The legendary George Michael aged 53 left us unfortunately in his “Last Christmas” in 2016 peacefully at home in the UK according to reports much to the surprise of many as there were not much news of any life threatening illness in the latter part of this year although it is known he had some issues prior. Ironically “Last Christmas” performed by the group Wham in one of their lasting songs in the repertoire and is a radio fixture annually worldwide. Born into a Greek family in 1963 he would later join his partner in crime Andrew Richie in song writing, producing and kick starting their careers as Wham, to be picked up by a major label in 1984 releasing a string of minor hits and while they put out a mix of everything from dashes of rap to elements of disco they decided to change direction to a more soulful style (Blue eyed soul later) but not before scoring their biggest worldwide hit “Wake Me Up Before You Go” who can forget that now infamous introduction of George by Madonna where she said “The diva himself” and “George I want your sex”. In 1985 Wham became the first western group outside of communist China to perform in that nation they then split in 1986. That however proved he had arrived that the queen of pop could recognise it. He decided on a solo journey was the way for him as both men grew apart creatively as a group but remained friends for the most part and co wrote some materials.
“My career seems to always right itself like a duck in a bath, like a plastic duck in a bath” BBC interview with George Michael 2007.
George Michael had an unusually large and loyal following in African descended circles in the United States in particular as a UK artist; he was more seen as an album artist than a singles seller, the albums usually went platinum in a short time after release (over 100 million worldwide). On the continent itself George sold in the millions as well even to the 2014 releases and his Youtube channel has huge subscribers numbers; meanwhile a trend he helped to start in terms of UK crossover success kept him in the public eye; of course the likes Elton John, Sir Tom Jones and the Beatles to some extent laid the ground for that to happen with Eurhythmics’ front woman/diva Annie Lennox and which had other UK based artists follow suit such platinum selling diva Lisa Stanfield of “All Around the World” fame on Arista records, Seal with his string of big hits and even dance diva Kristine W formerly of Champion Records with her signature hit “One More Try” to name a few. For George to move from tracks like “Young Guns” bubble gum pop sounds to more serious releases as “Praying for Time” is just commendable even as many dismissed him as a flavour of the moment, instead he has outlasted contemporaries who are washed up.
The gay thing
“Jesus to a child” was a 1996 tribute to his Brazilian born lover who passed away who he met in Rio De Janeiro in 1991 and other relationship challenges dotted his mostly successful career; but that bathroom incident changed his direction altogether albeit the battle with drugs, slumping record sales, souring of public opinion for a while and his former record company court battles for ownership and release of tapes etc. As social attitude changed he finally in effect came out and was better able to concentrate on more prolific work but success slowly dwindled but loyal fans such as myself stayed true as we know good and honest talent when we hear and see it.
I became even more drawn to him more so in the nineties after the release of “Praying for Time” which was his last major number one in the US, other 12” singles drew my attention and my dollars too such as “Freedom” “I am Your Man” “Fast Love 1996” and the remixes collection of “Freedom”; the latter song was in protest against CBS/Colombia Records with whom he wanted to exit the recording contract and have master tapes control. The lyrics for “Freedom” for example are quite clear where it says “....Take back the picture in the frame...” he effectively retrace his Wham journey as a pop star, he continued “I was every hungry school girl’s pride and joy but I guess it was enough for me ......... I am rocker on TV ............. I wanna make me soul happy” but he got frustrated with the labels’ restrictions and creative control and the demands for albums faster than he cared for.
Other artists like Prince and Chaka Khan who had similar issues with Warner Brothers they faced court battles and some reputational damage. In Prince’s case he wanted to release more materials and albums faster as his writing was prolific but the label wanted no part of it hence he left to form his own label Paisley Park Records. Fortunately all three artists were at the level of prestige, success and financial prowess so they could fight their cases and brought about change in the way some business is now done, Chaka was not happy either and she eventually broke free and released a platinum selling CD in 2007 called “Funk This” which delivered two hit singles “Angel” & “Disrespectful” a duet with Mary J Blige. The remixes for the latter were and still are a fixture for many a dancemusic DJ, I still include them in my sets and several updates since by remixers and bootleggers show there is renewed interest. Prince who also surprisingly passed earlier this year was the most successful of the three as he with the infamous “Slave” tattoed to his face took it all the way to the bank but George Michael is to be credited for really going against the grade at the time as it was almost an anathema to do so. George did the unthinkable as well by insisting his image does not appear on his releases so the latter albums prior to his release from CBS hardly had any images of him and by the time “Outside” came to market it was the photo of a handcuffed person’s hands (maybe his).
Who can forget the double CD collection “Ladies & Gentlemen presenting George Michael” with all those hits and more, it has been a Sunday morning favourite especially after the long drive from the club, “A Different Corner” especially is the relaxer for me.
Inadvertently the face of gay cruising
After that now infamous bathroom incident George Michael, single at the time found himself in a media frenzy with ridicule mixed with curiosity and condemnation by some others even though he was ‘mainstream’ and effectively “white” it was still not fashionable to be out that easily as a gay man; although fellow colleague Elton John with whom he recorded “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” was openly gay and never gave a hoot. George inadvertently was seen as the poster boy for the proverbial cruiser in the sub MSM categories that have those sex seeking behaviours for supposed ‘dickage’ or a quickie. His fans still stayed loyal for the most part. George Michael was set to have been caught in an entrapment sting operation of sorts in a restroom and the paparazzi went nuts with critics claiming the episode was the confirmation they were waiting for, some religious voices were waiting for some error to substantiate their claims that he was a negative influence on teens. Other gay, bisexual and downlow celebrities have been caught in bathroom situations before but not involving an undercover cop as the intended target of affection. I was even more attracted to George then as a gay man who understands the tenets of the thrill and risks of the hunt. Other MSM may see this sort of thing as out of place and instead stick to a more politically correct way of existence, the bathroom incident helped to smash that hypocrisy indirectly over time I think.
Artistry & some music highlights
George however used the ugly episode to his advantage playing on the sensationalism and responded in kind through artistry and song writing. He released tracks such as “Freeek” which was nicely remixed by the elegant Scumfrog, “Outside” which spoke to outdoor sex in subtle way and “Every Other Lover” one of his last releases spoke to the “queer” of it; earlier songs such as “Father Figure” and “I Want Your Sex” already were going in that direction of a alpha male power differentials in gay liaisons. ‘Careless Whispers” genderless lyric structure is one such early solo recording by George that was subtle hints to the direction he was heading and messages in the subtext. His has done some good duets over the years with some major divas, surpsingly more African American collaborations such as Aretha Franklin on “Knew You Were Waiting” which was Aretha’s only US pop number 1 million seller, then “As” with Mary J Blige a cover version of Stevie Wonder’s original production, then there is “if I Told You That” with Whitney Houston which appeared on her greatest hits in 2000.
Michael commented in a documentary some years ago the he was very selective about who he works with and admires singers with good voices hence his choice of the three ladies above, he also worked with a young singer named Mutya on a track named “This is Not Real Love” which was a minor dance hit on the club scene mixed by the respected Moto Blanco team. Many remixers have been called upon to transform the works over the years to include unlikely folks such as RazorNGuido, Hex Hector (“Outside”) and the white label community and tribalizean fellas have all taken a touch of the hits, especially tracks such as “Careless Whispers” “Outside” and “Father Figure” there are always updates within the last decade or so.
He struggled with fame versus his private life, there is a story of him while in China as he and Andrew Richie were on tour breaking records he burrowed a camera from one of his associates and turned that camera at the paparazzi who followed him everywhere he went and told them so that he is shooting them to effectively let them feel how it felt being hounded.
Huge Jamaican popularity
Although his sexuality was openly questioned locally and abroad with the infamous comparison with Elton John especially after the duet with both gentlemen “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me” the optics also played a role as the video of the live performance and an interview with them together was talked about for a long time afterwards. His imagery was often questioned as to how he looked into the lens provocatively when miming the lyrics while adding a teasing element to it and then there was the hair often compared with Prince and their androgyny which he (George) would later adjust in an image flip over after the bathroom incident.
Let us not forget the uproar when it was just hinted that Elton John would have been performing in Jamaica at the then Jazz Festival and the comparisons were made by homophobes with Elton and John as gays and not welcomed in Jamaica; hypocritically the loudest voices were from the church apart from anti gay entertainment journalists/promoters although they would not have attended I imagine as the headline acts be take the stage on a Sunday night. It was similar nonsense when the Village People who were booked to perform also ended up cancelling as misplaced uproar came through to mislead and drive fear-mongering that a simple live show via earshot or visuals would have transmitted some gay gene or gamma ray to change some in the audience. SMH
George Michael songs have managed to remain popular in Jamaica outside of decent adult contemporary radio rotation even Elton John too (“Sacrifice”) both men have had serious and unexpected rotation in the caustic homophobic dancehall sounds systems circles, a disc jock worth his grain of salt knows in any slow jams set, mix-tape and or live juggling had to add a George somewhere in there with tracks such as “A Different Corner” “Faith” (slower BPM) and the soulful call “One More Try” often with the hardcore of gangsters belting out the lyrics to their women in the street dance or as we say colloquially ‘rent-a-tile’ romantic embrace. As a young disc jock in the early 1990s I had no choice but to add George’s material to the collection and my mix-tapes and sets. The songs are still a part of the arsenal for newer DJs around.
As the news spread of his passing I was in the middle of a set at my DJ residency and was forced to whip up a remix line up in tribute to the man, gonna miss him, of note the dark deep RazorNGuido Epic Dub Re-rub of “Outside” was damaged at the time of recording the above set so I did not include it in this set at this time but I know the attuned DJ is well aware that that mix is the bomber of the entire double 12” and white label releases. The set also contains “Careless Whispers” “Fast Love” “Knew You Were Waiting” “Every Other Lover” “If I Told You That” “Father Figure” “Killer”(Dub) “Everything She Wants” plus a few more.
He has gone to join David Bowie, Miss Whitney, Prince and all the other greats, can you imagine the entry at the gates
Peace & tolerance