George Michael — the iconic vocalist and frontman of Eighties duo Wham! — will forever be linked to the festive season thanks to his incredible 1984 hit, Last Christmas. Each year the track hits charts time and again around the festive period, including last year when it finally reached number one in the UK charts. Michael, who sadly passed away on Christmas Day in 2016, wrote and produced the song himself, and it was originally kept off the top chart position by Band Aid’s charity single, Do They Know It’s Christmas?.
It spent five weeks at number two in its inaugural year of release, and upon finally reaching number one, it briefly set a record for the longest time elapsing between a song being released and hitting the top of the charts.
The singer formed Wham! in 1981 alongside school friend Andrew Ridgeley, and soon saw their group become one of the biggest acts in the world, selling more than 30 million records globally until they split in 1986.
After the singer’s death, Ridgely this week reflected on how Last Christmas came about during an interview with Smooth Radio, describing the exact moment the song was penned by Michael.
He said: “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.”
The pair went into Michael’s old room where they 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”.
There, Michael played Ridgely the introduction of Last Christmas, and “the beguiling, wistful chorus melody”.
He said: “It was a moment of wonder. George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music. Adding a lyric that told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts.”
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To show their support to end the Ethiopian famine, Wham! opted to donate all of their Last Christmas royalties to the appeal.
The track, known for its Eighties synthpop style and beautifully crafted lyrics, is regularly voted among the great Christmas songs ever be created, including in 2020 when it was ranked the best track of that decade on Channel 5’s Christmas 2020 countdown Britain’s Favourite Eighties Songs.
Up until 2015, it was the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century in Britain until it was overtaken by The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York.
Michael himself discussed Last Christmas’ chart battle with Band Aid, a track he featured on alongside some of the music world’s most successful stars, in an interview for the 1986 Smash Hits Yearbook.
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He described the period as “a very weird time in some ways”, and that while he didn’t have “any bad feelings” about Band Aid, he always felt Last Christmas was “a number one”.
Michael continued: “As Christmas approached there weren’t any novelty records out or anything, and I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe it. There’s no real competition around’. People were saying it’d be the Flying Pickets, and I knew there was a possibility that Culture Club might have released ‘Mistake Number Three’, but apart from that it looked like we had a clear run at the top.
“Nothing looked like it could keep us off number one!
“And then I heard about the Band Aid record and wanted to get involved. At the time, it didn’t seem a very big deal. I think most people that turned up that day were really surprised when they saw all the cameras and everything – I was.”
He added: “I thought it was like a few people getting together to do this record and it wasn’t until I actually got there that I realised what was really going on.”