Careless Whisper

"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.

"Careless Whisper"
Careless Whisper UK single.jpg
UK 7" vinyl release artwork, also used for various international releases
Single by Wham! featuring George Michael
from the album Make It Big
Released24 July 1984[1]
Recorded1984
StudioSarm West Studios, London
Genre
Length
  • 6:30 (album version)
  • 5:00 (single version)
Label
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
George Michael singles chronology
"Careless Whisper"
(1984)
"A Different Corner"
(1986)
Music video
"Careless Whisper" on YouTube
Alternative cover
Artwork for the US 7" vinyl release credited to Wham! featuring George Michael.
Artwork for the US 7" vinyl release credited to Wham! featuring George Michael.

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.[4]

BackgroundEdit

Composition and writingEdit

In 1981, Michael was working as a DJ in the Bel Air restaurant near Bushey, Hertfordshire.[5] 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."[6]

"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."[7]

"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.[7]

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.[7]

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."[8] "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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11][12]

ProductionEdit

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.[13] 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.[14] "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."[14]

 
The saxophone solo was performed on a Selmer Mark VI tenor by Steve Gregory.

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."[14]

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.[14]

"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![14]

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."[15]

Michael later went back to London's Sarm West's Studio 2 to rework the track.[16] 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.[17] "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'.[17]

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. The song was #1 on the smooth radio top 500 songs of all time chart – proving its iconic status.

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."[15]

Music videoEdit

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.[18][19]

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.[20]

According to producer Jon Roseman, production of the video was "A fucking disaster".[21] 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." [22]

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.[21]

Track listingEdit

All tracks are written by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley..

7": Epic / A 4603 (UK)
No.TitleLength
1."Careless Whisper" (Single Edit)5:04
2."Careless Whisper" (Instrumental)5:02
12": Epic / TA4603 (UK)
No.TitleLength
1."Careless Whisper" (Extended Mix)6:31
2."Careless Whisper" (Instrumental)5:02
12": Columbia / 44-05170 (US)
No.TitleLength
1."Careless Whisper" (Extended Mix)6:20
2."Careless Whisper" (Instrumental)4:52
12": Columbia Promotional / AS-1980 (US)
No.TitleLength
1."Careless Whisper"4:50
2."Careless Whisper"4:50
12" maxi: Epic / QTA 4603 (UK) – Special Edition
No.TitleLength
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 personnelEdit

Credits adapted from the Extended Mix's liner notes.[24]

ChartsEdit

CertificationsEdit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[68] 2× Platinum 140,000 
Canada (Music Canada)[69] Platinum 100,000^
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[70] Gold 45,000 
France (SNEP)[72] Silver 585,000[71]
Italy (FIMI)[73] Platinum 50,000 
Japan (RIAJ) 204,000[74]
Netherlands (NVPI)[75] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[77] Platinum 1,500,000[76]
United States (RIAA)[78] Platinum 1,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
 sales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Cover versionsEdit

"Careless Whisper" has been covered by many other artists. Among the most significant versions are:

In other mediaEdit

Films
  • "Careless Whisper" plays during the end credits of the 2016 film Deadpool.[82]
  • "Careless Whisper plays during one scene of the 2014 film "Ninja Turtles"
Sports
Television

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit