George Michael, whose real name is George Kyriacos Panayiotou, had debonair good looks (beard stubble, leather jacket and sneer), a powerful voice and an uncanny knack for making melodic hooks. All of these qualities made him a desirable star by both male and female fans alike.
Michael successfully transitioned from being a teeny-bopper idol (as one-half of Wham!) to becoming a bonafide pop star thanks to his 1987 debut album Faith. Songs like “I Want Your Sex” (along with his sexy video) and “Faith” turned him into a sex symbol, while “Father Figure” and “One More Try” showcased his talent as a powerful balladeer. For his efforts, the album sold 20 million copies worldwide and he recieved the coveted Album of the Year trophy at the 1988 Grammy Awards.
His second solo album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, dropped in 1990 and boasts the hit singles, “Praying for Time” and “Freedom ’90.” For the next four decades, he would sporadically released albums (his musical output hampered by his legal dispute with Sony), with his last project being Symphonica in 2014. All and all, he sold more than 100 million albums worldwide and had eight No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart.
In honor of George Michael, The Boombox is looking back at some of the songs that made him so special. We eschewed from listing his most well-known tracks and instead focused on songs that have a personal connection to the late singer. Overall, this is a tribute to a singer-songwriter who wasn't afraid to push the boundaries and refused to be put into any categorical box.
May he rest eternally in peace.
When it comes to George Michael, we have to start at the beginning. In 1980, he teamed up with his high school friend, Andrew Ridgeley, and formed Wham! Their musical partnership would produce some of the most greatest pop songs of the 1980s. Among them is their 1984 holiday break-up ballad “Last Christmas.” The bittersweet song features Michael singing his goodbyes to an inattentive lover during the holiday season. “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart / But the very next day, you gave it away / This year, to save me from tears / I’ll give it to someone special,” he sings. Over the years, the song has been covered by several artists including Ariana Grande and The Braxtons.
From his fifth album, Patience, Round Here is a reflective pop ballad that has a personal connection with the singer. The song is about George Michael’s childhood and growing up in London. While he will be forever remembered for his pop hits, it must be noted that he had a wide vocal range. On this song, his voice fits perfectly in the pocket of soothing violins, light drumming and soft guitars.
Here’s another shining example of George Michael’s great vocal abilities. Taken from final album, 2014’s Symphonica, it’s a cover song written by fellow ‘90s pop star Terence Trent D’Arby. Over a soft piano groove and orchestral strings, Michael achingly sings about a father’s concern of a man who is most likely going to break his daughter’s heart. Let her down easy / Her heart is on a dime / Let her down easy / And she'll grow up in time,” he sings. The video is equally compelling and NSFW for brief nudity.
"I Knew You Were Waiting for Me"Featuring Aretha Franklin
When Wham! Broke up in 1986, Michael embarked on a solo career and hits a homerun with his one-off track “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” featuring Aretha Franklin. An inspirational song about perseverance, it became his first No. 1 hit (as a solo artist) on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and garnered both Michael and Aretha a Grammy win for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal.
"Fastlove" was recorded during the time Michael was embroiled in a legal battle with Sony and his attempt to divest himself away pop-driven music. This club track features the British singer being brutally honest with a potential lover with thoughts of having a one-night stand. “Baby can you read the signs? / You can help me ease my mind / I ain’t mister right,” he sings. The song, which is a favorite among his die-hard fans, includes a sample of Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots."
Outside of music, George Michael was a dedicated activist in the global fight against AIDS. Michael, who publicly revealed that he was gay in April 1998, delivered one of his most phenomenal concert moments with this rendition of Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” The song was especially meaningful to the singer because prior to the concert, he just found out that his partner at the time, designer Anselmo Felleppa, was dying of AIDS. You can feel the emotions of love and pain through his vocals.
There are plenty of great songs on his 1987 debut album Faith, but no track displayed his vocal power like “One More Try.” It’s a searing ballad which finds Michael singing from the perspective of a heartbroken lover whose true love tells him goodbye. Overall, the song pulls at your heartstrings due to Michael’s emotional vocal performance.
"If I Told You That"Featuring Whitney Houston
George Michael already garnered a chart-topping smash with Aretha Franklin with “I Knew You Were Waiting,” so it’s only right that he performs with her goddaughter, the late Whitney Houston. Produced by Rodney Jerkins, the British pop star proves that he can vocally compete with the pop diva. Granted, the song wasn’t his biggest hit, but it showed that his talent was immeasurable and that he could perform in any genre.
After the success of Faith, George Michael wanted put his pop stardom behind and go in a new musical direction, much to the chagrin of Sony executives. “Freedom! ‘90” was his bombastic anthem of shedding the leather jacket and shaking his ass in videos. “It seems like the road to heaven feels like the road to hell,” he sings, adding, “Posing for another picture / Everybody’s got to sell / But when you shake your ass they notice fast / Some mistakes were built to last.” To prove his point, in the music video for "Freedom! '90," his jukebox, leather jacket and guitar was set on fire and he allowed fashion models sing his empowering lyrics. Thankfully, Michael was able to achieve his musical freedom on his future projects.
Finally, on this list, is the classic Quiet Storm mainstay “Careless Whisper.” Released on Wham!’s 1984 album Make It Big, the heartbreaking ballad turned a then 17-year-old impressionable singer into a matinee idol. The song packs an emotional punch as Michael sings about cheating on his lover. "I should have known better than to cheat a friend / And waste a chance that I'd been given / So I'm never gonna dance again, the way I danced with you,” he sings. The song also boasts one of the most memorable saxophone hooks in pop music.