Wham!'s Andrew Ridgeley Recalls Hearing 'Last Christmas' for the First Time: 'Absolutely Knockout' (Exclusive)

"It's the essence of Christmas," Ridgeley said of the track, which was penned and produced by his late bandmate, George Michael

<p> Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty</p> Andrew Ridgeley says that he knew Wham! song "Last Christmas," which was written and produced by his bandmate George Michael (left), was going to be a Christmas classic the first time he heard it.

Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty

Andrew Ridgeley says that he knew Wham! song "Last Christmas," which was written and produced by his bandmate George Michael (left), was going to be a Christmas classic the first time he heard it.

“Last Christmas” was an instant classic — and Andrew Ridgeley knew it from the get-go!

The musician, 60, attended the 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Friday, where he paid tribute to his Wham! bandmate and childhood friend George Michael, who was inducted posthumously.

Before taking the stage, he reflected on the enduring popularity of the holiday hit, which was both penned and produced by Michael, who died suddenly on Christmas Day in 2016 at 53.

When asked about the lasting legacy of “Last Christmas,” Ridgeley tells PEOPLE that it is “no surprise really, in some ways.”

Related: From Wham! to Solo Success: George Michael's Life in Photos

“The first time I ever heard it, it was absolutely knockout,” he says. “It sounded for all the world like a Christmas classic.”

He adds, “It's Christmas distilled if you ask me. It's the essence of Christmas.”

“And so, its enduring nature, its perennial nature isn't really a surprise,” he continues. “But it's a wonderful privilege to have had bestowed upon Wham!, to have one of the all-time Christmas classics — which I think it's fair to say it probably is now.”

Ridgeley also says that Michael’s posthumous honor — which included an emotional performance of the singer's track, “One More Try” by Carrie Underwood — “means a lot.”

“He produced a fantastic portfolio of material. He was an amazing artist,” he says of the late performer. “And this honor is fitting.”

Related: George Michael's Death: The Details Behind His Sudden Passing

<p>Michael Putland/Getty </p> Wham!'s Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael performing together in 1985.

Michael Putland/Getty

Wham!'s Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael performing together in 1985.

And while “Last Christmas” is Ridgeley and Michael’s most popular track, the guitarist’s favorite Wham! memory is not attached to it — or any other track for that matter.

“I think it's the live work or rather the show's live work. The live stuff that we did,” he tells PEOPLE.

“They were great days and it was great fun, and that's why you form a band,” he says. “You form a band to write songs and play them. That was really the most intensely pure moments, really.”

Ridgeley and Michael (born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou) formed the British pop duo in 1981, and went on to release hits including "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Everything She Wants” and "Careless Whisper.”

The end of Wham! — and the start of Michael’s solo career — came in 1986, when the duo said goodbye with a now-legendary farewell concert in London that attracted an audience of 72,000 fans.

Related: Andrew Ridgeley Says Wham! Bandmate George Michael's Decision to Delay Coming Out 'Had a Personal Cost' (Exclusive)

<p>Michael Putland/Getty</p> George Michael performing with Wham! in 1985.

Michael Putland/Getty

George Michael performing with Wham! in 1985.

In July 2023 — decades after Wham!'s final performance — Netflix released a documentary, WHAM!, about the duo's meteoric rise and epic end. Before its release, Ridgeley spoke exclusively with PEOPLE about the last time he saw his Wham! bandmate before his unexpected death.

The musician said that the childhood pals often met "over the Scrabble board," and Michael "was a big fan [of the board game] and we'd have regular games of [it]."

"He'd beaten me the week before, and I was exacting my revenge," he continued. "It took us right back to just ... the essence of our schoolboy friendship and one-upmanship. It was a game that stimulated him, and me also."

"That was a few months prior to his passing," Ridgeley added. 

Related: George Michael's Ex-Partner and Friends Remember Star in New Doc: 'He Always Had a Good Heart'

At the time, Ridgeley also discussed Michael’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, which he said is "obviously a great privilege.”

“And I'm sure that he would recognize it as such. He was aware of the meaning of accolades from his peers,” he said.

"He would be very rightly proud, and he deserves his place there. You know, he is a genuine legend and an icon of contemporary music," Ridgeley continued. "I said so in my tribute to him at the BRITs, that he was a supernova in a firmament of shining lights and stars, and he was probably the finest singing voice and songwriter of his generation.”

"There ain't too many that held a candle to him,” he added.

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The 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is available to stream on Disney+, and ABC will air a special featuring performance highlights and standout moments on Monday, Jan. 1 at 8 p.m. ET.

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