George Michael - Spirit of the 80s

GEORGE MICHAEL
 - 'SPIRIT of the 80s' -


'Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day, you gave it away'


George Michael sold more than 80 million records worldwide in a career spanning four decades - but his life in recent years was been dogged by controversy.
Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou (25 June 1963 – 25 December 2016), known professionally as 'George Michael', was an English singer, songwriter, and record producer who rose to fame as a member of the music duo 'Wham !'.
He was best known in the 1980s and 1990s with his style of 'post-disco' dance-pop, with best-selling songs such as "Last Christmas" and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go".


THE 1980s and CLUB TROPICANA

Retrospectively, the decade was a defined by the predominance of  fluorescent colors, big shoulder pads, aviator sunglasses, "Preppy" polo shirts, leg warmers, leather trousers, blonde highlights, and certain cultural artifacts defined the aesthetics.


Duran Duran
Some of the TV imagery was was summed up by programs such a 'Grange Hill', 'Neighbours' 'Home and Away' (just scraping in), and 'Dynasty', and the soundtrack was a kind of relentlessly upbeat parade of groups like 'Duran Duran', 'Culture Club', 'Ultravox', and of course 'Wham !'
Ultravox 'Vienna'
A handful of music videos, (Ultravox 'Vienna' is particularly notable), from the period helped to shape the 'New Romantic' youth image, among them ‘Club Tropicana’, with its palm trees, white Speedos and bright pink cocktails; and the video has had a lasting effect on the way that the song, and to some extent 'Wham !' generally, have been remembered.
'Wham !', of course,  could be seen by some as and example of pure 'Thatcherism': a couple of upwardly mobile kids from the suburbs, happily splashing their self-made money on flashy holidays and cocktails.
The vision of 'Club Tropicana', for the average teenager was certainly aspirational, and it was basically about making life as good as it can be - and in particular celebrating youth, beauty and a generalized sense of sexuality (or should that be bi-sexuality).
There is, undoubtedly, something expansive about this: and in the song, and the video , the duo are celebrating a world where the drinks are free, and there’s enough for everyone.
"Come on", they seem to be saying, "we all deserve a piece of this."
It is striking how few of the 'Wham !' hits, however, are really straightforward love songs. Relationships are not generally a cause for celebration for these boys.
George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley
In ‘Young Guns’ relationships are for 'boring suckers', and the later, double A-side pairing of ‘Last Christmas’ and ‘Everything She Wants’, gives is somewhat gloomy, featuring 'full-on' heartache on the one hand, and manipulation, dishonesty and resentment on the other.
Even in ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ and ‘Freedom’, which have ostensible love objects, it is hard to make out what they’re actually about.
No, the real source of joy in 'Wham !' is something bigger and more inclusive, and this is all there in ‘Club Tropicana’.
The song is littered with thrilling pop moments, from the cicadas/slap-bass intro to the ‘Pack your bags’ middle eight, and its dramatic build up.

GEORGE MICHAEL - EARLY LIFE

George Michael was born in East Finchley, London.
His father, Kyriacos Panayiotou, a Greek Cypriot restaurateur, moved to England in the 1950s and changed his name to Jack Panos.
Michael's mother, Lesley Angold (née Harrison; 1937–1997), was an English dancer.

Michael spent the majority of his childhood in Kingsbury, London, in the home his parents bought soon after his birth; he attended Kingsbury High School.
While he was in his early teens, the family moved to Radlett, Hertfordshire.
There, Michael attended Bushey Meads School in the neighboring town of Bushey, where he befriended his future Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley.
The two had the same career ambition of being musicians.
Michael would busk on the London Underground, performing songs such as "'39" by Queen.
His involvement in the music business began with his working as a DJ, playing at clubs and local schools around Bushey, Stanmore, and Watford.
This was followed by the formation of a short-lived ska band called 'the Executive', with Ridgeley, Ridgeley's brother Paul, Andrew Leaver, and David Mortimer (later known as David Austin).

ANDREW RIDGELEY - THE OTHER HALF

Andrew Ridgeley
Andrew John Ridgeley (born 26 January 1963) is an English singer, songwriter and record producer.
He was best known in the 1980s as the other half of 'Wham!'.
Andrew Ridgeley was born in Windlesham, Surrey to Jennifer and Albert Ridgeley.
His mother is English, and his father is of Italian and Egyptian descent.
Ridgeley grew up in Bushey, Hertfordshire, and attended Bushey Meads School.
His mother was a schoolteacher at Bushey Heath Primary School, and his father worked for Canon.
When George Michael was enrolled at the school, Ridgeley volunteered to take him 'under his wing'.
After years of playing in various music groups, Michael and Ridgeley eventually formed 'Wham !'.

Young George Michael
Young Andrew Ridgeley
They then approached various record labels with a homemade tape (which took ten minutes to record in Ridgeley's living room), and signed with 'Innervision Records'.
According to 'I'm Coming to Take You to Lunch', a book written by Wham's manager, Simon Napier-Bell, the band left 'Innervision' after the first album and signed with CBS.
Since retiring from active music-making, Ridgeley has remained active in music-writing under various pseudonyms.
Since 1982, he has reportedly amassed £10 million from sales and royalties of records.
Although the single "Careless Whisper" was issued as a George Michael solo piece, it was co-written by Ridgeley.
It has sold six million copies worldwide and, to date, is the 34th best-selling single of all time in the United Kingdom, having sold over 1.3 million copies.
Ridgeley still benefits financially from receiving thousands of pounds per annum from his share of "Careless Whisper" royalties alone.

WHAM ! - THE DYNAMIC DUO

George Michael formed the duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1981.

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley
The band's first album Fantastic reached No. 1 in the UK in 1983 and produced a series of top 10 singles including "Young Guns", "Wham Rap !" and, of course, "Club Tropicana".
Their second album, 'Make It Big', reached No. 1 on the charts in the US.
Singles from that album included "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" (No. 1 in the UK and US), "Freedom", "Everything She Wants", and "Careless Whisper" which reached No. 1 in nearly 25 countries, including the UK and US, and was Michael's first solo effort as a single.

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley
Wham !'s first manager was Bryan Morrison.
The effect of 'Wham !'  on the public, especially teenage girls, was felt from the moment they finished their début performance of "Young Guns (Go for It!)" on 'Top of the Pops'. Michael wore espadrilles, an open suede jacket, and rolled-up denim jeans.
Ridgeley stood behind him, flanked by backing dancers Dee C. Lee and Shirlie Holliman. 
Afterwards, the song shot into the Top 40 at No. 24 and peaked at No. 3 in December.
The following year (1983), Dee C. Lee began her work with Paul Weller in 'The Style Council', and was replaced by Pepsi DeMacque. 
Holliman and DeMacque would later record as Pepsi & Shirlie.


George Michael
'Wham !' followed up "Young Guns (Go for It!)" with a reissue of "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)", "Bad Boys" and "Club Tropicana".
By the end of 1983, Wham! were competing against pop rivals 'Duran Duran' and 'Culture Club' as Britain's biggest pop act.
Their début LP 'Fantastic' spent two weeks at No. 1 in the UK album charts in 1983.


'Wham !' in Shorts
Notoriety and increased newspaper and magazine coverage were duly achieved with their antics of placing shuttlecocks (?) down their shorts during performances on their first tour, the 'Club Fantastic Tour'.
Now signed to 'Epic Records' (and other CBS Records imprints around the world), 'Wham !' returned in 1984 with an updated pop image.


These changes helped to propel Wham !'s next single, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go", to the top of the charts around the world.
It became their first UK #1 single, and rose to that position in the USA as well, accompanied by a memorable video of the duo with Pepsi and Shirlie, all wearing Katharine Hamnett T-shirts with the slogans "CHOOSE LIFE" and "GO GO".
George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley
The next single, the unsurpassed "Careless Whisper" was issued as a George Michael solo piece, yet unlike any 'Wham !' single except "Wham Rap!" and "Club Tropicana", it was (significantly) co-written by Ridgeley.
The song, about a remorseful two-timer, had more emotional depth than previous releases.
It quickly reached No. 1, selling over 1.3 million copies in the UK.
"Careless Whisper" marked a new phase in George Michael's career, as he somewhat distanced himself from 'Wham !'s' 'playboy' image.
In the U.S. - so as not to confuse American listeners just being exposed to 'Wham !' - the single was billed as "Wham! featuring George Michael".
In the autumn of 1984, 'Wham !' returned as a duo with "Freedom", another UK chart-topper, and the first single for quite some time to reach #1 in the UK without an accompanying video.
'Wham !' subsequently decided to use a video edited together from footage of their tour of China in time for "Freedom's" U.S. single release.
The group by then had achieved three number-one singles in a row.
In November, they released their second album, 'Make It Big', which quickly climbed to #1 on the album charts, and the band set off on an arena tour at the end of 1984.
George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley
The famous double A-side single "Last Christmas/Everything She Wants" became the highest-selling single ever to peak at No. 2 in the UK charts.
It stayed at No. 2 for five weeks and, to date, is the 24th best-selling single of all time in the United Kingdom, selling over 1.4 million copies in the UK.
'Wham !' donated all their royalties from the single to the Ethiopian famine appeal to coincide with the fund-raising intentions of Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?", the song which kept them out of the top spot.
Nevertheless, Band Aid's success meant that Michael had achieved #1 status in the UK within three separate entities in 1984 - as a solo artist, as one half of a duo, and as part of a charity ensemble.
At the end of 1985, the U.S. Billboard charts listed "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" as the number-three song, and "Careless Whisper" as the number-one song of the year.
In March 1985, Wham! took a break from recording to embark on a lengthy world tour, including a ground-breaking 10-day visit to China, the first by a Western pop group.
'Wham !' in China
The China excursion was a publicity scheme devised by Simon Napier-Bell (one of their two managers - Jazz Summers being the other).
It culminated in a concert at the 'Workers' Gymnasium' in Beijing, in front of 15,000 people.
'Wham !'s' visit to China attracted huge media attention across the world.
'Wham !' with Lindsay Anderson - China
Napier-Bell later admitted that he used cunning tactics to sabotage the efforts of rock band 'Queen' to be the first to play in China: he made two brochures for the Chinese authorities – one featuring 'Wham !' fans as pleasant middle-class youngsters, and one portraying 'Queen' lead singer Freddie Mercury in typically flamboyant poses.
The Chinese opted for 'Wham !'.
British Director Lindsay Anderson (the great English director - soon to be featured on this blog) was engaged to accompany 'Wham !' to China and make a documentary film about the visit.
The film was shot over two weeks of March and April, and edited over late spring and summer 1985 in London.
The film was later re-edited, renamed and released as 'Foreign Skies: Wham ! In China'.

BREAKUP (1986)

Michael was keen to create music targeted at a more sophisticated 'adult' market rather than the duo's primarily teenage audience and therefore, Michael and Ridgeley officially announced the breakup of 'Wham !' in the spring of 1986.
Before going their separate ways, a farewell single "The Edge of Heaven", and a greatest hits record titled 'The Final' would be forthcoming, along with a farewell concert entitled 'The Final'.
Announcing the breakup, Michael said: "I think it should be the most amicable split in pop history."
The farewell single reached No. 1 in June 1986. "Where Did Your Heart Go?" was the group's final single in the United States.
The song was a gloomy and somber affair.
The duo's last release was a double-LP collection of all the singles to date, including some extended versions.
This was released in North America as the severely pared-down 'Music from the Edge of Heaven' with alternate tracks.
At London's Wembley Stadium on Saturday 28 June 1986, 'Wham !' bade goodbye to their fans, and each other, with an emotional embrace at the end of its final concert.
72,000 people attended the eight-hour event, which included support artists, on a scorching hot day in London.
The band had been together for five years, selling over 25 million albums and 15 million singles.
'Foreign Skies', the documentary of their tour of China, received its world premiere as part of the festivities.

POST 'WHAM !'

The youthful and exuberant spirit of the 80s undoubtedly ended with the demise of 'Wham !' - with nothing to take its palce.
In 2012, Michael said that there was no truth in speculation that he and Ridgeley were set for a 'Wham !' reunion to mark the 30th anniversary of the group's first record.


 'Club Tropicana' life-style'
George Michael's solo career continued, with his music aimed mainly at older, more (supposedly) 'mature' fans - no longer youthful and able to enjoy the exuberance of the 'Club Tropicana' life-style'.
Michael' personal life, however, lost its previous verve and innocence, as he became involved in drug-taking and sexual scandals - and he soon lost his youthful, boyish good looks, and became overweight and in poor health for a man who was still relatively young.
Financially, however, he was a success, and between 2006 and 2008, according to reports, Michael earned £48.5 million ($97 million) from the '25 Live' tour alone.
In July 2014, Michael was reported to have been a celebrity investor in a tax avoidance scheme called 'Liberty'.
According to the 'Sunday Times Rich List' 2015 of the wealthiest British musicians, Michael was worth £105 million

DEATH IN A MINOR KEY

Although George Michael's death, at the end of 2016, came as a shock to many, it was undoubtedly caused by his unhealthy life style.
From the 'golden boy' of the 80s, Michael had undergone a sad decline - which should be a salutatory warning to many......