On this Xmas Day 2016 came the unexpected news that George Michael has died.
Oddly enough, although David Bowie and Prince were huge musical figures in my life, the death of George Michael comes as the biggest shock. Perhaps it’s because George Michael is the last of the three to come to prominence in the public consciousness, or maybe because he was born a little over three months after I was—but it is still a shock that he is now gone.
My first exposure to George Michael was when HBO showed Wham!’s video for ‘Young Guns (Go for It)’ between features. It was probably a few months later that I became aware of Wham!’s debut album, Fantastic, credited at the time to Wham! UK, because there was apparently an American band called Wham! already in existence.
By the next year, that had already been sorted out, as Make it Big! was credited to Wham! Over the next 15 months or so, Wham! had US chart success with ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ (credited to Wham! featuring George Michael in the US and a few other territories), ‘Freedom’, and ‘Everything She Wants’.
The last Wham! album, The Final, went unreleased in the US, which instead got Music from the Edge of Heaven. Still, ‘The edge of heaven’ got plenty of airplay on MTV, as did ‘I’m Your Man’. The Was (Not Was) cover, ‘Where Did Your Heart Go’, was a curious final release, but the attention given the two previous hits made up for the lack of response that record got.
Faith proved to be a major worldwide success, fuelled initially by the success of lead single ‘I Want Your Sex’, followed by the title track, then ‘Father Figure’, ‘One More Try’, ‘Kissing a Fool’, and ‘Monkey’.
As a 24-year-old—the same age as George Michael—‘I Want Your Sex’ was a huge record for me. Nor just for its Prince-like qualities, but also for the circumstances of my own life at that time, the song formed a crucial part of my own personal soundtrack. Its b-side, ‘Hard Day’, conveyed the sense of sexual frustration that—coincidentally—characterized my life in the summer of 1987.
When Listen Without Prejudice, Volume One came along in September 1990, it again captured much that I felt about my life at that time. ‘Praying for Time’ captured a sense of desperation, while ‘Freedom 90’ very much conveyed that sense of wanting to be someone on one’s own terms, as opposed to what other people expect you to be.
His subsequent music was uneven, but his albums always had something that would resonate with me far beyond the original release date. The MTV Unplugged performance of ‘Star People’ is my favorite George Michael performance ever. Even the Patience album has ‘John and Elvis Are Dead’ (‘If Jesus Christ is alive and well, how come John and Elvis are dead?’).
He didn’t do anything new of note in the last decade of his life, but it cannot be denied that he made quite an impact while he was alive. George Michael was one of the few musicians I know of whose work cut across all lines—age, race, gender, and sexuality. Regardless of who you were, or where you came from, if you liked George Michael, you had taste.
Rest in peace, good sir. You can relax those eyebrows now.
(25 December 2016)