The Paw Print

The Paw Print

The Paw Print

The History Behind George Michaels Famous Hit ‘Careless Whisper’

George Micheal during the early stages of his career

George Michael, an English singer, songwriter, and record producer, famously wrote ‘Careless Whisper’ with his Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley. Michael began to write the song on the bus, he stated in his autobiography Bare, that he had a tendency to write while he was on the go. While reminiscing, Michael exclaims “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.” For the next few months, Michael wrote the song in his head. Michael and Ridgeley explain how the song references Michael’s early romantic moments, and childhood memories. 

The pair went on to recount how Michael had been at an ice rink with his sister when he had spotted “a girl there with long blond hair whose name was Jane.” At the time, Michael shares how he was “a fat boy in glasses” who had a huge crush on this girl. They often went to the rink, and while his sister was skating with her friends, he would spend his time “swooning over this girl Jane.”

Later in his teen years, Michael got into his first relationship with a girl called Helen. He had “just started to cool off a bit” when he discovered that the “blonde girl from Queensway” had recently moved around the corner from his school. Each day as he waited for his neighbor to give him a ride to school, he would see this girl and be completely bewildered by her beauty. 

It was a few years later that Michael’s appearance started to change. Then one day, while performing at a school disco with his band, Jane saw him and decided that “she fancied” him. Eventually they started seeing each other and Michael said “She invited me in one day when I was waiting for my lift and I was…in heaven.” Michael began getting invited to parties, which had never happened before, due to his previous demeanor, but because his past self would have never experienced these moments he began to get greedy. Michael stated that “the girl who didn’t even see me when I was twelve invited me in. 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.”

Eventually, his sisters became aware of his untruthfulness as they really liked Helen. Michael goes on to explain how “The whole idea of ‘Careless Whisper’ was the first girl finding out about the second – which she never did.” His dating life eventually got messy when he ended his first relationship with Helen and started going out with a new girl, all the while “committed” to Jane. Jane eventually broke it off when she found out, and Michael began to realize that his cool facade was not working anymore. He also admits that he wasn’t emotionally attached to any of the girls, although he did feel guilty about Helen, the first girl. Essentially, 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 said, revealing the real meaning behind the song.

The song went through at least two attempts at production. Michael was originally unhappy about the first version of the song that was originally produced by Jerry Wexler, and went on to re-record the song by himself, which became the version that was later released. According to producers, Wexler brought in the top saxophone player from LA, to do the famous opening solo, but the saxophonist simply could not pinpoint the riff the way Michael wanted it. Wexler and Michael’s dispute gained attention from other members of the crew and when asked about his opinion, Wexler stated “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.” Essentially, the saxophone element would either make or break the song. 

Eventually Steve, another saxophonist, was brought in, but shortly realized that the solo wasn’t as easy to play as he intended it to be. Jazz musician Dan Forshaw later mentioned that Steve’s “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.” Forshaw continued to share, “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.” During this time, Michael has just walked into the studio, and without hesitation said “that’s the one, that’s the sax solo I want.”

The single was released in August of 1984, and reached number one in the UK. It remained number one for 3 weeks, then eventually topped the charts in 25 other countries as well. It should also be clarified that ‘Careless Whisper’ was released while Wham! was still a group, but was credited to Michael on his own in the UK. However, it was included on Wham!’s album Make it Big.”

Later on in life, Michael made a statement about the song saying “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.” Michael also pondered why the hit made such a big impact on so many people, he even asked “Is it because so many people have cheated on their partners? Is that why they connect with it?” Michael also goes on to say “I have no idea, but it’s ironic that this song – which has come to define me in some way – should have been written right at the beginning of my career when I was still so young. I was only 17 and didn’t really know much about anything – and certainly nothing much about relationships.”

Unfortunately, George Michael left us in late December of 2016. His legacy still lives on in his hits, including Careless Whisper, Last Christmas, and Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go which he did when he was still with Wham!.

Throughout his life, Michael also dealt with pressure during his time with the band relating to his sexuality and eventually the break up of Wham!. More information regarding this topic can be found in the article The Break Up of Wham!


Sources for this story include George Michael’s autobiography Bare, as well as interviews with his producer Jerry Wexler, and Jazz Musician Dan Forshaw. 






More to Discover
About the Contributor
Taegan Wilczynski
Taegan Wilczynski is a junior entering her third year of journalism. She enjoys keeping up with the news and finding interesting stories to write about. After school, she finds herself playing volleyball, basketball or running. She loves traveling, hanging out with her friends, and chilling with her cats. She is an editor this year, and is really looking forward to working and helping her classmates love journalism as much as she does!