me from writing, literally, the exact same thing, this “reviewer” WISHES he had a life !

  22. Michael Khalsa says:

    Interesting Paul. The explanation re the songwriting given at the time – to the press- was that George Michael was so much better at it. The limited life span is correct most hugely successful pop acts last 2 years.

    I would not describe ‘Fantastic’ as filler. It has ‘Love Machine’ & ‘Nothing Looks The Same In Light’ both great. George Michael was also critical of the record describing it as not a proper album. I heard at the time they made no money off ‘Fantastic’ I don’t know whether that changed.

    George Michael did not have songs when the started ‘Make It Big’ ‘Wake Me Up’ & ‘Carless Whisper’ we’re already out & released. ‘Freedom’ -which was George’s favourite of the Wham! songs- came to him complete on a plane I believe. Otherwise besides ‘Last Christmas’ he did not have the other songs. And complained when they were recording in the South Of France that Andrew was not turning up on time for publicity obligations. Elton John visited them for the first time when they recording ‘Make It Big’ Manager Simon Napier Bell said that Elton took Andrew’s place. Because prior to this the confidence, the style etc was all Andrew Ridgeley’s. There is a good 1984 The Tube special.

    The press were pretty vile to Andrew Ridgeley. I’m sure this must have hurt. Maybe it started with the lie about the nose job.

    I have not read the book yet it’s number one on UK Amazon for all books which shows how much real affection there is for George Michael & Wham! Hopefully other things will end up being released. Expanded Wham! albums some of the unreleased concert footage. A photo book.

    Andrew Ridgeley is very much a gentleman. I’d like to hear his stories of George Michael’s life after Wham! His impressions of David Austin who was never George Michael’s manager when he was alive.

    The estate & his fans bristle when people such as Kenny Goss & Fadi Fazwa share their stories. I had a friend who came into contact with George Michael when he was last in Australia. He came across fine. His entourage not so much. I hope a writer is able to get to the truth. As much as the legacy is about the music it’s also about the person. This is someone that did not like being a public person despite being famous from the age of 19. I would like to read about the drug addiction, the grief, the illness & his boyfriends. He supposedly anonymously volunteered in a homeless shelter before he passed. I wanna hear these stories. The real story deserves to be told & has not yet been. Thank you Paul.

  23. Karl X. says:

    Trivial correction… George did a Diet Coke commercial, not Pepsi. As much a I truly loved George as a performer, the commercial was fairly forgettable. To be fair, George did contribute back-up vocals for Andrew’s sole solo album, as well as the solo album of Wham! bassist Deon Estus.

  24. Gareth says:

    Great review, even if not my music – good to read that they were once Genesis fans! Poor bloke. What a terrible way to be treated.

  25. Simon says:

    Thanks for this review, Paul. It’s not a book I would have thought of reading, but you’ve made me rethink that assumption.

    • sdnad3v says:

      Thanks Paul! I agree with Simon, when I first saw the post I dismissed it quicker than Andrew dismissed his fax to record for Band Aid. But after having read your review I am kind of interested in Andrew. I love George’s music and the imagery he bestowed upon us but lucky for me I kept the pop icon and person separate; so while knowing about George’s background and certain artistic aspects was essential (like the voice that comes in the middle of the night as to why isn’t there an extended version of Faith and then keeps you up all night), obsessing about his personal life was never important for me. However because of the way you wrote the summary and because Andrew was so partially in the limelight (and apparently the wind beneath George’s baby wings) it can be a more interesting read on his personality, sacrifices, adjustments etc. I wonder if SDE can reach him at twitter or something and do a more intimate interview? He is in promo mode right now that the book is doing well. Yes … see Paul you already have me Googling him , wiki him and now alas I am listening to his album and versions of of Shake and Red Dress. Sigh…the power of SDE
      Thank you, appreciate the site and contents :-)

      • Paul Sinclair says:

        Thank you! I reached out to Andrew’s team at Penguin quite a while back, but haven’t had much luck. Whether that’s true or not, I’m not sure this review increases my chances (!) but as ever, it’s an honest assessment. P

        • Michael says:

          Alice Sara from Bananarama daughter is doing the press I believe. You can reach her through Instagram. If Andrew Ridgeley does say yes please ask for questions I will go through all my Wham! fan club, books & magazines get you some good questions to ask.

  26. Paul Murphy says:

    Did you get your copy at one of the signings Paul, and if so, did you raise the prospect of a SDE interview with Andrew?

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