|Single by George Michael|
|from the album Make It Big|
|Released||24 July 1984|
|Studio||Sarm West Studios, London|
|Genre||Pop, rhythm & blues|
|George Michael singles chronology|
"Careless Whisper" is a pop ballad by English singer-songwriter George Michael and his Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley (sometimes credited to "Wham! featuring George Michael" in Japan, Canada and the United States). It was released on 24 July 1984, by Epic Records in the United Kingdom, Japan and other countries, and by Columbia Records in North America. The song was George Michael's first solo single, although he was still performing in Wham! at the time (the song is included on Wham!'s 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 on both sides of the Atlantic and on both sides of the Pacific. It reached number one in nearly 25 countries, selling about 6 million copies worldwide—2 million of them in the United States.
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Unlike most of the other Wham! singles (except "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" and "Club Tropicana"), it was co-written by bandmate Andrew Ridgeley. The two had written it together as developing artists three years earlier in Watford, England.
Composition and writing
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 can remember very vaguely where I was when I wrote things after Wham! got off the ground--but with "Careless Whisper" I remember exactly the time and place. I know it sounds really weird and a kind of romantic thing to say--but I remember exactly where it happened, where I was sitting on the bus, how I continued and everything. I remember I was handing the money over to the guy on the bus and I got this line, the sax line: der-der-der-der, der-der-der-der. Then he moved away and I continued writing it in my head. I wrote it totally in my head. I worked on it for about three months in my head ...
Michael and Ridgeley wrote the song when they were 17, taking inspiration from stories from Michael's early romantic overtures. Michael explained in his autobiography, Bare, that much of the song's content is based on events from his childhood.
"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 detailed. "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 neighbor, 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.
Michael wasn't happy with the original Wexler recording.
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The song went through at least two rounds of production. The first was during a trip Michael made to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where he went to work with producer Jerry Wexler at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Michael was unhappy with the original version produced by Wexler, and decided to re-record and produce the song himself; the second version was the one ultimately released as a single.
After the backing track and George's vocal had been recorded, Wexler had booked the top saxophone player from Los Angeles to fly in and do the solo. "He arrived at eleven and should have been gone by twelve", recalled Wham! manager Simon Napier-Bell. "Instead, after two hours, he was still there while everyone in the studio shuddered with embarrassment. He just couldn't play the opening riff the way George wanted it, the way it had been on the demo. But that had been made two years earlier by a friend of George's who lived round the corner and played sax for fun in the pub."
While the saxophonist appeared to be playing the part perfectly, Michael told him, "No, it's still not right, you see ..." and he would lower his head to the talkback microphone and patiently hum the part to him yet again. "It has to twitch upwards a little just there! See ... ? And not too much."
Napier-Bell consulted with Wexler over Michael's dispute with the sax sound. "Is there really something George wants that's different from what the sax player is playing?" Napier-Bell asked.
"Definitely!" replied Wexler.
I've seen things like this before. There's some tiny nuance that the sax player is somehow not getting right. Although you and I can't hear what it is, it may be the very thing that will make the record a hit. The success of pop records is so ephemeral, so unbelievably unpredictable, we just can't take the risk of being impatient. But this sax player's not going to get it, is he!
The version Wexler produced was released later in the year, as a (4:41) B-side "Special Version" on 12" in the UK and Japan.
The record label Innervision were going to put out the Wexler version of "Careless Whisper" after the Club Fantastic Megamix as far back as 1983. Song publisher Dick Leahy said that while he could not stop the release of the Club Fantastic Megamix, he could stop the release of this single on the basis that as a publisher they "have the right to grant the first license of the recording of a tune of which he controls the copyright". He was unable to do anything about the Club Fantastic Megamix because it was already released material. He said: "We knew how big that song could be, so it was necessary to upset a few people to stop it."
Michael later went back to London's Sarm West's Studio 2 to rework the track. According to English jazz musician Dan Forshaw, saxophonist Steve Gregory had received a call to re-record the song's distinctive solo; he was the eleventh saxophone player to record the solo, for Michael was determined to get the sound he wanted. "Session musicians do not have much idea what they are going to be recording until they arrive, and this was the case for Steve and another saxophonist who was ahead of him in the (queue)", Forshaw recalled.
As usual there was a lot of waiting around and the guy in front of Steve threw in the towel saying, 'it's only going to be some crappy B side anyway so I'm off'. Steve waited and then discovered that the solo wasn't that easy to play in the written key, as his old Selmer Mark VI tenor didn't have a top F# key. So, the engineer slowed the tape down so that Steve could record the solo a semitone lower than intended. Once the tape was put back to the normal speed, a 'unnatural' saxophone sound was created that sounded a bit like an Alto in the Paul Desmond vibe, but lacking a bit more depth and darkness to the sound. George Michael had just arrived at the studio and said 'that's the one, that's the sax solo I want'. This could be down to that whole 80s synth concept where sounds became increasingly 'manufactured', or just that George never recognized it was 'wrong'.
The officially released single was issued in August 1984, entering the UK Singles Chart at number 12. Within two weeks it was at number one, ending a nine-week run at the top for "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. It stayed at number one for three weeks, going on to become the fifth best-selling single of 1984 in the United Kingdom; outsold only by the two Frankie Goes to Hollywood tracks, "Two Tribes" and "Relax", Stevie Wonder with "I Just Called to Say I Love You", and Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?". The song also topped the charts in 25 other countries, including the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States in February 1985 under the credit "Wham! featuring George Michael", Spending three weeks at the top in America, the song was later named Billboard's number-one song of 1985.
Despite the success, Michael was never fond of the song. He said in 1991 that it "was not an integral part of my emotional development ... it disappoints me that you can write a lyric very flippantly—and not a particularly good lyric—and it can mean so much to so many people. That's disillusioning for a writer."
The official music video (which uses the shorter single version instead of the full album version) 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. 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." 
|7": Epic / A 4603 (UK)|
|1.||"Careless Whisper" (Single Edit)||5:04|
|2.||"Careless Whisper" (Instrumental)||5:02|
|12": Epic / TA4603 (UK)|
|1.||"Careless Whisper" (Extended Mix)||6:31|
|2.||"Careless Whisper" (Instrumental)||5:02|
|12": Columbia / 44-05170 (US)|
|1.||"Careless Whisper" (Extended Mix)||6:20|
|2.||"Careless Whisper" (Instrumental)||4:52|
|12": Columbia Promotional / AS-1980 (US)|
|12" maxi: Epic / QTA 4603 (UK) – Special Edition|
|1.||"Careless Whisper" (Extended Mix)||6:31|
|2.||"Careless Whisper" (Jerry Wexler Special Version)||5:34|
|3.||"Careless Whisper" (Condensed Instrumental Version)||4:52|
- Note: The Extended Mix is identical to the album version from Make It Big.
Credits and personnel
- George Michael – lead and backing vocals
- Steve Gregory – saxophone
- Deon Estus – bass
- Trevor Morrell – drums
- Chris Parren – keyboards
- Anne Dudley – keyboards (uncredited)
- Hugh Burns – electric guitar
- Danny Cummings – percussion
Credits adapted from the Extended Mix's liner notes.
|Australia (ARIA)||2× Platinum||140,000^|
|Canada (Music Canada)||Platinum||100,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Platinum||1,500,000|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||1,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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"Careless Whisper" has been covered by many other artists. A selection of those are presented here in chronological order:
- Cantopop star Anita Mui with a Cantonese-language version entitled "夢幻的擁抱" (Dream Embrace) (1985).
- Gloria Gaynor on her The Power of Gloria Gaynor album (1986).
- Instrumental group Pieces of a Dream on their Joyride album (1986).
- The Shadows on their Simply Shadows album (1987).
- Sarah Washington on a dance version that peaked at number 45 on the UK Singles Chart (1993).
- Bananarama on their 2001 album Exotica.
- Pan Pipes on their Play More Great Love Songs album (2003).
- Julio Iglesias on his Romantic Classics album (2006).
- Del on his Go All Night album (2007).
- Irish singer Edward J. Valentine released a version that reached number 47 for one week on the Irish Singles Chart in 2008.
- Seether included a cover as a bonus track on the 2009 reissue of Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces.
- Kamasi Washington and El Debarge performed it to pay tribute to George Michael at the 2017 BET Awards.
- Train recorded a cover version for their Greatest Hits album in 2018. The recording features Kenny G playing the iconic sax line.
In other media
- While with the Oakland Athletics, "Careless Whisper" was right fielder Josh Reddick's walkup music.
- A karaoke version of the song is sung by Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) and Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) in the Legends of Tomorrow episode "The Curse of the Earth Totem".
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