Remarkable Story of George Michael & Wham!’s Last Christmas
It has been two years since the pop superstar, George Michael passed away, but his contributions to the music industry keep him alive. Michael mysteriously died on Christmas Day but one of his most memorable creations, Last Christmas (1984), is never far away at this time of year. Despite being loved by fans, the song has never reached No.1 spot. In 1984, it was beaten by Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? which also featured Michael’s vocals. In 2017, fans launched a campaign to propel the iconic song to the top spot before Christmas and Andrew Ridgeley, the surviving member of Wham! endorsed the campaign. Here’s the remarkable story of this festive anthem that you may not know.
1. Michael Did the Song Single-Handedly
The then-21-year-old wrote and recorded Last Christmas single-handedly. He even insisted on playing every instrument alone, despite not being very proficient on any. His sound engineer, Chris Porter, was one among a few people allowed into the studio while recording the track. Porter told The Guardian in 2017,
“George wasn’t a musician. He had no training on instruments at all. It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.”
Explaining how George wanted people to focus on his vocals, Porter added,
“One of the really clever things about George was that he realized that he wanted the focus of the listener to be his voice and not musicianship. On Last Christmas, there is a very simple foundation for the vocal and the melody to sit on.”
Since its release, it has sold around 2 million copies and has been covered countless times. Between 2012 to 2016, the song was the third most played Christmas song on UK radio. The song made it to top 3 in three consecutive years until 2016. It continues to collect sizable royalties, around £470,000 per year and has already made £399,000 in 2018.
3. Legal Issues
Barry Manilow took him to court thinking that Last Christmas was too similar to his 1978 song, Can’t Smile Without You. The case was closed when the melody and chord sequence was found to be almost ubiquitous in the pop world.
4. What is the Song About?
Despite being hailed as “festive anthem,” Last Christmas actually has very little to do with Christmas. Only the phrase, Last Christmas refers to the festive season. It’s about a failed relationship and coming face to face with each other a year later. The iconic video sees George and Andrew Ridgeley joining their girlfriends at a ski resort. Andrew is with a girl, whom George previously dated and the song is aimed at her.
5. A Moment of Wonder
Michael wrote the song in his childhood bedroom, while his bandmate, Andrew Ridgeley was downstairs watching TV. Ridgeley told the story of how Michael first revealed Last Christmas to him after locking himself in his childhood room for an hour or so.
“Such was his excitement, it was as if he had discovered gold which, in a sense, he had. He played me the introduction and the beguiling, wistful chorus melody to Last Christmas. It was a moment of wonder…George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music. Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts.”
6. Movie In Work
Now, a movie based on the song is in works. Reportedly, Michael had collaborated on the concept before his untimely passing in 2016. Emma Thompson is expected to star in the movie and will be joined by Game of Thrones alum Emilia Clarke and Crazy Rich Asians star, Henry Golding. The movie will feature music from the late pop icon and also premiere some of his unreleased materials. Filming began on Nov 26, 2018, and is due for release on Nov 15, 2019.
Rest in Peace, George!