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George Michael - Careless Whisper (1984)

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  • 80's Score80's Score80's Score80's Score 80's score: 3.72

“Careless Whisper” is a pop ballad written by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley of British music duo Wham!. It ...

“Careless Whisper” is a pop ballad written by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley of British music duo Wham!. It was released on 24 July 1984 on the Wham! album Make It Big.

The song features a prominent saxophone riff, and has been covered by a number of artists since its first release. It was released as a single and became a huge commercial success around the world. It reached number one in nearly 25 countries, selling about 6 million copies worldwide—2 million of them in the United States.

Composition and writing

In 1981, Michael was working as a DJ in the Bel Air restaurant near Bushey, Hertfordshire. Michael explained in his autobiography, Bare, that he conceptualized “Careless Whisper” based on events from his childhood. Michael wrote, “I was on my way to DJ at the Bel Air when I wrote “Careless Whisper”. I have always written on buses, trains and in cars. It always happens on journeys…With “Careless Whisper” I remember exactly where it first came to me, where I came up with the sax line… I remember I was handing the money over to the guy on the bus and I got this line, the sax line… I wrote it totally in my head. I worked on it for about three months in my head.”

“When I was twelve, thirteen, I used to have to chaperone my sister, who was two years older, to an ice rink at Queensway in London,” he explained. “There was a girl there with long blond hair whose name was Jane. I was a fat boy in glasses and I had a big crush on her – though I didn’t stand a chance. My sister used to go and do what she wanted when we got to the skating rink and I would spend the afternoon swooning over this girl Jane.”

“A few years later, when I was sixteen, I had my first relationship with a girl called Helen”, Michael continued.

It had just started to cool off a bit when I discovered that the blonde girl from Queensway had moved in just around the corner from my school. She had moved in right next to where I used to stand and wait for my next-door neighbour, who used to give me a lift home from school. And one day I saw her walk down the path next to me and I thought – now where did SHE come from? She didn’t know it was me. It was a few years later and I looked a lot different. Then we played a school disco with The Executive and she saw me singing and decided she fancied me. By this time she was that much older and a big buxom thing – and eventually I started seeing her. She invited me in one day when I was waiting for my lift and I was … in heaven.

Michael observed that after he stopped wearing glasses, he began getting invited to parties. “And the girl who didn’t even see me when I was twelve invited me in”, he noted.

So I went out with her for a couple of months but I didn’t stop seeing Helen. I thought I was being smart – I had gone from being a total loser to being a two-timer. And I remember my sisters used to give me a hard time because they found out and they really liked the first girl. The whole idea of “Careless Whisper” was the first girl finding out about the second – which she never did. But I started another relationship with a girl called Alexis without finishing the one with Jane. It all got a bit complicated. Jane found out about her and got rid of me … The whole time I thought I was being cool, being this two-timer, but there really wasn’t that much emotion involved. I did feel guilty about the first girl – and I have seen her since – and the idea of the song was about her. “Careless Whisper” was us dancing, because we danced a lot, and the idea was – we are dancing … but she knows … and it’s finished.

One of the earliest Wham! songs to be composed, before the band (or band name) had been fully formed, Michael explained that the demo cost him and Ridgeley “thirty quid to make.” “Literally, we were in Andrew’s front room whilst his mum was out and he had like a broom with a microphone tied to it, and one of those little four track, portastudios that had just come out at the end of the seventies,” Michael told BBC Radio 1’s Chris Evans. “And I remember, we made the demo, and I remember saying to Andrew one day when we were walking along from school, remember saying to him, I don’t care what anybody says, whether or not either of us are going to make it, or whether I can be a singer or whatever, I said to Andrew, ‘someone is going to have to want to make money out of this’.”

Along with “Wham Rap!” and “Club Tropicana”, it was one of the three demo tracks recorded in Ridgeley’s front room, which secured them their record deal with Innervision. Unlike most of the later Wham! singles, the song was co-written by Michael and Ridgeley.

Ridgeley came up with the chord sequence on his Fender Telecaster he had received for his 18th birthday. They continued to work together on the song and lyrics both at Michael’s house in Radlett, and Shirlie Holliman’s aunt’s basement flat in Peckham where Ridgeley was living at the time.

Music video

The official music video (which uses the shorter single version instead of the full album version and was directed by Duncan Gibbins, who previously directed “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”) shows the guilt felt by a man (portrayed by Michael) over an affair, and his acknowledgement that his partner (Lisa Stahl) is going to find out. Madeline Andrews-Hodge plays the girl who lures George away. It was filmed on location in Miami, Florida, in 1984 and features such locales as Coconut Grove and Watson Island. The final part of the video shows Michael leaning out of a balcony at the last floor of Miami’s Grove Towers.

A first original version of the video was edited with the Jerry Wexler 1983 version, and featured Andrew as a cameo, handing over a letter to a dark-haired George. This version had a more detailed storyline, but was then re-edited later.

According to producer Jon Roseman, production of the video was “A fucking disaster”. According to Michael’s co-star Lisa Stahl, “They lost footage of our kissing scene so we had to reshoot it, which I didn’t complain about … Then George decided he didn’t like his hair so he flew his sister over from England to cut it and we had to reshoot more scenes.”

As the band felt they had “screwed up” the video, further footage of Michael singing the song onstage was later shot at the Lyceum Theatre, London.