In its final blow to the music industry, 2016 saw the world lose yet another music icon, this time on Christmas Day. George Michael’s death came as a one more shocking strike to many, and he is now being remembered for his talent, humanity and contribution towards and influence on the music industry. Stories are emerging of acts of kindness, such as song royalties being donated to charity, anonymously tipping a student nurse who was in debt and working to fund her studies, amongst many others. Whilst many catagorise him as just another cog in the machine of 1980s pop, Michael’s career spanned four decades, each of which involved significant moments for him, and proved that he was so much more than just one half of the names behind shiny, catchy hits with Wham! and successive chart-toppers such as ‘Faith’.
In the summer of 1983, soon after the sales of the first CDs in the UK and Margaret Thatcher had won her second term as Prime Minister, twenty-year old Michael and school friend Andrew Ridgeley saw the release and success of their first album, performing under the group name of Wham!. ‘Fantastic’, which includes ‘Club Tropicana’ and other favourites, was followed a year later by ‘Make it Big’, which also tops the charts. In addition to a number one album that year, 1984 saw supergroup ‘Band Aid’ (featuring George Michael as a soloist) topping the Christmas singles charts with the fastest-ever selling single at the time. If that wasn’t enough, number two in the charts was Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ – Michael was only twenty-one.
number two in the charts was Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ – Michael was only twenty-one
By 1987, Michael’s success as a solo artist meant the end of Wham!, but new triumphs and achievements as a soloist. Teaming up with Aretha Franklin, of which Freddie Mercury voiced both his jealously and approval, the pair reached number one in the charts globally with ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’. Soon after Michael released his debut album as a solo artist, ‘Faith’, with each track written and produced by himself. To date, the ten-track LP has sold over twenty-five million copies globally, as well as winning the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The album, with its funk and RnB infusions, included the singles ‘Faith’, ‘One More Try’ and ‘Father Figure’, and was only the first of several more to come.
Following the phenomenal international success of ‘Faith’, 1990 saw a step-up in maturity and intensity of themes in the form of ‘Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1’, which won Best British Album at the 1991 BRIT Awards and was certified platinum in 1992. Singles include ‘Praying for Time’, ‘Waiting for That Day’ and ‘Cowboys and Angels’. Shortly after in Spring 1992, George Michael performed at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley where he performed ‘Somebody to Love’ to an audience of 72,000. However, after a promising start to the decade, the 1990s also saw the loss of Michael’s boyfriend Anselmo Feleppa of a brain haemorrhage brought on by Aids, as well as conflict with his label, struggles with addiction and the death of his mother in 1997, the year after his third album, ‘Older’. It was also during this decade he gave his first interview in several years, speaking to The Big Issue, of which magazine founder and editor-in-chief John Bird has spoken of how he ‘befriended the neglected and the lost’.
Michael faced homophobic abuse upon the release of political single ‘Shoot the Dog’
1998 saw Michael’s arrest in Los Angeles after ‘engaging in a lewd act’, following which he publicly came out as gay and released a greatest hits album, with new track ‘Outside’ parodying the arrest. Having spoken humorously about his arrest in interviews years after, Michael faced homophobic abuse upon the release of 2003 political single ‘Shoot the Dog’, which criticised Tony Blair and George W. Bush over the Iraq War. The next year saw the release of new material on the album ‘Patience’, and between 2006 and 2010 he was arrested for drugs offences, had his driving license taken away and arrested again for driving under the influence.
His sixth and final album ‘Symphonica’ was released in 2014, featuring many live recordings from 2011/12 world tour which was briefly stilted by a bout of almost-fatal pneumonia and also featured a performance at the Paris opera house on the tour, from which he donated all proceeds to an Aids charity.
March 2017 will see the release of a special edition of ‘Listen Without Prejudice/MTV Unplugged’, with bonus material and live recordings, something which will perhaps be a comfort to his many fans and fellow musicians globally. Michael once said in an interview that he ‘just hope that I’ll stay around musically for as long as I can’, a small wish from someone who impacted the world greatly not only with music, but with attitude, advocacy, charitability and dignity.