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George Michael: The “Careless Whisper” story from 30 years ago

23 August 2014 20 Comments
This blog belongs to Radio Creme Brulee – an internet music radio station that broadcasts globally.

carelesswhisper2For many of us, music is a reminder of times or phases of significance in our lives. The songs together form soundtracks to the various emotions and experiences that define certain periods of our lives. But the age of a song evokes a different type of emotion in us. It either infuses us with a feeling of deep-rooted nostalgia or it could leave us wondering how and where time flew by. A part of me feels that right now as I ponder over the idea that George Michael’s timeless classic “Careless Whisper” went to #1 in the UK this week exactly 30 years ago. I remember hearing this song in the car while my mother was driving me back home from playschool in a suburb of Los Angeles. The memory of the hook-laden saxophone intro gently drifting out of the car speakers is vivid. The song sounds as fresh today as it did three decades ago. It is unlikely to ever leave the radio airwaves and time is unlikely to erode its sonic luster. To celebrate the success of this beautiful song and “cash cow” for the legendary George Michael, we thought it might be a good idea to highlight some noteworthy factoids and back-story around “Careless Whisper”.

The fascination around “Careless Whisper” for us goes beyond the song’s inherent musical merit. There is more and it sheds light on the talent and vision of George Michael.

 

smallmouseplayer-gm-aneasieraffairThe “boy” beyond his years:

For those of you that have watched some of George Michael’s early interviews, the contrast between the barely adult George Michael and the teen stars of today should be quite striking based on their interviews. George Michael had a demeanor that was very adult and his responses to questions were always incredibly measured. The adult in him manifested itself in his lyrical treatment of infidelity (“guilty feet have got no rhythm”) to a partner on “Careless Whisper”. He wrote this song at the tender age of 17. These days, we barely expect anything, lyrically speaking, out of our new crop of teen “stars”.

 

The Risk-taking Visionary:

Most young recording stars opt for an established producer to bring their musical vision to life and into the ears of the record-buying public. What many do not know is that the original version of “Careless Whisper” was produced by successful American producer Jerry Wexler at Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama. This version of the song has an incredibly dated feel that gets locked in time. It is easy for us to say that today but George Michael was able to foresee this soon after the song was mixed and produced. Hence, he made the audacious foray into production territory and produced the song himself. This was an unconventional move for a relative amateur in the music industry. He had the confidence and the vision to outperform Jerry Wexler. Judging by the fact that we still hear the song that he produced on radio today, it is safe to say that his confidence and vision were not misplaced. The song we all hear and know has a timeless feel to it and cannot easily be “bucketed” into a specific era very easily.  Here (below) is the version of the song produced by Jerry Wexler:

There is a second component to the visionary that George Michael is. As a youngster he worked as a restaurant DJ. It was his last night at the restaurant since he had been officially fired from the job. He did something remarkably impulsive. He played an early demo of “Careless Whisper” at the restaurant. The floor filled with folks slow dancing. This was the sign for George Michael that he had created something precious that would eventually turn into a life-long money spinner. It was a signal of great commercial promise. It is unlikely that George Michael was allowed to play any of his own material at the restaurant but he did it anyway knowing he had nothing to lose. The risk he took probably bolstered his confidence and set him on his path of global domination in the world of pop music.

The third component to the risk-taking visionary that George Michael was relates to his decision to dip his feet into “solo” waters while building the global pop brand that Wham! (the duo that launched him) was quickly morphing into. Outside the UK, “Careless Whisper” was credited as being recorded by “Wham featuring George Michael” since neither George Michael nor Wham were established entities outside their home country. But “Careless Whisper” was George Michael’s first solo effort. His tryst with solo stardom gave people a taste of what was to come if George Michael ventured out on his own post-Wham. It also whetted the appetite for George Michael the solo artist and performer.

 

The storyteller:

In George Michael’s 1991 biography penned by Tony Parsons and titled “Bare”, there is a story in there that closely mirrors the lyrics in “Careless Whisper”. In this story, George Michael was attracted to one of the unattainable friends of his sister. At this time, George Michael still wore glasses, had terrible hair, and was on the heavier side. He ended up “settling” for someone else but the opportunity of the unattainable girl presented itself again post his metamorphosis from the “ugly duckling” to the Greek god that has been plastered on the walls of girls all over the globe. This time, there was mutual interest, and sadly for George Michael, “guilty feet had no rhythm” and he caved in to temptation.  It is not clear whether or not “Careless Whisper” was based specifically on this story but one cannot help but think that it does.

 

This post is a “thank you” to George Michael for creating a beautiful and enduring piece of music that holds up well 30 years later. It is a shame the song does not mean much to him in the way that it does to his legions of fans around the world. In fact, these were his exact words:

“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”

Were there any other elements of the “Careless Whisper” back-story that we have missed? Please feel free to let us know by commenting below. Meanwhile, here is the classic we all know and love:

george-michael-amazing-playbutton

Broadcasting Worldwide

We play a LOT of music by George Michael on our internet radio station and you can listen to us from ANYWHERE in the world on ANY device. In case you did not pick up on this earlier, the blog you are reading is affiliated with Radio Creme Brulee – an online radio station that features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. The music of George Michael (both old and new) is a regular staple on our radio station. We don’t restrict ourselves solely to the singles. We also feature “rare for radio” George Michael songs such as “Edith And The Kingpin” and “Understand“. Alongside newer artists, we also play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s. Noteworthy examples include Simply Red, Wet Wet Wet, Tears For Fears, Duran Duran, Camouflage, Spandau Ballet, INXS, Depeche Mode, Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Culture Club.

Give us a spin when you get a chance.
We just might become your alternative of choice!



20 Responses to "George Michael: The “Careless Whisper” story from 30 years ago"

  1. mari says:

    I really enjoyed this post! Thank you, Creme Brulee for featuring and celebrating with us Lovelies the wonders of George Michael! X

  2. @Mari: Thank you so much for the comment. George Michael is a gifted singer and songwriter – one of the best that the world of pop music has ever seen. We could not help but celebrate his stellar legacy on our radio station’s playlists and blog.

  3. Frannie says:

    Great article. I love George Michael’s music but I don’t know all the backstory and specific details about the song so I enjoyed reading this article. It would be great if you could do similiar articles for other great icons like Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince on their most famous songs.

  4. @Frannie: Thank you so much for the kinds words. I will try my best to do similar articles for some of these other artists. Michael Jackson is a bit tricky since he only really got into the songwriter’s seat in a big way on the “Bad” album. He only wrote one song on “Thriller” and one song on “Off The Wall”. I think there is a lot of scope for articles like this for Madonna. It does require some research from our end but I am happy to spearhead that process based on your complimentary response to our post. Thank you so much!

  5. Christiane says:

    Hello, This song is very beautiful, so many memories come back to me by listening, a lot of couples have formed on Careless Whisper. Thank you very much for your radio and your blog !! Good day to all xx

  6. Sandy Pride says:

    Hello ,this is a great article.Thank You, i am a fan George Michael since many years…
    My blog French Is George Michael Fanathitude blog.

  7. @Sandy: Thank you so much for the kind words. I have actually heard of your blog and have checked it out quite a few times even though my French is not very good by any stretch. I think this song has a special place in many people’s hearts so I figured outlining the back-story was a good way to celebrate 30 years since this beautiful song went to #1 in the UK.

  8. @Christiane: Thank you so much for the kind words. We hope more Americans discover George Michael’s post-80s catalog through our radio station while the rest of the listeners discover new music on our station by artist they love.

  9. stacey says:

    As an 11 year old kid I could feel the sadness and soulfulness of the song. It meant something because it touched my heart. I Think people connect not because they’ve cheated but because of they can relate to the deep sense of loss the singer has. There is missed opportunity where you look back and consider the mistakes you’ve made. Wasted chance that were given. Its also helpful to the one whose been cheated on hoping the person who hurt them will look back with regret.

  10. stacey M. says:

    As an 11 year old kid I could feel the sadness and soulfulness of the song. It meant something because it touched my heart. I Think people connect not because they’ve cheated but because they can relate to the deep sense of loss the singer has. There is missed opportunity where you look back and consider the mistakes you’ve made. Wasted chance that we have been given. Its also helpful to the one whose been cheated on hoping the person who hurt them will look back with regret.I wish George Micheal could know that.

  11. Mare says:

    Does anyone know whom George Michael wrote the Faith album about?

  12. mohammad says:

    first of all; thank you for your beautiful article.
    as an Iranian i can say that we all have so much memories with this song here specially myself.
    i adore it. I’m listening it for years and it never gets old for me but even more lovely.
    i have several versions of it from other singers such as julio iglasias,.. but honestly non of them can present the pure feeling like George Michael does.

    – HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART?
    – CARELESS WHISPERS !!!

    cheers,

  13. @stacey: My sincere apologies for the delayed acknowledgment of your comment. Thank you so much for it. I hadn’t really thought of the song in that way – but now that you bring it up, it does seems quite reflective. To me, it felt more like a story than a reflection. Isn’t it wonderful that 30 years later we can peel layers off this beautiful song and there is still so much more in it? Just out of curiosity, how did you discover our radio station?

  14. @Mare: This continues to be a mystery. George Michael was romantically involved with Kathy Jeung at that time so I am not sure what the story was there on the personal side.

  15. @Mohammad: It is ALWAYS great to hear from a reader in Iran. It seems like the only posts of ours that get responses from Iran are ones relating to George Michael. Who would have guessed? I have always wondered how and why George Michael in particular connected so well with the Iranian music listening community. I had read about his appeal in Iran years ago (I cannot recall where though!). There are some songs that should never be covered by anyone else. THIS is one of those songs. No one can emulate the emotion and brilliance of George Michael – especially on this song. He finds a way to make his songs his own.

  16. Pat A says:

    God bless George Michael..RIP 25.12.16

  17. Emma Taylor says:

    Thanks for your honest review. I just love this song “Careless Whisper’
    by George Michael. Best song ever 🙂

  18. Don says:

    I’ve always considered George Michael to be the Elvis of England
    But I think he was much more of a deep thinker of the music he wrote and produced
    He’s one in a million of a performer who is not only very gifted but also a humanitarian of huge perportions

  19. AnaLu Souza says:

    It was December 1984,
    I was in my early teens and my first relationship had just started. Our first song was Careless Whisper.
    I met George Michael and I loved him.
    Now it was 1991.
    Brazil – Rock in Rio – Maracanã – near my place.
    I was very excited. George Michael was here.
    Many friends of mine went to several rock shows, but nobody wanted to watch George Michael. And my mommy did not let me go by myself, a 20-year-old girl.
    How I cried.
    Recently, my brother and I have been writing to the site asking him to come to Brazil. They said that they did not have any agenda.
    What a pity! He did not have time to come to Brazil again.
    What a pity! I could not watch him sing live.
    Now I believe he can see my heart. I believe he can feel how much I love him.
    ❤ George Michael,
    I will miss you forever as many fans of yours, by the way I’ve been missing you since 91.”

    On October 5th, 2015 I wrote to gm’s site telling part of this story and asked what we have to do in Brazil to have him here again. But none answered.

  20. Andrea kemp says:

    I was listening to a telephone interview that George did for the tv programme loose women in 2011 , someone asked if he was going to be a judge on Ex Factor and he said no , he knows what it’s like to be rejected , he then told the ladies on the programme about the time he took the demo of careless whisper to a producer. That producer ( who he didn’t name ) said to him ” you’re not a bad singer but go away and write a good song !! , I bet that producer is kicking himself now

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