Things were thrice as nice for Wham! on Oct. 20, 1984, when they scored a third chart-topper (of sorts) in their native England.
Though the British pop duo had been darlings of the charts since not long after the release of debut album Fantastic in 1983, teen-pop heartthrobs George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley took things to a new level with follow-up Make It Big in 1984. The bright lead single "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" soared to No. 1 in the U.K. during the summer and would reach the same peak in America that November. Follow-up "Careless Whisper," was written and recorded by the duo but released as a George Michael solo single in the U.K.; it rang the bell that August, becoming a U.S. chart-topper in February 1985.
The third single from Make It Big was another sunny pop song, inspired in part by the horn-laden R&B of vintage Motown with an impassioned vocal from George about seeking commitment from a lover. "Whenever he finished a new track it was usually played back at full blast," Ridgeley recounted in his 2019 memoir Wham! George Michael & Me. "He was particularly excited about 'Freedom' and couldn't wait to play me the rough mix he'd been working on."
In 2009, Michael told The Big Issue what the song meant to him as a musician. "When I was 19, I wrote 'Freedom' - the original version - and I thought, 'I can't believe I've just done that!'" he said. "I was absolutely thrilled. Because until then I had no real understanding of my abilities, but with 'Freedom,' I started to take myself seriously as a writer."
"Freedom" spent three weeks atop the British charts and was quickly followed up by a double-sided single, the dark "Everything She Wants" and the immortal seasonal tune "Last Christmas." That release was kept from the top of the chart by Frankie Goes to Hollywood's third single "The Power of Love" and then Band Aid's all-star charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas," on which both the members of Wham! and Frankie participated.
When it came time to release "Freedom" in America, George Michael was already looking to move on from Wham! and make a move as a solo artist. But the video featured the schoolmates in high spirits as they embarked on a groundbreaking tour to China - the first Western pop act to do so. (The clip helped the song reach No. 3 on the Bilboard Hot 100.) A longer documentary, Wham! in China: Foreign Skies, premiered before an audience at Wembley Stadium in 1986, just before the duo played their final show. By that point, their final singles, "I'm Your Man" and "The Edge of Heaven," had also climbed to the top of the British charts and became American Top 10s.
Though Wham! were no more, "Freedom" - both its content and its concept - were never far from George's mind. An instrumental version played on organ opened his blockbuster solo album Faith, and he titled a 1990 single - his autobiographical ode to artistic expression - as "Freedom 90."