I’m still in shock at the news of the untimely death of George Michael. However, while we mourn his passing, let’s remember how much fantastic music he produced. Below represents a personal list of my favourite George Michael songs (Wham! and solo) at this moment in time. Such was the quality of his output, it could easily be ten other songs, but these are ones I’ve always loved and returned to over the years and decades. Each selection comes withYouTube audio…
Blue (Armed With Love)
A rare non-album B-side, Blue (Armed With Love) backed up number four hit Club Tropicana in the summer of 1983. It was a semi-instrumental composition and the economic keyboard-y production was more in keeping with what would follow in 1984’s Make It Big. A different version was sung live, notably Blue (Live In China), although George also lip-synched to an unreleased studio version on UK TV’s The Russell Harty Show. Blue (Armed With Love) is only available on CD via the original Japanese CD single of Club Tropicana. Blue (Live In China) is on the CD of Music From The Edge Of Heaven, which was a US-only single-disc version of the 1986 double album career summary, The Final. In the UK, only the cassette and vinyl versions of The Final featured Blue (Armed With Love).
In later years, George was quick to dismiss Careless Whisper, probably because the song came so easily too him, so young, but it was a magical combination of a very commercial record, with a smart lyric that somehow didn’t (and doesn’t) get dulled by overfamiliarity. Also, George worked very hard on the song, rejecting the original recording, produced by Jerry Wexler, and re-recording it with himself in total control of the production. It’s that version that was a transatlantic number one single. The Wexler version (have a listen) did surface briefly on the Japanese 12-inch and a limited edition UK 12-inch. It has never been issued on CD.
Everything She Wants
George rarely embraced his Wham! recordings in later years, but clearly had a soft spot for Everything She Wants, for which he made an exception. It was the only Wham! song he performed on MTV’s Unplugged in 1996 (which is part of the bonus content in the forthcoming Listen Without Prejudice reissue). Everything She Wants was a double-A side with Last Christmas and so peaked at number two due to Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? but it became the third number one from Make It Big in the USA. The six-and-a-half minute remix is far from superfluous, since it contains and added bridge and new vocal elements from George.
George was a songwriter from the top-drawer, but to say he was not prolific is an understatement. When you consider that all the recordings for Make It Big were in the bag by autumn 1984, in the following two years only four further Wham! recordings were made – I’m Your Man, The Edge Of Heaven, Where Did Your Heart Go? and Battlestations. Clearly Prince-influenced, Battlestations was the B-side to the last single The Edge Of Heaven, although slightly confusingly was the lead song on the UK 12-inch of the same single. This high quality extra track sign-posted the direction George would take on 1987’s solo album Faith. His ability to pull melodies out of thin air on this minimalistic track, still impresses.
Hand To Mouth
It’s interesting to reflect just how big Faith was in America, compared to the UK. None of the singles went to number one over here and Father Figure didn’t even make the top ten. In the USA four of the six singles hit the top spot which meant at the age of 25 George had had been responsible for SEVEN number one US singles (he would go on to have three more). There were few songs on Faith that didn’t end up on an A-side or a B-side and album track Hand To Mouth was selected as the B-side to Faith. The lyric concerns aspiration and the American Dream (“I believe in the gods of America / I believe in the land of the free”) and two disenfranchised characters for whom things don’t work out. It’s a very thoughtful work and lacks the bombast of some of the tracks on the album. Richard Marx’s 1991 hit Hazard has a remarkable similar verse melody and tone…
The third single from Faith is a superb composition. George’s breathy vocal delivers a fine melody which culminates in the gospel-infused chorus. The song ran for over five and a half minutes and wasn’t edited for the single release. The B-side was an instrumental version, which wasn’t included as a bonus track on the 2011 reissue of Faith. If you want that on CD you’ll need to dig deep for an original CD single. There was no 12-inch extended version of this song.
Waiting For That Day
Praying For Time delivered George a top ten single, but that aside, none of the 45s from his second solo album, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol 1 were even top 20 hits in the UK. Second single Waiting For That Day deserved much better than peaking at number 23. The ‘funky drummer’ sample roots it to the era, but despite this, Waiting For That Day has a timeless vibe and benefits from a personal lyric of self-examination (“everybody’s talking about this new decade, like you say the magic numbers then just say goodbye to the stupid mistakes you made”). Segueing into You Can’t Always Get What You Want at the end brings the song to a perfect close.
Freedom ’90 – aka ‘the fast song’ from Listen Without Prejudice – is undoubtedly an impressive piece of work but it’s something of a ‘jigsaw’ of a song and the mid-paced album-closer Soul Free is easily its match for me. This sounds AMAZING if you crank it up and George delivers an incredible vocal. Surely this dance track would have been a sizeable hit had it been released. A rare, promo-only radio edit of this track appears on the forthcoming super deluxe edition of Listen Without Prejudice.
Crazyman Dance was the B-side to Too Funky. It’s a more interesting and slightly ‘darker’ song than the A-side and boasts an epic widescreen production. You get the feeling George was letting loose a little bit and just having fun on a track that could be tucked away out of sight. Another number that will feature on the LWP reissue (SDE only).
Spinning The Wheel
Right slap bang in the middle of Britpop and the return of ‘the guitar band’, George delivered his third solo album Older and was rewarded by six singles that all went top three in the UK (including two number ones). A remarkable achievement. Spinning The Wheel was the third 45 and the first from the album not to go to number one! It was also his first single to have a non-album B-side (You Know That I Want To) since Freedom ’90 (that was backed with Fantasy). This slinky, atmospheric track has a hypnotic quality and even a John Barry-esque feel in places.
That ends the SDE list. What would be in YOUR top ten? The pure pop of Wake Me Up Before Your Go Go, perhaps? Other maybe the political commentary of Praying For Time? Leave a comment with your personal favourites!