In a year that saw the death of so many music stars, there was still something particularly painful about George Michael’s death. This may be highly subjective but I think that for those of us in our 40s or 50s, George Michael was the ultimate songwriting companion. Many noted that his music was “the soundtrack of our youth.” It was that and more.
He wrote songs that covered the evolution of the individual human experience: the recklessness of youth, friendship, first love, infidelity, love’s constant ability to renew and hurt through the years, mortality, the highs and lows of life… It was all in there. As James Corden put it: “I can remember so many times in my life when I might have felt on my own and George’s music would feel like he would reach his hand out and tell you that you’re not on your own and that these feelings aren’t particular to you.”
In essence, George Michael wrote about time. He captured the changing moods, challenges, yearnings and disappointments that weave their way as we go through the changing stages of love and life. His song “Older” struck a cord with this concise line that spoke volumes: “Strange, baby, don’t you think I’m looking older.” Simple and so effective.
A constant theme in his songs was authenticity. The need to be true to yourself. Possibly the most quoted line on social networks after his death came from “Kissing A Fool”: “You will never find peace of mind till you listen to your heart.”
The boundless sense of energy and drive in his early songs, whether with Wham or at the beginning of his solo career, is breathtaking. There is a spring in the step, a dizzying level of passion that runs through songs like “Edge of Heaven,” “Freedom,” “I’m Your Man” and “Faith.” And that energy has stood the test of time. Listen to these songs 30 years later and they still get you every time with their positive vibe.
In 1985, George Michael won his first Ivor Novello Award for songwriting. And that is how he must be remembered. A songwriter. One of the very finest of his generation.
I had the privilege of seeing him perform live twice. The first time was at Earls’ Court in 1987. And I still rank that as the best concert I’ve ever been to. No props, no major set. Just him with a guitar and a few other musicians. He shook the hall with the power of his voice and music.
The death of the man who wrote “Last Christmas” on Christmas Day literally broke our hearts. In the first couple of days, I could not bring myself to hear his songs. His death captured us the way his songs did. It was too painful a reminder of mortality. Also, his struggles with anxiety and drug addiction were too sad to recall against the background of an inexplicable death. A week later, I started listening again. And now, once again, I can’t get enough of his so many extraordinary songs. And while his death robbed us of his talent way too early, he left us with a living, breathing body of work that will inspire us, energize us and keep us company through the travails of life for many years to come. Every life is fleeting, but a legacy like that is the rarest thing of all.
Here’s a selection of songs I regard as being amongst his greatest:
An almost forgotten track in Wham’s “Make It Big” album. There’s a dreaminess about the words and chord progression that will make you listen to it over and over again. Not to mention that we have all at one time or another stood “on the line between desire and duty”! I was also happy to discover recently that one of my nephews, who was born many years after the break-up of Wham, discovered this song and loved it.
2. Kissing a Fool
A lyrical masterpiece. Possibly his greatest song. Brace yourself for the grand finale, in the powerful ending bridge. Listen to how he takes the melody up and down in keeping with the following lyrics:
But remember this,
Every other kiss,
That you ever give
Long as we both live
When you need the hand of another man,
One you really can surrender with,
I will wait for you,
Like I always do,
There’s something there,
That can’t compare with any other
Some prefer “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.” But for me, this is the quintessential pop sound of Wham.
4. One More Try
The ultimate “let’s give it one last shot” song. It captures perfectly that type of relationship which is filled equally with love and complications!
5. Last Christmas
Not much to be said here. The classic Christmas song that has worked for listeners around the globe, non-stop, every December since 1984.
George’s breakout solo track. I remember the week it came out in 1987. Everyone at school bought it and would talk of nothing else. An original and contagious melody that sounds as fresh today as ever.
7. Waiting for That Day
I have purposely chosen only one song from the album, “Listen Without Prejudice, Volume 1.” This is because the entire album is outstanding. Every song is exceptional in its own way. This is George’s masterpiece, his very own 9th Symphony.
8. I’m your Man
This has to be the most positive and confident love song ever written.
Lyrically, this has always reminded me of an ’80s classic by Prefab Sprout, “When Love Breaks Down.” Nothing to add, the lyrics are self explanatory!
10. Everything She Wants
This is one of the best crafted songs I’ve ever heard. The song doesn’t follow a classic structure. It is multi-layered both lyrically and melodically in a truly unique way. Enjoy!
Rest In Peace George, and thank you for the great music and company through the years.
Photo: MadyJC72/Creative Commons