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George Michael

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, 25 June 1963 in East Finchley, Greater London, golden boy GEORGE MICHAEL had the world at his feet, courtesy of million-selling singles and albums during his tenure with pop duo WHAM!, and as MOR solo singer-songwriter. Always destined to be a star since his “Club Tropicana” days in the first half of the 80s alongside foil Andrew Ridgeley in WHAM!, George’s career had its fair share of ups and downs – the downs spurred by endless tabloid headlines that had the belatedly-“outed” homosexual as some sort of pantomime villain. His friends such as ELTON JOHN, the band QUEEN (for whom he duetted with on occasion), stood steadfast with George in his times of despair, the man’s soothing soul chords never surrendering to the Witchfinder Generals of modern-day journalism.
WHAM! started back in 1981 when Bushey Meads Comprehensive school buddies George and Andrew abandoned ska outfit, The Executive, to think beyond mere here-today/gone-tomorrow pop music. Disposable and contrived as they may have been, `Wham Rap!’ was as subversive as any po-faced post-punk outfit, with its lyrical subtext of no work and all play, while `Young Guns (Go For It)’ was in the same vein as The SPECIALS’ `Too Much Too Young’ – only more thematically. With hit after hit of bouncy, sun-kissed lads-on-the-pull gleam-pop, WHAM! certainly brightened up the dour, early-to-mid 80s scene; `Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ and `Freedom’, both transatlantic and global smash hits beyond comprehension.
While WHAM! were atop the charts, GEORGE MICHAEL was simultaneously making his first tentative steps towards a solo career via the moody `Careless Whisper’, while `A Different Corner’ made it abundantly clear which one of the duo was destined for greater things. Ridgeley’s days were numbered after contracts were signed during management re-shuffles, and with a farewell concert at Wembley Stadium in the summer of ’86, WHAM! had taken their final bow. Having previously sung `Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ at Live Aid with ELTON JOHN, GEORGE MICHAEL teamed up with soul belter, ARETHA FRANKLIN, in early ’87, for a chart-topping rendition of `I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’.
George’s solo debut proper came later that summer with the deliberately controversial, `I Want Your Sex’ (from the movie Beverly Hills Cop II), a semi-successful attempt at PRINCE-like raunch-funk which hardly warranted its BBC ban. Much more effective was the boot-tapping strum’n’roll of `Faith’; MICHAEL desperate to prove his newly-acquired “adult” cred with the obligatory designer stubble, biker jacket, 501 jeans and shades. The accompanying album of the same name, FAITH (1987) {*8}, was a transatlantic million seller, going down particularly well in the States where its stream-lined pop/rock found a massive audience; out of an incredible four further hit singles, two (`One More Try’ and `Monkey’) topped the US charts.
MICHAEL’s subsequent retreat from the glare of the media spotlight and a more introspective, soul-baring follow-up in LISTEN WITHOUT PREJUDICE VOL.1 (1990) {*8} led to the GEORGE MICHAEL hit machine faltering somewhat; though it again made the No.1 spot, the record only spawned two major hits in `Praying For Time’ and the mercifully more upbeat `Freedom 90’. Freedom from the machinations of the music industry, that is, George’s grievances leading him into a marathon court battle with Sony Records; the singer complained that the company had done little to promote his new direction, still wanting to present him as a sex symbol against his wishes.
His restraint of trade action against the corporation was eventually thrown out of court in summer ’94, when the judge upheld MICHAEL’s multi-million pound contract. The singer duly vowed never to record for the company again… mmm. The whole sorry debacle was eventually resolved the following summer when Sony released MICHAEL from his contract with a number of attached conditions (share of profits from future works etc.); Virgin (Dreamworks in the States) signed the superstar in a multi-million pound deal.
His absence from the charts certainly hadn’t affected his popularity, and his first single in almost four years, the delicate `Jesus To A Child’ (a tribute to his late boyfriend Anselmo Feleppa), reached the UK No.1 in early ‘96. A funkier follow-up, `Fastlove’, also topped the charts, as did his comeback album, OLDER (1996) {*7}. Older and no doubt wiser, MICHAEL was nevertheless still seemingly troubled by the moody angst which had characterised “Listen…”, only this time around there was less navel contemplation and more melodic sophistication. Although he may have joined the ranks of the ultra-tasteful AOR brigade alongside ELTON JOHN, ERIC CLAPTON et al, MICHAEL continued to command a wide cross section of fans, not least the WHAM! teeny-boppers who grew up with his music.
However, tabloids were having a field day as of April 7, 1998, after George was arrested for lewd behaviour in a Beverly Hills park toilet; the undercover policeman we assume was not “taking the Michael”. It was not a shock to most people in the know that George was indeed gay, having admittedly never been intimate with a woman for over a decade. He was subsequently fined nearly $1000 and ordered to deliver meals to AIDS sufferers as part of an 80-hour community service order; the American TV cameras were of course there to interview George – he also appeared on the David Letterman show. The police officer in question (Marcello Rodriguez), was none too happy when George’s next video for his single, `Outside’, allegedly depicted mock scenes of the arrest; the officer would later sue. Meanwhile, an Epic-sanctioned “greatest hits” package, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN (1998) {*8}, was a success all over the world, although what the fans made of MICHAEL’s end-of-the-millennium covers album, SONGS FROM THE LAST CENTURY (1999) {*4}, was anyone’s guess. In this, there were readings of standards and staples of `Brother, Can You Spare A Dime’ (sung with Pavarotti), `I Remember You’, `Where Or When’, `You’ve Changed’, `Secret Love’, alongside renditions of The POLICE’s `Roxanne’, EWAN MacCOLL’s `The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, and a couple of NINA SIMONE numbers, `My Baby Just Cares For Me’ and `Wild Is The Wind’.
Much more encouraging – not to mention hip – was the `Freeek’ single, George’s sybaritic, grindingly erotic return to the dancefloor after too long an absence. A Top 10 hit for Polydor Records, it was followed later that summer with `Shoot The Dog’ (a political swipe at Tony Blair’s brown-nosing of George W. Bush), which scraped in at only No.12.
2004’s long-awaited and appropriately-named PATIENCE {*6} surfaced, not on Polydor, but Sony/Epic via Aegean Records, and already confusion was again setting in. Just missing out on the Top 10 in the US, but No.1 in the ever-faithful UK, this album was hardly going to re-establish the man as one of the day’s inventive pop legends. The sedate `Amazing’ and the mirror-ball `Flawless (Go To The City)’ were miles apart musically, the latter ripped – but accredited – from the electro-beats of The Ones’ UK hit of a few years back. Sentiment was the target on `Please Send Me Someone (Anselmo’s Song)’ and `John And Elvis Are Dead’, and with the inclusion of the Polydor singles, maybe on reflection, it wasn’t as bad as rated by its critics.
Marking time while George tried to cultivate some of his past prowess (he admitted smoking cannabis was a necessary drag), the double-CD TWENTY FIVE (2006) {*8} gelled together hot pieces from his career up to the present day. This chart-topping record might’ve diverted traffic away from earlier misdemeanours with the law (Class C drug busts and Hampstead cruises among them), but MICHAEL was fast-becoming a parody in the eyes of the media; these activities surmounted when he was banned from driving for two years in 2007; three years on he was banned for five years for driving while under the influence of drugs, spending half of a 2-month sentence at Highpoint Prison in Suffolk.
The product of sold-out concert nights around the globe between 2011-2012, SYMPHONICA (2014) {*6} projected George back in the limelight for a time. The lack of enthusiasm and impatience from American audiences was obviously soul-destroying to a singer regarded as an idol everywhere else. Covering a good deal of his recent material, including the NINA SIMONE pieces (adding `Feeling Good’), the orchestrated and swing nature of the project was somewhat out-dated in the fact that ROBBIE WILLIAMS and others had already cornered the market. Never the most prolific artist in the past decade or so, one was always sure that the showman GEORGE MICHAEL would again find his place in pop music. However, this was not to be, as on Christmas day 2016, the singer died of heart failure at his home in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. A coroner’s report has still to be ascertained.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD-BG/MCS // rev-up MCS Dec2016

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