Following the releases of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Freedom in 1984, it was clear George Michael no longer needed Wham! He was now writing and producing the popcorn duo’s hits all by his lonesome. And the next release in a line of million-sellers was a slushy ballad of doomed romance, and one ever more poignant due to its author’s tragic death on Christmas Day 2016, Wham!’s Last Christmas gets the 45 at 33 treatment, though there was another hit on the AA side, and it’s Everything She Wants
Then a mere slip of a 21 year-old, Bushey’s best George Michael wrote, produced, performed and painstakingly played every single instrument on Last Christmas.
Having gradually rid the recording process of interfering producers, managers, record company executives and even his Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley, the only people admitted into the studio were engineer Chris Porter, and two assistants – not that they had much input. Porter remembers “desperately wanting to play sleigh bells”, but like everything else, they were jangled only by Yog himself.
Last Christmas features simple snowy synths, a Roland drum machine, and a video that boasts some truly memorable/appalling knitwear. But what really sets the song apart is George’s heart-on-sleeve delivery: his genuine heartbreak horror (“My God! I thought you were someone to rely on”) and wistful, sultry whispers. The words ‘Merry Christmas’ never sounded so sexy. Kept off of the festive No. 1 by Band Aid’s mammoth Do They Know It’s Christmas? (which George sang on, charitably), this record has the distinction of being Britain’s biggest selling song that failed to reach pole position.
Despite the silver placing, Last Christmas, is still rightly one of the perennial standard bearers of Christmas music, as ubiquitous as Slade or Jona Lewie. Whatever Andrew added, it was important to Wham!’s ethos. I think above all, he helped his mate not to take himself too seriously and that made for some great pop records, free of some of the occasional ponderous introspection of Michael’s later solo work.
Lest we forget that the 45 in question was actually a twofer, though, because the AA side was emblazoned with Everything She Wants, and to my ears possibly the best thing Wham! ever put their name to. It’s not as immediately memorable (or infamous) as Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, but it’s the better song and a peak of, for want of a better phrase, British post-disco. Tellingly, along with I’m Your Man it’s one of the very few Wham! tracks could bear to perform on his solo outings.
BONUS BEATS: what was knocked off the top spot when Wham! and Band Aid bludgeoned their way into the chats that second week of December 1984? ‘Twas Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power Of Love, which very nearly made my personal countdown today, alas it failed at the final hurdle when I realised it doesn’t mention either a) Christmas b) Sleigh bells or c) Santa. Oh well.
UPDATE DEC 2022: On the UK singles chart dated 1 January 2021, Last Christmas finally reached No. 1 for the first time, 36 years after it was first released, knocking LadBaby’s Don’t Stop Me Eating off the top spot. Though LadBaby got their just desserts, deposing Last Christmas on its second stretch at the top to become the Christmas chart-topper for 2022, with a reigning of Do They Know It‘s Christmas called Food Aid. Now that‘s what I call irony