ARTIST OF THE MONTH: GEORGE MICHAEL
July 1, 2019
As that all-conquering paean to infidelity and heartbreak, ‘Careless Whisper’, marks its 35th anniversary we celebrate one of the most groundbreaking and versatile artists of the modern age. Mr George Michael…
At its best and in its very widest sense, pop can sum up and express feelings, emotions and events like so few other art forms can. It deals with universal truths and conveys the thoughts and experiences that so many of us have had, yet struggle to articulate – all while firmly hitting the head, heart and hips.
And though pop remains fundamentally the domain of the young and the young at heart, there are those moments when adult concerns creep in to take things to a whole new level.
Ergo ‘Careless Whisper’, the moment George Michael made the change from being a pop star to a bona fide cultural icon thanks to a restless, creative nature that marked the transition from youth to manhood. And yet for all that, there’s a certain irony at play here given that ‘Careless Whisper’ – now turning 35th – was co-written by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley back in 1981 when they were both 17-years-old.
Inspired by an early teenage episode of the heart, George Michael later claimed that the song’s memorable saxophone break came to him as he was paying his bus fare en route to a DJ engagement. Apocryphal or not, what is beyond a doubt is that the evocative refrain was key to the perfectionism that beat at the heart of the song’s creation.
The original version of ‘Careless Whisper’ – recorded with legendary R&B producer Jerry Wexler at the helm – was shelved after the saxophonist booked for the session failed to deliver the nuances that George was hearing in his head. Returning to London from the famed Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama, George built the track up once more from scratch to get the results that he wanted.
Even then, Michael’s perfectionism almost got the better of him, and he continued to express a degree of dissatisfaction over the lyrics that he’d written long after the song’s release. But as is so often the way, songs and records come to take on a whole new life of their own once they enter the public domain.
So while George fretted over what he’d written, the British public sent ‘Careless Whisper’ hurtling to the top of the singles charts to give him first UK Number One. And they weren’t alone. ‘Careless Whisper’ also topping the charts in Australia, Canada, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland and the United States.
Of course, George Michael went on to score further global Number One singles and chart-topping albums during his illustrious career, but ‘Careless Whisper’ continues to occupy that special place for fans and casual observers alike. Though written early in his career and under the aegis of the pop phenomenon of Wham!, it nonetheless proved to be a crucial and vital first step into a solo career that saw him flourish into a singer, songwriter and yes, artist, of considerable worth. Remember him this way.