When I interviewed the late Deon Estus (former Wham! bassist), I asked him about 1984’s holiday single “Last Christmas.” His response was, “Every artist has to do a Christmas song. It is one of my favorites to this day.” Well, I think every artist wishes they could have a Christmas song (or any song for that matter) as successful as Wham!’s “Last Christmas” which was written by George Michael. It is not a traditional holiday song with your typical “celebrate the season” message. There is no Santa, reindeer, snowmen or snow. In fact, if you took the word “Christmas” out of the song and replaced it with any other day, the song would probably not even be associated with this season. It’s actually a very sad song with lyrics like, “Last Christmas I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away.”
The single was released as a double A-side with one of my favorite Wham! songs, “Everything She Wants.” Wham! was hugely popular at this time and this release was no exception. In a normal year, it would have been a UK #1 song for sure, but this was the same year that “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was also released and that blocked “Last Christmas” from ever reaching the top of the chart that year. Not coincidentally, George Michael performs on both songs. The single sold well over a million copies and, in fact, became the biggest selling single in UK chart history not to reach #1 (a record it held until 2021 when it finally reached the peak). Here is the music video for “Last Christmas” by Wham!…
The music video for “Last Christmas” was directed by the prolific Andrew Morahan, who directed most of Wham’s videos including “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, “Everything She Wants”, “I’m Your Man” and “The Edge of Heaven”. He also directed hit videos for the Pet Shop Boys, Ozzy Osbourne, Luther Vandross and The Human League among others before going on to direct most of George Michael’s solo videos as well. The “Last Christmas” video was filmed in Switzerland and features Wham! members George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley accompanying girlfriends to visit friends at a ski resort cottage. It is apparent that the character of Ridgeley’s girlfriend (played by model Kathy Hill) was previously in a relationship with Michael and the the song is aimed at her (for the purposes of the story). The video also included the band’s backing singers Pepsi and Shirlie as well as Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp. (For any of you fans of Psych, hope you appreciated the hilarious spoof titled “Previous Holiday” with Curt Smith of Tears for Fears at end of the latest movie, Psych 3: This is Gus.)
Not sure if the melody to that song sounds familiar to you, but it did to Dick James Music who filed a lawsuit due to perceived similarities to “Can’t Smile Without You” (made popular by Barry Manilow). It is reported that the case was settled out of court and an agreement to donate the royalties to the Band-Aid charity was made and also that the suit may have been dismissed after a musicologist presented over 50 songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.
The song is still beloved by many (although also despised by some) all of these years later. It is estimated that there have been over 500 covers of Wham!’s “Last Christmas” which total over 32 hours in total length. These include covers by the cast of Glee, Carrie Underwood, Coldplay, Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor and Ariana Grande among many others. In Germany, the original song has re-entered the charts each holiday season since 1997 usually reaching the top 5 each year. Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” was not officially released as a commercial single in the U.S. and thus wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day in 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut and on January 2, 2021, it reached its peak position in the U.S. to date at #9. There is also a happy ending to the UK chart story, because on January 1, 2021 (over 36 years after its original release), “Last Christmas” finally reached the top spot on that chart.
When it comes to non-traditional Christmas songs from the ’80s, you can revisit my feature on “2000 Miles” by The Pretenders which is one of my favorites. Though “Last Christmas” is not a traditional holiday song, it has become an annual holiday classic now in the U.S., the UK and many countries. Whether you love it or hate it (I am somewhere in between), you have to appreciate the enduring success of “Last Christmas”. And, just remember, it was first released in the ’80s.