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Andy Sullivan: Against the Grain

In past years leading up to Christmas, I’ve delved into the history of classic Christmas hymns.  This year, I’ll go behind the scenes of modern classic Christmas songs.  I’ll start with a favorite: “Last Christmas” by Wham. 

Recorded in 1984 at London’s Advision Studios, the song was written and produced by George Michael, who was 21 years old at the time.  He also played every instrument on the song.  Not even Wham bandmate Andrew Ridgely was able to intervene.

The studio was decorated to make it feel more like Christmas.  Sound engineer Chris Porter recalled that it was a painstaking effort, given that George couldn’t play most of the instruments.  He aimed to make the vocals the most prominent part of the song, keeping the melody running behind them simple.

Regarding the song, Andrew Ridgely wrote in 2017, “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 about an hour or so.  When he came back down, it was if he’d discovered gold which, in a sense, he had”.

They went to his old room where they’d performed jingles and radio shows.  He kept a keyboard and a recorder in the room.  “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music.  Adding a lyric which told of the betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts.”

The song is aimed at Andrew’s girlfriend, played by model Kathy Hill. George gave her broach while they were dating and its now being worn by Andrew.  Here’s a little trivia: it was the last appearance of George without a beard. 

The song was released ahead of Christmas 1984 and looked to be battling Frankie Goes to Hollywood (actual band name) “Power of Love” for the top spot.  But along came Band Aid, which George had headed off to help out with after “Last Christmas” was finished.  The song is the best-selling UK single never to reach #1, with over 2 million copies sold.  It returns to the charts every year, especially after George’s tragic death on Christmas Day 2016. 

Barry Manilow took Wham to court, claiming the song sounded like his hit “Can’t Smile Without You” (it doesn’t even have the same melody).  The case was thrown out.  There are numerous covers of the song.  It even inspired a movie of the same name starring Emile Clark and Henry Golding, featured a soundtrack packed with George’s music. 

Story behind the Christmas Song: Last Christmas by Wham! - The Sunday Post  Below are links to my podcast, Blendertainment     


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