‘Careless Whisper’: It’s Been 35 Years Since Wham! Recorded the Biggest U.S. Hit of 1985

It has unbelievably been 35 years since Wham! – made up of British musicians George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley – recorded the U.S. No. 1 song of 1985, Careless Whisper, a tribute to heartache and lost love, that apparently resonated with so many.

Wham! - George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley
Wham! – George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The song was a departure from the musical duo’s playful Wake Me Up Before You Go Go and upbeat Freedom from 1984, but it clearly struck a chord with American fans, proclaimed by Billboard as its No. 1 song of 1985.

How Wham! got their name

There have been some odd musical group names throughout the years, to be sure. While Wham! certainly isn’t the weirdest one ever, it is a little quirky.

Andrew Ridgeley explained the duo’s name origin in 2019, while promoting his book, Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir, which published last year. He told an Australian news station that the two met as young boys in school.

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley
George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley | Ann Clifford/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

“It wasn’t George Michael that walked into that classroom,” Ridgeley said. “It was [Michael’s real name] Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou.”

“There was a long way for us both to go between that day and George becoming George Michael.”

As for their stage name, “The name came from the Wham Rap,” Ridgeley explained. “But quite quickly, we realized that was going to be quite a catchy name to call ourselves – so it stuck.”

The story of ‘Careless Whisper’

George Michael co-wrote the song with Ridgeley when both were 17 years old, as Michael explained in his autobiography, Bare.

The songwriter wrote the lyrics about a time in his life when he was seeing two girls at once. Although the experience wasn’t nearly as heartbreaking as the song, he turned up the drama for the sake of the song. As for where he wrote it?

“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.”

1980s duo Wham!
1980s duo Wham! | Pete Still/Redferns

“With Careless Whisper, I remember exactly where it first came to me, where I came up with the sax line. . . 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 guy 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 didn’t care for the song

Although the classic is considered a George Michael song, Careless Whisper was released while he was still with Wham! and was included on Wham!’s album Make It Big.

Surprisingly, for the song’s writer, he just didn’t see what everyone else did in the song. Compared to other compositions that he had poured more of himself into and with more maturity, Careless Whisper was just not all that to Michael.

“I’m still a bit puzzled about why it’s made such an impression on people,” he expressed to The Big Issue in 2009. “Is it because so many people have cheated on their partners? Is that why they connect with it?”

“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.”

Read more: George Michael: The Part of His Life He Fought to Hide