I cannot believe that it’s been nearly three years since we lost George Michael. It was a tragic loss for the people who loved great pop music based upon the soul of our youth. And, from everything that I have read about the man, he did wonderful things for others, making the loss not solely about the music world but for humanity in general.
Like most Americans, I discovered George Michael through the simplistic pop of Wham!, especially during the Fall of 1984 when “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” was released. At the time, I was still riding a huge crest of Motown-inspired pop music from the likes of Spandau Ballet, The Style Council, Elvis Costello’s “Every Day I Write the Book,” Culture Club and so many others from the Second British Invasion. But, that song somehow knocked me for a loop. Everything about it just screams at me to hate it, yet I still loved it. And, when the album Make It Big dropped, I found myself switching constantly from Hall & Oates’ Big Bam Boom and this Wham! album. I guess it just goes to show you that when talented songwriters bow at the alter of Motown, great things will continually be created. That may be exactly what I am missing from today’s music which emphasizes the beat over the melody. George Michael made the two co-exist in splendor.
I will not go into how I performed “Wake Me Up…” in an Air Band contest at Ball State, but I did. Our group from my fraternity did it, and I suppose the performance did live up to the hokie-ness of the song, which is cool. Thank God smartphones did not exist back then!
I feel like George Michael has become something of a forgotten man. It seems that people have forgotten that he was every bit as big as Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen during that 1985 to 1990 stretch. Good Lord, you could not escape his videos on MTV nor his songs on the radio. He was everywhere. Yet, he aspired to be considered an artist more than a hit machine. And, he, much like Prince, fought hard for that right, although it cost him dearly on the charts at the height of his popularity. Still, I challenge you to listen to his music critically and tell me it was any less intricate as Prince or less exciting than Michael Jackson. Hardly! The man was a tunesmith on the level of Smokey Robinson or Stevie Wonder. So, someone, explain to me why this man and his music is not as recognized as any of those listed? And, furthermore, why has he yet to be nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Hopefully, after Whitney Houston gets in, George will become the next Eighties pop icon to get further review.
With that said, I present to you 30 songs that I feel best represents George Michael’s towering talents both as a songwriter and a talent.
30. “Wham Rap” – Wham! (Fantastic, 1983)
29. “Spinning the Wheel” (Older, 1996)
28. “Monkey” (Faith, 1987)
27. “The Edge of Heaven” – Wham! (Music from the Edge of Heaven, 1986)
26. “Where Did Your Heart Go?” – Wham! (Music from the Edge of Heaven, 1986)
25. “I’m Your Man” – Wham! (Music from the Edge of Heaven, 1986)
24. “Outside” (Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael, 1998)
23. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” – Aretha Franklin & George Michael (Aretha, 1987)
22. “Kissing a Fool” (Faith, 1987)
21. “Jesus to a Child” (Older, 1996)
20. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (Older, 1996)
19. “As (featuring Mary J. Blige)” (Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael, 1998)
18. “Heal the Pain (featuring Paul McCartney)” (Twenty Five, 2006)
17. “One More Try” (Faith, 1987)
16. “Last Christmas” (single, 1984)
15. “Freedom!” – Wham! (Make It Big, 1984)
14. “Everything She Wants” (Make It Big, 1984)
13. “Killer/Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” (Five Live EP, 1993)
12. “Praying for Time” (Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, 1990)
11. “Careless Whisper” – Wham! featuring George Michael (Make It Big, 1984)
10. “Too Funky” (Red Hot + Dance, 1992). George Michael was only this funky on a few songs, but this one is the topper. This non-album gem can now be found on his Twenty Five compilation.
9. “Fastlove” (Older, 1996). Michael took a brilliant sample for Patrice Rushen’s 1982 hit “Forget Me Nots” and took it to an unimagined higher place.
8. “Somebody to Love” – George Michael with Queen (Five Live EP, 1993). When I watched this performance on TV during the Freddie Mercury Memorial concert at Wembley, I was literally blown away. No offense to Adam Lambert, who does a yeoman’s job, but no one else came closer to Freddie’s charisma and talent than Michael. That moment changed everything for me.
7. “I Want Your Sex” (Faith, 1987). Few remember just how groundbreaking this song was at the time. Nowadays, songs are played on the radio in stupid edits. Yet, a song about monogamy was vilified by conservatives throughout the world who were offended about relationships being carnal in nature. This was one brave move by George to make this is first solo single.
6. “Faith” (Faith, 1987). The number one record of the year was basically a Bo Diddley rock song dressed up for the Eighties. And, it was brilliant, even the the video did make a star out of Michael’s butt.
5. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” – Wham! (Make It Big, 1984). That’s right! I really do hold this song in high regard, without an ounce of irony or sarcasm.
4. “A Different Corner” – Wham! featuring George Michael (Music from the Edge of Heaven, 1986). This heartbreaking song was the first indication to me that Michael struggled with mental illness. There’s just something about it that screamed to me that this physically beautiful man with gifts from the gods had demons haunting him that were much more than sexuality. This song does not get enough credit for its brilliance.
3. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” – George Michael and Elton John (Duets, 1991). What can I say? Michael’s performance pushed Elton to quit coasting and to dig deeper in himself. This is just a moment in which both men are pushing each other further and further into the context of the song.
2. “Father Figure” (Faith, 1987). I love the sexiness of this song, even though I know that Michael was explaining his struggle with his sexuality. How he was able to make heterosexuals believe its was a sex song for them is beyond me. It simply screams lovemaking.
1. “Freedom! ’90” (Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, 1990). If anything, this song emphasizes Michael’s confidence in his talent and his sexuality. There’s no more playing around, he’s going to take control of his career and his life and make this whole thing his. And this song is his mea culpa.