George Michael was 17 when he wrote this. 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.
"Careless Whisper" is a song by English singer-songwriter George Michael (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 many 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.
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 person 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 the blonde girl from Queensway had moved in just around the corner from my school. She had moved to 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."
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 version that was originally produced and decided to re-record and produce the song himself, which is the version that was released. 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 was going to put out the Jerry Wexler version of "Careless Whisper" after the Club Fantastic Megamix as far back as 1983. 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 recording a tune of which he controls the copyright". He could not 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."
The officially released single, a mid-tempo sentimental ballad with a saxophone solo by Steve Gregory, 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; it was 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.
Michael 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 shows the guilt felt by a man (portrayed by Michael) over an affair, and his acknowledgment 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 on the last floor of Miami's Grove Towers.
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.”
As the band felt they had "screwed up" the video, further footage of Michael singing the song on-stage was later shot at the Lyceum Theatre, London.
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