When the subject of the best album of the Eighties pops up, many album titles will be thrown out with the likes of Thriller, Purple Rain or Born in the U.S.A. being bantered around for the title. One album, in particular often has been overlooked for this title. I am talking about the late, great George Michael’s immortal masterpiece Faith.
In June 1987, George Michael released what would be considered his first solo single in the United States amid much controversy, “I Want Your Sex”. With its driving dance rhythm and seemingly risque lyrics, “I Want Your Sex” signaled a new maturity in Michael’s songwriting. In the place of the pop fun that was a hallmark of his previous band’s, Wham!, songs was a slithery funk bassline which provided the foundation for a new foray into Eighties dance music. Of course, the American media became fixated on the lyrics of the song, which drove the sales of the single upward to nobody’s surprise, as the single peaked at number two on the Hot 100 Singles Chart. Michael was always explaining that the lyrics was a celebration of monogamous sex, not a hedonistic view of wild sex with multiple partners. Although this single signaled a change in Michael’s songwriting, it did not prepare us for the depth of this new album he was priming for release.
It was on October 12, 1987 that we discovered the next step in the development of a new maturing artist named George Michael when the title song of his upcoming solo debut was released to much fanfare. That single was “Faith”, a slice of neo-rockabilly all dressed up in Eighties pop production with an Eighties dance beat, making “Faith” that much more of an unlikely hit. Yet, the song became Michael’s first solo number one hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart, although the Wham! singles “Careless Whisper” and “A Different Corner” were technically solo singles, as released in the United Kingdom.
Then, on October 30, 1987, Michael’s debut album was finally released, and the American public ate it up. The album eventually spent 12 non-consecutive weeks at the top of the American album chart on its way to become the biggest selling album of 1988. Faith has been certified as Diamond for 10-million units sold. Additionally, the album spawned four more hit singles: the haunting ballad “Father Figure”, the pleading ballad “One More Try”, the Euro-disco “Monkey”, which all hit number one in the US, and the exquisite “Kissing a Fool”, which peak at number five. Additionally, Michael became the first Caucasian artist to reach number one on the Top R&B/Hip Hop Album Chart in the US with Faith.
Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the success of his Faith album pushed Michael to desire more critical acclaim for his unparalleled songwriting skills more than being recognized as a sex symbol. That is why his next album, the somber, yet brilliant Listen Without Prejudice Volume 1 from 1990, was marketed without George appearing in his videos for the songs from that album. What Mr. Michael failed to notice was that he really was receiving wide acclaim for the Faith album from the critics. It is rare when the images Michael created in his videos became part of pop culture, perhaps society’s kindest way to pay homage to a rock artist. Still, Michael desired artistic reverence from the critics. Ironically, George Michael has received that critical acclaim to this very day for his Faith album.
Personally, I was shocked and very sadden that a brilliant artist such as George Michael lost his life at such a relatively young age of 53. I hope he realized what a beloved artist he was, a designation that few artists achieve, which has got to be more satisfying than trying to pander to music critics, whose fickle nature makes such pandering futile. Instead, George Michael was a man of the people, and that’s got to be a much more comfortable crown to wear.
Here’s to the brilliance of George Michael. I hope he has found his peace. He was a unique talent that was matched only by a few of the immortals of the pop and rock world. I cannot wait until he is inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.