It’s not Christmas until you hear George Michael of Wham! sing “Last Christmas” at least a hundred times. The holiday tune didn’t quite take the coveted top of the charts upon its release in 1984, but it has become a crowning jewel on Christmas radio stations and holiday playlists over the last 36 years.
In fact, the song is a crowning jewel, but one that Michael didn’t exactly have a hard time excavating from the recesses of his mind. “Last Christmas” came to him through an epiphany at his parent’s house.
‘Last Christmas’ came to George Michael in an epiphany
If you listen to the lyrics of “Last Christmas,” you’ll find that it’s not exactly a Christmas song. It’s about two exes awkwardly crossing paths with each other during the holidays, but other than the line “Last Christmas,” there’s nothing to distinguish it from any other heartbreak song.
The idea of the song didn’t come to Michael during the holidays either. It came to him during an epiphany he had while he and Wham!’s other half, Andrew Ridgeley, was visiting Michael’s parents.
Ridgeley told Smooth Radio, “We’d had a bite to eat and were sitting together relaxing with the television on in the background when, almost unnoticed, George disappeared upstairs for an hour or so. When he came back down, such was his excitement, it was as if he had discovered gold which, in a sense, he had.
“We went to his old room, the room in which we had spent hours as kids recording pastiches of radio shows and jingles, the room where he kept a keyboard and something on which to record his sparks of inspiration, and 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.”
Later, Dick James Music sued George Michael for plagiarizing ‘Last Christmas’
Initially, he got the group their first TV appearance. Eventually, he managed to swindle the band into signing over a considerable stake in the ownership of Northern Songs, the company that housed the group’s catalog. Then, he became a villain when he sold his shares in the company without telling them or giving them the chance to buy his shares.
Anyway, Dick James Music sued Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a cheesy love song recorded by The Carpenters, Barry Manilow, and others. Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” said the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented evidence that said there were 60-plus songs that use a similar chord progression and melody.
‘Last Christmas’ only reached No. 1 in the U.K. charts this year
In 1984, the song that kept “Last Christmas” from reaching the No. 1 spot on the U.K. charts was another song that featured Michael, Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” In the spirit of the charity-based supergroup, which recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to help the famine in Ethiopia, Michael also donated the proceeds of the Wham! song to the African country.
However, years down the line, Michael’s “Last Christmas” still never got the top spot on the charts. That is, until very recently. Mental Floss reports that for more than 35 years the holiday tune had the distinction of being “the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.”
“Last Christmas” has consistently charted during the holidays since its release, especially after Michael died on Christmas in 2016. But now it finally knows what being in the No. 1 spot feels like because on Jan. 1, 2021, “Last Christmas” finally got the top spot.
How did it only appear on the top spot when it’s one of the most played Christmas songs ever? We’re not really sure, but at least it finally did.