Contrary to popular belief, this song was not based on an actual event in George Michael's high school dating life, but rather he thought the whole thing up while boarding a bus. It was a fictitious story, but the tune was great and the song was a hit.
George claims that he has gotten more compliments on his writing of the sax solo at the beginning of the song than on anything else he has ever written. The saxophone part was played by Steve Gregory, a session player based in London. As verified by Chris Porter, who was the engineer on the session, ten different sax players tried to do the solo before Gregory came up with the sound Michael was looking for. One of the challenges was getting so many notes in one breath. This was accomplished when Porter slowed down the tape when he recorded Gregory's solo. When he played the tape back at normal speed, Michael approved it. The result is one of the most famous sax solos in popular music.
Most Wham! songs were written solo by George Michael, but this one was also credited to Andrew Ridgeley, the other half of Wham!. The song was released on the duo's second album, Make It Big, but was also released as a George Michael solo single - credited in the US to "Wham featuring George Michael." Rumors at the time were that Wham! was breaking up, but Michael refuted that by saying he wanted a solo career to release Soul records, while keeping his Pop output with the duo. Wham! continued to tour and released another album in 1986, while Michael's solo career took off. "Careless Whisper" was a massive hit, establishing Michael as a solo star but also providing a nice payday for Ridgeley, who got half of the songwriting credit.
Michael was just 17 when he wrote this song. He was taking the bus to his job as an usher at a cinema. That's where the reference to "The silver screen" comes from in the first verse. With lines like "Guilty feet have got no rhythm," the song demonstrated his innate talent for the mature songwriting he demonstrated as a solo artist.
A few different versions of this song were recorded. The first version was recorded for the Wham! album, but George Michael also recorded it separately for single release. Before going on tour with Wham! to support the album, Michael flew to Alabama with producer Jerry Wexler, where they recorded the song at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios - the same place Wexler sent many Atlantic Records artists to record in the '60s and '70s. Michael then recorded the song in a more familiar location: Sarm Studios in West London. This was the version that was released as a single.
According to 1000 UK #1 Hits
by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, Michael said, "I wasn't secure enough to write something that would expose my feelings, so it's very clichéd in a lot of its terms." He also has complained, "It disappoints me that you can write a lyric very flippantly and it can mean so much to so many people."
This was Epic Records first million-selling single and it was George Michael's biggest-selling single in the UK, either as a solo artist or with Wham!, selling 1,365,995 copies. In America, "Careless Whisper" was certified platinum, meaning it sold over 2 million copies.
In the UK, this won the Ivor Novello award for being the Most Performed Work in 1984.
The video was shot in Miami with the director Duncan Gibbins, who was working for Jon Roseman productions. Roseman summed up the shoot by calling it "a f--king disaster" in the book I Want My MTV
. Wham!'s manager was friends with Andy Morahan, who studied film in college, so he was enlisted to shoot the theater scenes with George Michael, which took place at the Lyceum in London. Morahan became a very prolific video director; he later worked on Michael's famous clips for "I Want Your Sex
," and "Father Figure
." Regarding the "Careless Whisper" video, he said: "It's probably best known for how much George's hair resembles Princess Diana's."
The song's music video, shot in Miami, shows Michael and his partner larking about in hotels and on a yacht until she discovers he is having an affair with an older woman. In the end, both women depart and George finds himself all alone. The part of the singer's partner was played by model Lisa Stahl who recalled to Q magazine June 2009: "While filming, they lost footage of our kissing scene so we had to reshoot it, which I didn't complain about. I know George has a boyfriend now, but that day, there were no boys on his mind. 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. I still have a lock that I kept! I'm no longer in touch with George, although I went to his concert recently but I didn't try to meet him backstage. I didn't want to look like a hanger on."
According to Michael, the video is "basically a glamorous version of something that happened to me."
In an interview with the Christmas 2009 issue of The Big Issue, Michael said of this song, "I'm still a bit puzzled why it's made such an impression on people... Is it because so many people have cheated on their partners? Is that why they connect with it? I have no idea, but it's ironic that this song - which has come to define me in some way - should have been written right at the beginning of my career when I was still so young. I was only 17 and didn't really know much about anything - and certainly nothing much about relationships."
It would later reach number one in more than 25 countries and sell in excess of six million copies worldwide. (thanks, Alexander Baron - London, England)
In the notes for the single, George Michael dedicated this song to his parents, saying it was "five minutes in return for 21 years."
When Wham! toured after this song was released, the band would leave the stage and Michael would sing it accompanied by a saxophone player and a backing track.
A rocked-up cover version by the South African band Seether returned this song to the Billboard Hot 100 in 2009, placing at #63. The band recorded the song with a mix of reverence and jocularity, thoroughly confusing their fans, especially those too young to know that it was a cover.
When we spoke with Seether frontman Shaun Morgan
, he explained: "Basically, it's a love song written by a gay man, and they wanted us to do a Valentine's Day song for iTunes, and we said, 'Well, let's pick a gay love song.'
But we love the song. It's one of those guilty pleasures that you have. The last thing that we wanted to do was a serious love song, and it doesn't get more cheeseball than that. We decided to take the opposite approach. We went off to New York, we were at Electric Ladyland Studios, so it was awesome. We worked that day. If you're going to do something, at least do it properly. The other part is that even though we're joking it's something that's going to be out there in perpetuity.
So yeah, it was us taking the piss out of Valentine's Day and we certainly never ever assumed it would become a single. But these things happen. Lightning strikes when you least expect it, I guess. It was fun, but we've had very different mindsets about that song as far as fans. We were doing a Nickelback tour and the younger kids thought that was our song, but then there were some older guys that would stare and flip us off for that entire song because of the homophobia attached that people have. So it's like, well, whatever.
So we just did it as a joke and it sort of backfired on us a little bit."
This song was a very important one for George Michael's career, but he later said that he felt little connection with it. When he released his Faith
album in 1987, he stated: "While 'Careless Whisper' was loved by many, it did nothing for me emotionally. Most likely because it seems like it's from another lifetime. On the other hand, 'One More Try
,' is a ballad very close to my heart."
Oakland A's outfielder Josh Reddick began using this as his walk-up tune in May, 2014. It was an unusual selection, since most hitters prefer something more aggressive when they come to bat. Reddick chose the song on a lark after hearing it in the clubhouse, and went on a hot streak as soon as he started using it (he got two hits each of the first three games after picking it as his jam). Cameras would often catch teammates and fans singing along to the song when Reddick came up.