George is one of those artists who was able to master the art of the hit single, but his genius was not limited to mastery of the 4-minute pop radio ditty. There’s plenty of gold to be found among his album tracks, and he’s one of the few recent artists worth a deeper dig past the album tracks into B-sides, remixes, rarities and live tracks. It was hard narrowing the list down to twenty, but here are the George/Wham! songs that rank as the best of the best.
Freedom ’90 (from Listen Without Prejudice, 1990)- There have been few statements of purpose as forceful and endearing as “Freedom ’90”. This song perfectly explains the desire for popularity and success-and the eventual realization that there are things far more important. Kudos to George for marrying his feelings to a swinging beat and creating an iconic video for the track without appearing in it for a millisecond. If you can find it, also check out the “Back to Reality” remix of “Freedom”, which takes the music from the song’s bridge and adds in the lyrics from Soul II Soul’s classic “Back to Life”.
I Want Your Sex (from Beverly Hills Cop II Soundtrack, 1987)- George introduced his solo career in earnest with this funky dance jam, which almost topped the charts and certainly made headlines throughout the summer of 1987. Tracks like 1986’s “Battlestations”, this, and “Hard Day” were clear evidence that George was listening to a lot of Prince during this period.
One More Try (from Faith, 1987)- Adding a hint of gospel to his repertoire, this moving ballad (a song that moved me to tears for years) earned George a #1 single on Billboard’s R&B chart, a rarity for a White artist. How rare? Only three White artists have topped the chart since-Teena Marie, Lisa Stansfield and Robin Thicke.
Cowboys & Angels (from Listen Without Prejudice, 1990)- Faith’s “Kissing a Fool” confirmed George’s jazz vocal credentials, but this haunting love song remains his best effort in that vein. George’s breathy vocals are full of seduction and longing on this track and it remains one of his most impressive vocal performances.
Careless Whisper (from Wham!’s Make it Big, 1984)- One of the most iconic songs released in the past three decades, all you need to hear is the opening five seconds to know what’s playing. I’m not totally sure we can call songs recorded in the Eighties standards yet, but “Careless Whisper” comes pretty damn close. Weird note: while it was credited as a George Michael solo song in the U.K. and to “Wham! Featuring George Michael” here in the States, it’s the only song on Make it Big that features a writing credit for Andrew Ridgeley.
Fastlove (Part 2) (from “Fastlove” single, 1996-U.K. only)- George’s last Top 40 hit in the U.S. was a delightfully sunny ode to anonymous sex (this was pretty much the song that confirmed my suspicions, for what it’s worth), and the U.K.-only remix takes the energy of the fantastic original and kicks it up a notch-like all good remixes do. Shame this didn’t get an American release.
I Can’t Make You Love Me (from Ladies & Gentlemen-The Best of George Michael, 1997)- Talking about standards-when the discussion about songs made in the past three decades that qualify for that distinction happens-this song deserves to get in on the first ballot. It’s impossible to top Bonnie Raitt’s tear-jerking original, but George’s remake comes close. This is a textbook example of true soul singing-George completely poured himself into this song’s lyric.
Father Figure (from Faith, 1987)-The second #1 single from Faith, “Father Figure” allegedly began life as a dance track before a studio mistake stripped the song of it’s more pronounced drumbeat, giving it an ethereal feel. While I’d certainly like to hear the original version (and was a little upset when it wasn’t included on the remastered version of Faith), I’m pretty certain that George made the right move here. If I were a betting man, I’d say that this song contains more echo than any other song released over the course of the Eighties.
Hard Day (Shep Pettibone Mix) (from Faith, 1987)- A bonus track on the CD version of Faith (the vinyl and cassette versions do not have it), this jam filled up dancefloors around the world in the fall of ’87. Shep Pettibone was on top of his remixing game around this time, and “Hard Day” stopped just short of hitting the Top 20 on the R&B charts just as “Faith”‘s title track was beginning it’s ascent up the pop list. Yet another song that can be compared favorably to the work Prince was doing at the same time-pitch changing and all.
You Know That I Want To (from the Spinning the Wheel EP, 1996-U.K. only)- George obviously was listening to a lot of R&B radio in the mid Nineties. This B-side takes a little of Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down”, a little of BLACKstreet’s “Tonight’s the Night”, adds in a lot of sexual tension and voila…a slow jam classic is born. Before physical singles completely bit the dust, George was one of the last artists whose singles often contained solid unreleased material.
Amazing (from Patience, 2004)- Serving as proof that he hadn’t lost it, the first single from “Patience” was a sunny pop jam about celebrating love that, in a just world, would have been a huge hit. George sounds playful and relaxed here.
Last Christmas (from Wham!’s “Everything She Wants” single, 1984)- Yet another GM song that’s become a standard-this one of the holiday variety. Artists from Jimmy Eat World to Taylor Swift have covered this over the years. Hey, does anyone realize how much this song sounds like Kool & the Gang’s “Joanna”?
Crazyman Dance (B-side of “Too Funky” single, 1992)- When I was 16, I listened to this claustrophobic, icy downtempo dance track and wondered “what’s his beef with New York?”. 19 years later and three years removed from being a New York City resident, I totally get it.
As (featuring Mary J. Blige) (from Ladies & Gentlemen-The Best of George Michael, U.K. Edition, 1997)- To this day, I’m not sure why this wasn’t released in the U.S. until the Twenty-Five compilation came out three years ago. The rumor was that Mary’s label at the time, MCA, was leery about featuring Mary on an album with George so soon after his arrest, but that’s never been substantiated. At any rate, George could fill an album with Stevie covers he’s done (“They Won’t Go When I Go”, “Love’s in Need of Love Today”, “I Believe (When I Fall in Love it Will Be Forever)”), and he could also fill an album with duets he’s done with female R&B belters (Aretha Franklin, Jody Watley, Whitney Houston). This Babyface-produced cut is the best of both. If you ever get your hands on the import CD single for this (as I did), check out the “Full Crew Remix”, which toughens up the production a bit.
Everything She Wants (single version) (1985, original version can be found on Wham!’s Make it Big, 1984)- George seethes throughout this song about a greedy, ungrateful lover. “My God! I don’t even think that I love you” is a stone cold classic line. Going with the single version for the crazy synth horns and the new bridge.
Heaven Help Me (Deon Estus featuring George Michael) (from Deon Estus’s Spell, 1989)- Play bass with Wham! and George for a couple of years, and what do you get? A hand-delivered pop classic, of course! George was so hot immediately post-Faith that he could have farted on a record and made it a Top Ten hit. It’s to his credit that “Heaven Help Me” holds up so well when compared to the songs George wrote and performed himself.
Do You Really Want to Know? (from Red, Hot & Dance, 1992)- For this AIDS charity project, George delivered his label three songs that’d been earmarked for Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 2. Had that album ever come to fruition, those three songs (this one, “Too Funky” and “Happy” indicate that it would’ve been a slammin’ affair. Over a busy electro-house beat, George ponders what we’re willing to risk for a good time in the sack.
Praying for Time (from Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, 1990)- I bought this cassette single at Sam Goody located in Brooklyn’s Kings’ Plaza mall shortly after beginning my sophomore year in high school. My uncle and my grandfather drove me back from the mall, and as we played the single, my grandfather asked if it was John Lennon singing. Somehow I feel like that’s compliment enough for this song.
A Moment with You (from Ladies & Gentlemen, the Best of George Michael, 1997)-George has said that this song was his commentary on the interlude that led to his arrest at the park in Beverly Hills. It certainly sounds steamier than I’d imagine most bathroom sex encounters are. However, you shouldn’t hesitate to take this jam into the bedroom. The intention is the same, but you probably won’t have to worry about getting arrested. Unless you’re a freak. Or a criminal.
Spinning the Wheel (from Older, 1996)- On the other side of the equation, George now plays the role of a frustrated lover chastising his mate for sticking his dick into everything that moves. The cocktail/acid-jazz vibe and the sound effects help to give the song a justifiably spooky vibe.
Like I said, it was hard narrowing this list down (I started with over 100 tracks), but I think this list best represents George’s music and serves as a solid sampler. If you agree, click on the widget below, check out some samples, and buy some of the man’s music, why dontcha?
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