The Remarkable Inside Story Of Wham's Last Christmas

It's two years since George Michael sadly passed away, but one his most complex creations is never far away at his time of year.

Last Christmas was released in 1984 - just as Wham was coming to an end and Michael was starting to think about his own solo career.

Professionally and personally, the singer was at a crossroads. His homosexuality was not public knowledge, forcing Michael to live a double life - a theme of Last Christmas.

He didn't come out as gay for another 14 years.

Remarkably, the 21-year-old Michael wrote and recorded Last Christmas almost single-handedly - and even insisted on playing every instrument, despite not being overly proficient on any.

Hear those sleigh bells? That's him too.

George Michael Still Donating To Charity Two Years After His Death. Credit: PA
George Michael Still Donating To Charity Two Years After His Death. Credit: PA

Michael's sound engineer, Chris Porter was one of only a handful of people allowed into the studio to record the track. He told The Guardian in 2017 that the process too longer than usual because the singer was barely literate on a keyboard, but insisted on steering every element of the track.

"George wasn't a musician," he said. "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."

It was written by Michael in his childhood bedroom while Wham bandmate Andrew Ridgeley sat downstairs watching TV.

The tun behind Michael's voice deliberately fades into the background, according to Porter. "One of the really clever things about George was that he realised that he wanted the focus of the listener to be his voice and not musicianship," he said. "On Last Christmas, there is a very simple foundation for the vocal and the melody to sit on."

Since its release it's gone on to sell almost 2 million copies and has been covered numerous times. Last Christmas was the third most-played Christmas song on UK radio between 2012 and 2016. It has been in the top three for each of the last three years.

The song itself continues to run up sizable royalties - around £470,000 per year.

According to prezzybox.com, which calculates band royalties in real time, the song has already made £399,000 in 2018.

Michael was also taken to court over Last Christmas, by Barry Manilow, who thought it was just too similar to Can't Smile Without You, released in 1978. The case was thrown out when the chord sequence and melody was found to be almost omnipresent in the pop world.

Hence its popularity - but it never made number one, and it remains the biggest selling song never to get to the top of the charts. Thanks in part to Michael, in 1984 at least.

After he'd nailed the festive track, one of Michael's next stops was Sarm West Studios in London - where he recorded Do They Know It's Christmas as part of Band Aid with Bono, Sting et al.

It was released on December 3, and kept Wham in the number two spot for Christmas Day.

Wham! sold more than two million copies of 'Last Christmas'. Credit: PA
Wham! sold more than two million copies of 'Last Christmas'. Credit: PA

Bandmate Ridgeley campaigned to get the song to number one...last christmas - but it was pipped by...Ed Sheeran, obviously, who treated the charts like his own personal musical filing cabinet for most of 2017.

Ridgeley tells the story of how Michael first revealed Last Christmas to him, bounding down the stairs of his parents' house.

"Such was his excitement, it was as if he had discovered gold which, in a sense, he had," he said. "He played me the introduction and the beguiling, wistful chorus melody to Last Christmas. It was a moment of wonder."

Two years after his untimely death, George Michael is still making a difference and affecting positive change - still donating to charities - but his songs, and Last Christmas in particular, will always form part of a remarkable legacy.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Simon Binns

Social editorial lead at LADBible. Former CityLife editor at the Manchester Evening News and journalist for the BBC, The Guardian and loads of places you've never heard of.

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