From day one, Wham! was never intended to grow up. Throughout their time together, both George Michael and Andrew Ridgely knew that their attempts at pop music usually catered to a youthful audience, which would get more awkward as the band matured past their years. As Michael became one of the biggest solo stars of the 1980s, though, Ridgely lovingly looked on as he watched his best friend turn into a wonder of pop music.
While Ridgely had been one to start the duo in the 1980s, Michael was slowly becoming a pop songsmith in his own right. When putting together their first demos, Michael already had the basis for the ballad ‘Careless Whisper’, meshing perfectly with a chord progression that Ridgely had been working with.
When the song got to the public, it would be known as ‘Wham! featuring George Michael’, further capitalising on the massive star power of the band’s lead singer. Once the group had a banner year-ending season with the song ‘Last Christmas’, Ridgely fell out of love with his position.
Not wanting to be constantly compared to his partner, Ridgely thought it was only fitting to watch as his best friend turned into a solo star, quickly becoming a massive success with the album Faith. Featuring a huge makeover to his usual sound, Michael became a pop sensation overnight, tapping into gritty material on ‘I Want Your Sex’ while delivering timeless ballads like ‘One More Try’.
When working on the follow-up, though, Ridgely couldn’t help but notice a few callbacks to their original band when looking through the tracklisting. Outside of the fantastic ballads like ‘Cowboys and Angels’, Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1 kicked off with the single ‘Freedom ‘90’. A callback to the Wham! song of the same name, Ridgely remembered being knocked out hearing Michael talk about their legacy together.
Nicknaming him ‘Yog’, Ridgely said that the revamped take on ‘Freedom’ was a constant reminder of Michael for him, telling Vulture: “Yog referenced our friendship in a couple of his songs. I love that in ‘Freedom! ’90’ he mentions what it was quite explicitly, eloquently, and concisely. It describes our experience perfectly, and two verses are given over to the subject of Wham!”.
By the time Michael had started working his solo career, his sound had drastically changed from the pure pop of the original. Erecting a new song from the ground up, Michael’s voice is particularly husky in the track, documenting what brought him to this point and referencing the video for ‘Faith’ by namechecking the pretty face strutting around like James Dean.
The Wham! sections are exceptionally sentimental, though, with Michael discussing how much wild abandon the band had in their early days. As opposed to the stress of being in a band, Michael depicts that time as the pair flying blind, wondering where the next day would take them as they scaled their way to pop glory.
Even though Ridgely watched from the sidelines for most of the time, he could admit that what they had together was special, explaining, “We both reflected on and viewed what was a golden chapter in our lives as just that. We were aware that we achieved something extraordinary for a mutually held ambition. We viewed it, and I still do, with great fondness — that chapter in our late adolescence when we went from boys to young men”.