When I was 17 years old, I had my first serious makeout session. When George Michael was 17, he wrote the song that has arguably led to more makeout and baby-making sessions than any other ’80s song: “Careless Whisper“. Damn, Larry and Balki almost got busy with their stewardess girlfriends on an episode of Perfect Stangers because of it. Historically, it was a song that predated Wham!, and one whose success expedited George Michael’s solo career, and the end of Wham!.
The song also had a extra kick in the teeth for both men in Wham!. Ridgeley had to deal with the song being labeled as a George Michael solo single in the UK, and as “George Michael feat. Wham!” in the United States. And Michael had to deal with the fact that the song was listed as being written by both Michael and Ridgeley, even though Michael wrote it by himself, and Ridgeley didn’t even appear on the recording. Why was this? Well, when the group started out, there was an initial agreement that their first few completed songs would go the Lennon-McCartney route, and they’d each be listed as co-writer, no matter who the main writer was. However, that agreement soon ended, as it became clear that Ridgeley really had nothing to contribute in the way of songwriting. Or singing. Or instrumentation. In fact, though he would “play” an electric guitar in their concerts and videos, it is widely believed that it was never plugged in.
In fact, now that I’ve detoured this much, let me bring up personal observation: I can’t actually tell, in all honesty, if Ridgeley appeared on any Wham! recording. All the vocals sound like George Michael’s, and while Ridgeley supposedly could play guitar, one wonders, if the unplugged tale is true, if he was ever good enough to play even rhythm guitar on a recording. His main role in the group seemed to be a combination of stylist, business manager, and spokesman, especially in the early days when George Michael was shy and uncomfortable about both his image and the quality of his performances. Still, while it can be said the Ridgeley played an important part in crafting the image of the band for their first album, which helped make them superstars in their native country, and re-inventing it for the second album, which helped make them superstars around the world, it seems that even as a sidekick, Ridgeley falls musically below such pop culture jokes as Garfunkel, Oates, and Ace Frehley.
But back to “Careless Whisper.” As has been mentioned previously by my blogging cohort and Wham! aficionado Jason Hare, a version of this song was overseen by legendary producer Jerry Wexler the year before the Wham! version was put on tape. There are a couple of compilations containing this version, and you can also see a video featuring this recording over at YouTube. But (rightly so, in my opinion) Michael rejected the Wexler version, and recorded his own with the Wham! band a little later — the version that has launched a thousand babies.
Since then, it has become the second most-covered Wham! song, behind that damn “Last Christmas,” and the most recognizable song associated with the band for those who appreciate Wham! without irony — which is kind of ironic in itself, since the single was not released as Wham!. Anyway, unlike the Christmas song, “Careless Whisper” has been recorded with a plethora of arrangements, so for your listening pleasure (or should I say “pleasure,” depending on which version you’re currently listening to), here are not only ten different covers of the song, but ten different covers in ten different styles. Yes it’s a Careless Whisper collection that has something for the whole family.
Alternative: Ben Folds and Rufus Wainwright
Crunk: Ken featuring Cory Gunz
Hip Hop: 2Play featuring Raghav
Lounge: Shayne Ward
New Age: Richard Clayderman
Quiet Storm: Pieces of A Dream
Retro Boy Band: Jordan Knight
Salsa: The Session Band
Smooth Jazz: Kenny G and Brian McKnight
And so, as the smooth sun starts to head west, come back in a few hours as we conclude our all Wham! weekend, as we’ll look in on George Michael and his non-Ridgeley musical partners, and speculate on the future of Wham! in our collective consciousness.