Since he skyrocketed to fame as the honey-voiced half of the pop duo Wham! in 1983, George Michael always gave us his heart. And this Christmas, he broke hearts everywhere when his rep announced he had “passed away peacefully in his home” outside London at age 53.
For the bulk of the ’80s and well into the ’90s, the British superstar born Georgious Kyriacos Panayiotou (that name change was a good call) kept us right there on the edge of pop heaven from the second he bopped across a stage sporting that white “Choose Life” sweatshirt in Wham!’s 1984 video for “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”
He only made it bigger and bigger after breaking out into a solo career with 1986’s “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a chart-dominating duet with Aretha Franklin. And once the initially banned “I Want Your Sex,” the first single from his 20-million-selling solo debut, Faith, dropped in 1987, controversy — and questions over his sexuality — only fanned the flames.
Although his popularity plummeted after he was arrested for “engaging in a lewd act” in a Beverly Hills park restroom in 1998, time can’t erase the pop-soul cavalcade of iconic jewels from his big three albums: Faith, 1990’s deeply autobiographical Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, and Older, a gorgeously elegiac homage to his deceased lover, released in 1996.
Here, Us’ entertainment director, Ian Drew, selects Michael’s 10 greatest tunes from his timeless catalog.
1. “Freedom ’90” (1990)
He didn’t let us down. Although the groundbreaking David Fincher–directed music video — featuring supermodels Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and more mouthing the words — scored most of the attention, Michael vastly outdid himself with this powerful 1990 revamp of Wham!’s 1985 pop tune. It starts with a simple vow to justify setting fire to his old pretty-boy image, sound and extravagances. As it explodes into a manifesto of becoming his own man and asserting his independence, there’s no way we’d expect him to turn back.
2. “Careless Whisper” (1984)
In retrospect, this pleading, saxophone- and string-drizzled Wham! ballad is like Michael’s musical Dear John letter to groupmate (and the song’s cowriter) Andrew Ridgeley. Though it appeared on the band’s 1984 album Make It Big, Michael takes full blame for a relationship’s demise because he “should have known better than to cheat a friend.” But with a delivery like this, it was immediately clear that he had no other choice but to leave. That band was not big enough for the both of them.
3. “Father Figure” (1988)
It was something sacred. Playing a lustful cab driver in the darkly seductive video for the No. 1 third single from Faith in 1988, Michael pines to be his lady’s preacher, teacher, daddy and the one who loves her until the end of time. “Father Figure” had us all giving in to his every desire.
4. “I Want Your Sex” (1987)
This will be impossible for any of you millennials to understand, but there was a time — specifically, June 1987 — when radio stations would play Faith’s controversial first single only if the word “sex” was edited out. And MTV wouldn’t air its erotic video without a disclaimer stating that it’s about monogamy. No quick fix could put a damper on its racy magnetism and seismic swagger.
5. “One More Try” (1988)
Have more Faith! There wasn’t a missed note on that disc, and his six-minute, gospel-enriched confessional was King George in all his soul-purging glory.
6. “Waiting For That Day” (1990)
A stirring exhibit of the introspective turn Michael took in his work with his second and third solo efforts, as he beats himself up then dusts himself off to enter a new decade while remembering what could have been. He slows things down to chilling effect in the song’s acoustic, album-closing reprise, declaring, “Here I am!”
7. “Fast Love” (1996)
Michael’s buddies are all stuck at home with their ladies and babies, so he’s heading out in 1996 to find whatever will ease his mind. This is the story of every bachelor’s night on the town in the pre-iPhone era.
8. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” featuring Aretha Franklin (1987)
The Queen of Soul anoints a king! Michael more than held his own and won the battle next to Franklin in their roof-raising, Grammy-winning duet. Twelve years later, he teamed with the Queen of Hip-Hop soul, Mary J. Blige, to cover the Stevie Wonder nugget “As.”
9. “Too Funky” (1992)
Selling it by getting another slew of catwalkers to lip-synch along in the video, one of Michael’s three songs for the Red, Hot & Dance AIDS charity album was funky enough to become a dance floor smash without any help. How easy it was to seduce us.
10. “Faith” (1987)
Maybe it seemed like a foolish notion at first — a lengthy organ intro, a shuffling, classic rock beat and Michael’s simple lyrics — but it was an inarguably strong showing of pure devotion. It was the sound of Michael’s musical coming out.
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