Given the shocking death of pop superstar George Michael on Christmas Day at the age of 53, it’s not surprising that his mourning fans have been listening through his outstanding catalog of music, which stretches more than 30 years as a solo artist and as one half of the duo Wham!, and reliving their favorite moments from the gifted musician.
Most everybody knows his many monster hits: “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Careless Whisper,” “Everything She Wants,” “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me” (with Aretha Franklin), “Faith,” “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” “Monkey,” “Playing for Time” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (with Elton John) were all No. 1 singles in the U.S.
Other major singles include “I Want Your Sex,” “I’m Your Man,” “A Different Corner,” “Freedom ‘90,” “Too Funky” and “Fastlove.” While most readers will be familiar with these, there’s another side to George Michael’s music that might be ripe for discovery by fans who haven’t delved fully into his extensive body of work. Here are 10 lesser-known George Michael gems you may not know.
By the time Wham! made it big, George Michael was already eyeing a solo career. The global smash “Careless Whisper” was Michael’s first solo single even though in the U.S. it was credited to Wham! Featuring George Michael and it was included on Wham!’s chart-topping second album, “Make it Big.”
After announcing Wham!’s dissolution in early 1986, Michael promised one final album with the duo and a farewell concert. Wham! went out with a bang at a massive show on June 28, 1986 at Wembley Stadium. The last album is essentially a compilation of a few newly recorded tracks, assorted singles and leftovers (including the now-ubiquitous holiday single “Last Christmas” and the No. 3 smash “I’m Your Man). In North America the album was dubbed “Music from the Edge of Heaven,” while elsewhere it was called “The Final” and featured a different track listing.
One of the highlights is the lithe and funky “Battlestations,” a stripped down electronic-pop gem that recounts a rocky romance similar in theme to the chart-topping “Everything She Wants.” “Battlestations” points to the more mature adult-themed pop that Michael would explore on his classic debut solo album “Faith.”
“They Won’t Go When I Go” (1990)
George Michael was a huge Stevie Wonder fan and covered several of his songs over the course of his career. The finest is his stunning take on the ballad “They Won’t Go When I Go,” which Wonder released on his 1974 album “Fulfillngness’ First Finale.” Michael’s recording, featured on his second solo album “Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1,” is a powerfully rendered version with a dynamic multi-layered vocal performance over a simple piano accompaniment. It’s one of George Michael’s most spellbinding tracks, a true testament to his power as a vocalist, arranger and producer of the highest caliber.
“Do You Really Want To Know?” (1992)
In the midst of George Michael’s legal battle with Sony Music over his perception that the corporate behemoth failed to adequately promote his downbeat 1990 album “Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1,” Michael donated three dance tracks that were originally intended for a planned upbeat sequel to the intense and serious Vol. 1 to the AIDS charity compilation “Red Hot + Dance.”
One track, the high-energy “Too Funky,” became a substantial hit, but his two other contributions to the album, “Happy” and the uber-catchy “Do You Really Want to Know?,” are worth checking out as well. They offer a taste of what a terrific listening experience “Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 2” might have been.
A fourth track, “Crazyman Dance,” was included as a B-side on the “Too Funky” single. Michael had been planning a deluxe reissue of “Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1” prior to his death, and while it’s unknown if the project will still see the light of day, it would be fantastic indeed if the complete unreleased “Vol. 2,” including these excellent overlooked dance tracks, is included in the package.
“You Have Been Loved” (1996)
George Michael’s 2006 album “Older” was his first in six years, and his return after a high-profile feud with Sony Music essentially stalled his career for half a decade. While the first single “Jesus to a Child” was met with initial excitement in the U.S., and its follow-up “Fastlove” became Michael’s final major American hit, the album performed markedly worse in the U.S. than in his native U.K. and other countries internationally.
The downbeat tone of the album, largely inspired by the 1993 death of Michael’s lover Anselmo Feleppa of an AIDS-related brain hemorrhage, did not translate well to U.S. radio and many of the low-key but exquisite tracks that became popular internationally were overlooked in America. One in particular is the stunning and heartbreaking tribute “You Have Been Loved,” a sublime recording brimming with genuine emotion. Michael delivers one of his greatest vocal performances on a song that shows his heart firmly on his sleeve.
“If I Told You That” (duet with Whitney Houston, 2000)
Whitney Houston originally released the smooth and funky R&B gem “If I Told You That” for her smash 1998 album “My Love is Your Love.” Two years later she re-recorded it for inclusion on a greatest hits set as a duet with George Michael. His soulful vocal fits the vibe of the song perfectly and he and Houston make a dynamic pair, generating plenty of chemistry.
The video, featuring Houston and Michael dancing and singing the song together, looking and sounding their best, is startlingly poignant for such an upbeat song. It seems to speak directly to the waste of extraordinary talent represented by the early deaths of two of pop music’s most shining stars. Had the track been released a decade earlier, it surely would have soared to the top of the American pop charts. In 2000, at a time when neither Houston nor Michael were riding high on the pop charts as in their heyday, the song was a minor hit internationally but in the U.S. it was essentially ignored.
“The Long and Winding Road” (2002)
Michael performed this sublime cover of the Beatles’ 1970 classic “The Long and Winding Road” for a 1999 concert in tribute to Paul McCartney’s late wife Linda, who had died after a long battle with cancer in 1998. Michael later included his recording as one of the B-sides to this sexy U.K. dance single “Freeek!” Particularly in the later part of his career, Michael often relied upon covers of some of his favorite songs and he was a gifted interpreter of other artists’ work. This smooth and empathetic vocal on the Beatles’ final single lends it a poignancy and gravitas that fits the somber occasion for which it was performed.
“John and Elvis Are Dead” (2004)
George Michael’s final studio album, “Patience,” was a substantial hit internationally with several chart singles, but in the U.S. it sank without a trace rather quickly. “Amazing” and “Flawless (Go to the City)” were hits in American clubs, but Top 40 radio unfortunately no longer had interest in Michael.
One of the album’s high points is the emotional ballad “John and Elvis Are Dead,” a moving reflection on the senseless loss of some of the world’s greatest sources of light and talent. With a sweet vocal by Michael and a video that features video clips of Presley, Lennon and others gone too soon, the song’s emotional impact is only heightened by the realization that we can now include Michael himself in the recitation of shining stars so important to so many people that the universe allowed to slip away far too young.
“An Easier Affair” (2006)
A quarter century after forming Wham! with his former school-mate Andrew Ridgeley, Michael released his elaborate multi-disc career retrospective “Twenty-Five.” The collection gathered most of his big hits, a few new recordings and a disc of rarities and B-sides.
“An Easier Affair” is a song newly recorded for the project, a slick upbeat dance-pop number that was a substantial hit internationally but was completely passed by in the U.S. It had been a decade since George Michael had scored a hit in America (“Fastlove” in 1996) so perhaps it’s not surprising the song, despite its commercial sheen and catchy upbeat melody, was neglected by American radio and MTV. The uplifting, gay-positive lyrics probably didn’t help: “I told myself I was straight/But I shouldn’t have worried/Cause my maker had a better plan for me.”
“White Light” (2012)
After focusing mostly on downbeat material and covers in recent years, after a 2011 health scare left him in the hospital for a month with a dangerous bout of pneumonia, Michael returned the following year with the kinetic electro-pop “White Light.”
The harrowing song seems to take on his lifestyle of recent years, which had been marked by drug arrests and health problems. It was a declaration that he was still here and ready to take on the world set to a sleek and modern electronic beat. It’s one of his most cunningly constructed singles and should have marked his triumphant return to the mainstream.
Alas, the single was all but ignored in America and the album that was planned in its wake never appeared. “White Light” was Michael’s final original studio single, ironic given its determination that “tomorrow is mine.” He was trying, which makes his shocking loss only a few years later all the more heartbreaking.
“Let Her Down Easy” (2014)
George Michael’s final album was 2014’s “Symphonica,” a collection of some of his original material and an excellent selection of covers performed live at the Royal Albert Hall with orchestral arrangements on his Symphonica Tour of 2011-2012. “Let Her Down Easy” was the album’s single and, although it was obviously impossible to imagine at the time, it would end up being his last.
The original recording, a delicate ballad by Terence Trent D’arby from his superb 1993 album “Symphony or Damn,” is hard to top, but Michael comes close with his gorgeous and empathetic vocal over a piano accompaniment with subtle strings. Michael’s supple vocal performance is front and center, as strong and beautiful as ever. His talent was still blazing and undiminished even to the very end of his recording career.
A different CornerAndrew RidgelyBattlestationsCareless WhisperDo You Really Want to KnowDon't Let the Sun Go Down on MeElton JohnEverything She WantsfaithFastloveFather FigureFreedom '90George MichaelI knew You Were Waiting for MeI Want Your SexI'm Your ManIf I Told You ThatJohn and Elvis Are DeadMonkeyOne More TryPlaying for TimeRed Hot + DanceThe Long and Winding RoadThe Won't Go When I GoToo FunkyWake Me Up Before You Go-GoWham!Whitney HoustonYou Have been Loved
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