Teen idol, the biggest star of the MTV era, a master of blue-eyed soul and a gay rights champion – our writers say a sad farewell to the pop icon who died, aged just 53, on Christmas Day.
The ongoing legacy of George Michael’s life is to never, ever underestimate him. To have dismissed Wham! as lightweight, yuppie pop would be to ignore how strong the songwriting was, what an astonishing soul voice Michael had and to overlook just how politically opinionated the band were in quite the opposite direction.
Wham! may have looked like inflated Wimbledon ballboys, but they weren’t shy of appearing on Red Wedge bills in support of the miners, or of writing about the traumas of unemployment and the evils of consumerism.
When early talk of not planning on going solo proved ill-thought through, George Michael not only demonstrated that he was far greater than his boyband roots with a succession of astonishing and well-respected solo records, he also showed he was an artist capable of singing shoulder to shoulder with Aretha Franklin, duetting with Elton John and paying tribute to Freddie Mercury. Titans, all. And far from merely holding his own, the man could hold theirs as well, quite frankly.
As more and more stories are now being shared of Michael’s (often previously, wilfully anonymous) generosity, with both his time and his money – to shelters, charities, family, friends, strangers, game show panellists and, I’m fully expecting, my nan – my only fear is how the world will get along without him secretly propping us all up. As music writer Bob Stanley recently called him in The Guardian, he was a “gentle revolutionary”.
Wham! may have been the anti-Smiths with their ‘Go For It, Choose Life, Make It Big’ positivity but George Michael believed in the healing, enriching, emboldening power of music. So Listen Without Prejudice, please.
Wham!’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go is the first record I ever bought. Don’t high five me just yet. I also bought Suddenly by Angry Anderson a few years later.
WMUBYGG is classic pop and will never age. I play it most days because it’s an excellent cheery uppy dance in your nightie song about warm beds and yo-yos. It is Bouncey George (as opposed to Thoughtful George) at his best. It always gets people* up on the dancefloor** at my parties***.
And it’s odd that I love it so much given that I prefer it when people just leave quietly while I snore-snore. Miss you George.
This song is absolutely iconic and has meant different but equally relevant things to me depending on the different stages of my life so far.
I confess I first discovered this song when Robbie Williams chose it as his return to pop following his (devastating) departure from Take That, but forgive me, in my defence I was only 12. And that is not the version that has stuck.
From angsty teenager layering on rebellious eyeliner like Jack Sparrow to walking out of jobs that didn’t suit me without looking back, Freedom! ‘90 is the song that has floated into my head, and made it onto my empowering playlists, before I marched into life’s battles.
It’s an anthem for having faith in yourself, for owning who you are, and it comes from a brave and brilliant man who walked it like he talked it. It’s the soundtrack to a thousand of my metaphorical mic drops – thanks Gorgeous George.
“Until this moment, out gay men in the public eye were expected to be sexless clowns. George Michael said a big, hairy ‘fuck you’ to all that, dressed up as a hot cop with a night stick and made a sexy video lampooning his arrest and the hypocrisy surrounding it.”
Despite once hearing a DJ announce the start of the “erection section” before pressing play on the saxophone riff we’ve all simulated at some point, Careless Whisper remains a firm favourite.
I was four years old when it charted, and it’s proceeded to haunt me at every family party, wedding and disco I ever danced at.
Reeking of nostalgia and the very-obviously-80s sound that I adore, as I’ve aged (disgracefully), Careless Whisper has grown up with me. I now hear the sentiment as clearly as the sax and far louder than any cheesy jock’s bad gag. Now, who fancies a smooch by the smoke machine?
In October 1998, six months after being arrested – and outed – for committing a ‘lewd act’ in a public loo in Hollywood, George Michael released this funky, unapologetic song about lust, adventure and the joy of shagging outdoors.
Until this moment, out gay men in the public eye were expected to be sexless clowns. Those who expressed any sort of desire could only do so if they agreed to be the butt of crappy homophobic jokes. Michael said a big, hairy ‘fuck you’ to all that, dressed up as a hot cop with a night stick and made a sexy video lampooning his arrest and the hypocrisy surrounding it.
I Can’t Make You Love Me
Like many a George Michael song, the tune is memorable and his voice is gorgeous. However, I Can’t Make You Love Me affected me on a subliminal level the first time I ever heard it. I guess because in my youth I was the poster girl for unrequited love, and it was reassuring to know that someone out there had not only felt like me but understood my pain and sang about it so beautifully.
Cleverly, during its closing bars, Michael sings “Someone’s going to love me.” In an instant a song about unrequited love ends on a positive note. Simple but my goodness, it’s heartrending.
I wasn’t aware George Michael was a great singer until I heard him covering Queen’s Somebody to Love with depth and clarity. I wasn’t aware George Michael was a great songwriter until I heard A Different Corner.
Now 30 years old, it is timeless and would not sound out of place on the radio today. The swirling, free feel of the music fits perfectly with the frank emotion of the lyrics. It’s worth noting that Michael wrote the music and lyrics, arranged and produced the song and played all the instruments too.
“And if all that there is, is this fear of being used, I should go back to being lonely and confused… If I could, I would, I swear.” For a guy in his early 20s, he sure knew a lot of stuff.
Some of Standard Issue's brilliant women's carefully crafted words for your reading pleasure.