George Michael Obit

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley of the British group WHAM! perform in 1985 during a concert in Peking, China. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pop star George Michael only recorded one track in the Shoals, but it turned out to be one of his biggest solo hits.

At the urging of Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler, Michael traveled to the Shoals in the early 1980s and recorded his solo version of the WHAM! hit "Careless Whisper" at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios on Alabama Avenue, co-founder Jimmy Johnson said. 

Michael died of heart failure on Christmas Day at the age of 53.

"He came in and we did one song," said Johnson, who served as the sound engineer for the recording session. "We spent all day on it. We cut a very good record that day."

Johnson said fellow Swampers mucisians Roger Hawkins and David hood played drums and bass respectively.

"I didn't play on it," Johnson said. "I was there every minute overseeing the production."

"Careless Whisper" was originally released by Wham!, the duo that included Michael and singer Andrew Ridgeley. The pair wrote the track when they were still in their teens. The track appeared on Wham!'s second album, "Make It Big."

Michael wanted to release it as a solo track and Wexler suggested recording it in the Shoals.

Johnson said he and the other local musicians were surprised at how talented Michael was, despite his young age. After recording the lead vocal track, Johnson said Michael came back and recorded all the background vocals.

"He was a super talent, I'll tell you," Johnson said. "He was really young at the time, in his early 20s. We got along very well with him."

Johnson said he was particularly impressed with the line "Guilty feet have no rhythm."

"I'd never heard anything like that," he said. "What a line. To me, that line made the song."

Hawkins also mentioned the impact of that line. 

"That just knocked me out," he said. "I remember us all loving that song."

While he never got the opportunity to sit down and talk to Michael, Hawkins said he enjoyed the experience.

"He seemed to really be into his work," he said. "I remember thinking this guy can really, really, really sing."

In his book about the music business, "Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay," Wham!'s one-time manger Simon Napier-Bell wrote that Michael wasn't happy with the track recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound. He wrote that Michael was unhappy with the saxophone riff and eventually left it off the track. There was apparently a nuance to the riff the players were unable to hit for Michael, despite repeated takes.

Michael went back to London and recorded the song with his live band and the saxophonist who played on a demo version of the song. This was the version that was eventually released. The 4:41 Shoals version, however, was released as a B-side on a special edition 12-inch single in the UK and Japan.

"Careless Whisper" reached Number One in nearly 25 countries and sold about 6 million copies worldwide.

While it was arguably one of his biggest hits, Michael later became disillusioned with the track.

Shoals music historian Dick Cooper said he remembers picking up Wexler at the Huntsville International Airport, but didn't have much involvement in the recording sessions.

Cooper said he only spent about an hour conversing with Michael.

"He was a nice guy," Cooper said.

russ.corey@timesdaily.com

or 256-740-5738. Twitter

@TD_.RussCorey

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